plutonium to Canada rejected Protests persuade U.S. to destroy own waste
The Globe and Mail (Toronto), November 15,
By Martin Mittelstaedt, Environment Reporter
Amid rising controversy, the United States
has decided to abandon a scheme to export plutonium taken from U.S.
nuclear weapons to Canada. Although the U.S. Department of Energy says
it reserves the right to reconsider the action, it says it is no longer
actively considering the use of Canadian nuclear reactors to burn the
surplus plutonium. The destruction plan had been highly touted by Prime
Minister Jean Chrétien and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the
federal nuclear company, as a Canadian contribution to removing one
of the lingering legacies of the Cold War.
Antinuclear advocates yesterday hailed the U.S.
decision, saying the possibility now appears remote that Canada will
become the final depository for much of the unneeded plutonium produced
by the United States. "It's dead," Steve Shallhorn, campaign director
for Greenpeace, said of the proposal to deal with the U.S. material.
However, there is still a possibility -- considered
unlikely -- that plutonium from the former Soviet Union could be shipped
But the U.S. decision calls into question the need
for a test burn of about 200 grams of U.S. and Russian plutonium that
AECL plans to undertake at its Chalk River laboratories in Ontario to
see whether the bomb material is usable in Canadian-style Candu reactors.
The test, expected to be conducted next year, has
prompted opposition from some U.S. areas, such as Michigan, that might
be on the transportation routes for the material. Canadian border cities,
such as Windsor, have also voiced their opposition. "You really have
to wonder why the U.S. is going to send the 132 grams [for the test],"
Mr. Shallhorn said.
For the past five years, Canadian federal officials
have engaged in furious lobbying of both the Russians and Americans
to use Canada to dispose of their plutonium.
But the U.S. Department of Energy isn't interested
in the Canadian offer, saying that more than enough reactor capacity
exists in the United States to immobilize all of the 33 tonnes of plutonium
it has earmarked for disposal in commercial reactors.
The U.S. Energy Department "determined that adequate
reactor capacity is available in the United States to disposition that
portion of the U.S. surplus plutonium suitable for MOX fuel and, therefore,
while still reserving the Candu option, DOE is no longer actively pursuing
it," the department said in a statement issued Friday.
MOX is the technical name for reactor fuel containing
plutonium. The department further intends to encase another 17 tonnes
of plutonium in a ceramic material, thereby making it hard to reuse
told, the United States is planning to eliminate enough plutonium to
make about 5,000 bombs. The Russians have a similar amount of weapons
material surplus to its security needs.
The Canadian proposal now is entirely dependent
on Russian support, but one analyst said yesterday that it will proceed
only if subsidies are made available to help facilitate Russian participation.
Franklyn Griffiths, a University of Toronto political
scientist, said the Russian plutonium would require major funding through
the Group of Seven or some other body in order to occur.
The Canadian proposal has been battling long odds
almost since it was first put forward in 1994, mainly because the U.S.
Department of Energy found it to be more costly than plutonium disposal
at competing U.S. civilian reactors.
Griffiths said Canadian authorities "have known the U.S. wasn't interested
for quite some time. This is a blow in that now the [Canadian] public
AECL and federal officials could not be reached
yesterday for comment on the U.S. decision, which was released in the
Department of Energy's final environmental impact statement on surplus
Under the Canadian plan, the federal government
proposed that plutonium be burned at reactors owned by Ontario Power
Generation Inc. However, the provincially owned utility indicated earlier
this year that it wasn't interested in participating.
The U.S. Department of Energy says Canada could
still take plutonium based on a bilateral agreement between Russia and
Canada, a deal in which the United States wouldn't be involved.
"If Russia and Canada agree to disposition Russian
surplus plutonium in Candu reactors in order to augment Russia's disposition
capability, shipments of the Russian MOX fuel would take place directly
between Russia and Canada," the department said.
When plutonium is used in reactors, not all
of it is destroyed. But the plutonium left over is harder to extract
for nuclear weapons production because it is contained in highly dangerous
radioactive fuel bundles.