Officials unsure of contaminants’ consequences

Experts say even though plutonium is present in the decommissioned steam generators to be shipped from Ontario’s Bruce Power Plant to Sweden for recycling, there’s not enough to tempt someone who wanted to use it as a weapon. They do say, however, that there’s enough to contaminate drinking water and the ecosystem and accumulate in the food chain.

Public safety advocates also worry about the free release of radioactive materials into the world scrap metal supply.

The United Nations, the Steel Manufacturers Association and the International Recycling Bureau have gone on record as condemning the practice of contaminating scrap metal supplies by mixing in radioactive waste materials.

“I don’t think I’d shop at IKEA anymore if it (the radioactive recyclable metal) is going to Sweden,” said Ed McArdle of the Sierra Club for Southeast Michigan. “Do you want to get it back in Chinese pots and pans? There’s a world scrap market, and metal is shipped all over the world.”

He urges Michigan residents to contact their representatives in Washington to voice their concern.

Southeast Michigan Sierra Club members say “strong opposition” has been voiced by the Sierra Club of Canada, the Macomb County Water Quality Board, the city of Windsor and “several mayors and city councils.”

McArdle said his group has had difficulty making the public aware of the issue because it is “such an unknown” and it’s not being covered by the media very much.

“Most people have not heard about it, so (members of) Congress (have) other things on their plates,” McArdle said. “If they know the people know, then they’ll get on it. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Local media have reported that over 80 groups on both sides of the border are opposed to the shipping of the decommissioned generators, including the Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, the Council of Canadians, which focuses on social, economic and environmental justice issues, and the Michigan-based group Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination.

Julia Valentine, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, said it will “adhere to all processes for determining safety, including any that involve public notice or participation.”

She said the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Feb. 4 approval of the proposed shipments mean that they comply with both the Canadian and international transport regulations.

“PHMSA will evaluate whether or not the proposed shipment complies with U.S. safety regulations and reaffirm its compliance with international safety regulations, as we do with every application,” Valentine said.

The Bruce plant’s plan to ship the generators for recycling is detailed at http://rightthingtodo.ca/transportation.php.

— Sue Suchyta