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[OPIRG-EVENTS] SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES IN AECL'S PLAN FOR DEALING WITH PLUTONIUM SPILL
I am sending you a news release regarding serious flaws in AECL's
revised emergency plans for the air shipment of plutonium fuel from
Russia to Canada. If you haven't sent in your comments to Transport
Canada you still have until midnight on September 15th.
You can make your submission to Transport Canada by:
MOX Comments Officer
Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate
MOX Comments Officer
Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate
9th Floor, Tower C
330 Sparks Street
Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout
(with logos of CNP, MVM,CCNR, SCC and CELA as letterhead)
For Release Thursday, September 14, 2000
GROUPS FIND SERIOUS DEFICIENCIES IN NEWLY REVISED PLAN FOR DEALING
WITH PLUTONIUM SPILL
SEEK EXTENDED PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD
Ottawa - September 14, 2000: A coalition of environmental groups has
identified a number of serious deficiencies in Atomic Energy of
Canada Limited's (AECL) latest emergency plan for the air transport
of plutonium fuel from Russia. Accordingly, the groups are asking
Transport Canada to extend the deadline for public comment until
mid-October to allow these serious flaws to be adequately addressed
by the public as well as independent experts.
On August 17, 2000, Transport Canada notified AECL that review of its
emergency plan could not go forward because it did not deal with the
issue of an accident involving the release of plutonium fuel powder.
On September 1, AECL responded by submitting a revised emergency plan
which describes, for the first time, the measures to be taken in the
event of plutonium-fuel powder escaping into the environment.
Accordingly, Transport Canada has extended the deadline for public
comment from August 25 to September 15, 2000.
Expert testimony from Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Washington-based Nuclear
Control Institute has confirmed accidental release of plutonium-fuel
powder is indeed possible. It is known that the container chosen by
AECL can be destroyed by a severe impact, such as that caused by an
aircraft accident. The ceramic fuel pellets would be partially
pulverized by such an impact, and can become almost completely
pulverized by exposure to fire in the presence of oxygen for as
little as 30 minutes.
Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada noted that "AECL's new
emergency plan raises more questions than it answers. Canadians have
a right to know prior to allowing this hare-brained scheme to go
forward, what the risks are to our health and the environment."
Specific concerns raised by the Sierra Club of Canada include : what
level of remediation and clean-up will be required? Would AECL be
required to recover 100% of spilled plutonium? or only 80%? or
perhaps as little as 20%?
The revised AECL plan acknowledges that emergency response teams
would require full face respirators and special protective clothing
in the event of an accident. Previously AECL has downplayed concerns
about possible accidents involving MOX fuel in the media, saying that
a piece of paper could block radioactive emissions if there were an
accident. (See for example, The Montreal Gazette, March 23, 1999, p.
A11, "Even if an accident happened en route,
more Groups find serious deficiencies in newly revised plan for
dealing with plutonium spill - page 2 of 2
[AECL spokesperson, Larry Sewchuck] said, 'all you'd need to block
the radioactivity from hitting you would be a single piece of paper.'
" See also the Calgary Herald, April 27, 1999, p. A9)
Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear
Responsibility, said: "Full-face respirators, plastic body suits and
double rubber gloves for AECL personnel are for the first time
described as mandatory, but there is no training program outlined for
teaching fire-fighters, medical personnel, and other emergency
responders how to use this kind of equipment. Nor is there any
indication of how to prevent the inadvertent spread of plutonium
contamination during the disrobing operation."
According to Patrick Rasmussen of the Mouvement Vert Mauricie, "The
new emergency plan envisages the possibility that
plutonium-contaminated casualties might be transferred to hospital
before the arrival of AECL's RAT (Radiological Assessment Team), but
there is no consideration of measures to prevent plutonium
contamination of the transport vehicles, emergency rooms or medical
personnel who would be called on to deal with these casualties. Nor
is there any training described for nurses, doctors and paramedics to
prepare them to deal with plutonium-contaminated casualties," he adds.
Theresa McClenaghan of the Canadian Environmental Law Association
states that, "The adequacy of emergency response in issues such as
transportation and medical treatment of radioactively contaminated
casualties is a major concern. In a 1993 trial concerning the Nuclear
Liability Act, we had evidence from Ontario medical officers of
health that these capabilities were completely absent. Very little
has changed since then in Ontario and we have no reason to think the
situation is better elsewhere in Canada."
Kristen Ostling, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Nuclear
Phaseout, stated that "The serious flaws in AECL's plans confirm our
position that the Chrétien government should call for an immediate
halt to the plutonium import project."
- 30 -
Available upon request and at www.cnp.ca: Letter from CELA to
Transport Canada requesting extension and pointing out deficiencies
in AECL's ERAP.
For further information or comment:
Elizabeth May, Sierra Club of Canada, 613-241-4611
(www.sierraclub.ca/national) Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for
Nuclear Responsibility, 514-853-5736 (pager) (www.ccnr.org) Theresa
McClenaghan, Canadian Environmental Law Association, 416-960-2284
(www.cela.ca) Patrick Rasmussen, Mouvement Vert Mauricie,
819-532-2855 Kristen Ostling, Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout,
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