Nuclear Waste

Recently, there has been a resurgence in support for nuclear power. The possible burying of nuclear waste in Southern Ontario(even Toronto was suggested as a site) has been a subject of some media attention. Many years ago (I think 1999, but it may be a bit more recent) I gave the following presentation to a committee of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on burying nuclear waste.

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Presentation by Mr. Brian Burch, Toronto Action for Social Change

MR. BURCH: Thank you. My name is Brian Burch, and I’m here on behalf of Toronto Action for Social Change, and I’d like to thank the Panel for letting me speak at fairly short notice.

I — my first concern is that this dumping seems to be part of the on-going disregard for the environment of northern Ontario. I grew up northwest of Sault Ste. Marie. Clear-cutting and other destructive practices have scarred the landscape; the tailings from mining and smelting in the Elliott Lake area and elsewhere have created permanent problems.

The idea of using northern Ontario as the dumping ground for nuclear waste is based on some strange assumption that there are no people, no animals and no ecosystem in northern Ontario, and after treating the north as a hinterland for resource extraction and a place for recreation for the well-off, it is not surprising that there is a desire to bury hazardous waste out of site of southern Ontario’s sensibilities.

And yes, there are people in northern Ontario who feel that potential income from being the site of a nuclear waste disposal is needed for their local economy, but I urge you very strongly to listen to all the voices from northern Ontario. Do not — the dumping of nuclear waste will create problems that will far outlast the lives of those who support it.

My second concern is based on the fact that nuclear power production is intimately linked to nuclear weapons. Either directly or indirectly, Canada has been supportive of the development of nuclear weapons technology from the very inception. Nuclear power was an unexpected by-product of preparation for nuclear war.

At a time of cut-backs in all the programs that benefit society as a whole, from environmental protection to welfare to education to co-operative housing, military and nuclear power seem to be exempt from real cuts.

Who’s going to pay for the proposed nuclear waste disposal sites? That was a question the Panel’s been asking us, I’d like to get that properly answered. If those who benefit from our nuclear technology and use results for destructive purposes, from the United States to India, are not willing to pay for the total costs of nuclear waste disposal, then it will be our social programs that will subsidize the cost of long-term waste disposal.

The true costs of the proposal, which would require facilities that could be functional and operational for more than 50,000 years, are astounding, and I’m tired of having my social spending used to subsidize the destruction of my environment.

My third concern is linked to the above, and it’s based on the fact that I live in a province where environmental concerns are seen as red tape, an attitude that is reflected at the federal and local levels. I do not find evidence that governments in this country at this time care about the world around us, except for as a way for certain individuals to exploit for personal gain.

This Panel has been asked by the AECL to support burying nuclear fuel waste between 500 and 1,000 metres below the Canadian Shield. What government is going to spend the amount of money necessary to coming close to guaranteeing, in perpetuity, the safety of the ecosystem that will potentially be affected by that dump?

Unless the producers of the waste have more resources than is apparent and are willing to fund the entire cost of disposal, then the climate of restraint will result in an unsafe storage of material. Rushing into a predetermined solution to a problem does not guarantee a good solution, and there are other options that groups that have far more expertise than myself can bring forward.

And I — the long-term survival of our planet depends very strongly on your decisions. I’m very pleased to see that Lois Wilson is part of your Panel. Her work at the World Council of Churches on peace, justice and the integrity of creation gives me some hope that the Panel is actually not as biased as I might once have thought.

But I very seriously feel that this particular tactic, this particular idea is already predetermined. When people are talking about going to site, going to actually physically try out the idea, it doesn’t seem that there is a real openness in the decision-making process. And that is scary. You’re asking us to mortgage our future this way.

There had been talk earlier about scientific consensus. Consensus means that one voice can stop the whole process, and there have been a number of voices that have been raised saying this process is wrong. There is no consensus. And I sort of bring that forward as a comment.

My very last comment, and I will hopefully free up time for other people, this — the timing of — this, Panel, is not under your control, but it’s very frustrating that you’re coming here to Toronto at a time when there’s been a lot more attention on other issues, bill 103, bill 104, bill 107, and I urge you to work very strongly to get whatever — get this whole debate back into the public eye.

It is very frustrating that our own political turmoil is meaning that we’re ignoring the environment. That’s not, again, your problem, but it’s something that I think you should address, and look at ways of making sure that there is much fuller debate on this whole issue of nuclear waste than there is.

Thank you.

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