After millions of citizens pushed Canada’s Environment Minister to delay plans for an underground radiation dump right next to Lake Huron (this fight is not yet over), two waste firms, UniTech Corp., with offices in France, Holland, Germany, England and all over the United States, and PermaFix, in Atlanta, now make news with plans to ship tons of radioactive waste from Canada to the United States.
UniTech wants to truck 10,000 tons of ‘radioactive-contaminated tools, metals and other solid materials’ across the border using five different border crossings. Can you say ‘Homeland Security’? To transport 10,000 tons, think of thousands of truckloads of ‘dirty bombs’ driving across the country, around lakes and rivers, through cities and towns, over bridges and through tunnels for years and years.
Ten-thousand tons is a lot of material, equivalent to the mass of an old Navy Heavy Cruiser two football fields long, four stories high, and 60 feet wide. The waste haulers what to truck the radioactive metal –the bulk of the waste is coming from Canadian nuclear power reactors and laboratories – some infused with plutonium, strontium, cobalt-60, americium, and neptunium. These so-called ‘low-level’ wastes are not benign but some of the deadliest and most long-lasting poisons on Earth, and the worst to come from nuclear power and weapons.
Both UniTech and PermaFix have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for licenses to ‘export’ and ‘import’ thousands of truckloads. The vagueness of the applications, with nondescript references to ‘tools’, ‘metals’, ‘other solid materials’, and the curious mention of ‘incremental amounts of special nuclear material’ – is only partly cleared up by a list of 48 different radio-isotopes that will contaminate the ‘materials’.
These and the wastes’ 43 other identified isotopes give off radioactive alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays to one degree or another. It’s this ‘radiation’ that makes the waste deadly because exposure to it, or inhaling or ingesting it, can cause heart disease, immune system dysfunction, birth abnormalities, and cancer. The effects are cumulative too, so adding more radiation to the exposures we’ve already had increases our risks and shortens our lives.
UniTech has already won an NRC ‘export’license, allowing it to ship wastes into the US. (Its plan to ship some of it back across the border to Canada is still being contested with the NRC and may end up in court.) Some of UniTech’s waste will be trucked to waste-handling factories in Tennessee, Illinois and Pennsylvania for ‘processing’.
According to UniTech’s license application, the proposed US ‘processing’is for ‘…segregation, survey, decontamination, unrestricted release, beneficial reuse’. Kay Cumbow, Secretary of the Great Lakes Environmental Alliance, warns that such ‘unrestricted release’ means the waste can be dumped in ordinary municipal landfills. Tennessee state laws are so lax as to allow this. ‘Beneficial reuse’, says Cumbow, means sending contaminated metals to ordinary metal smelters from which recycled metals are used in consumer products like jungle gyms, frypans, nails, etc.
This game of nuclear shuffle board, bumper cars, or demolition derby gets bizarrer and bizarrer. Waste resulting from the US ‘processing’and declared ‘un-usuable’ is to be shipped back into Canada, adding another lengthy round of packaging, handling and transport recklessness. If all this sounds absolutely cray-cray, you may be a precautionary or a prudent person. Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, says that the processing can be done in Canada, so there is no need for the program at all. Cumbow’s group and others have promised law suits.
Pierre Sadik, of US Public Interest Research Group, has pointed out that the Department of Energy and the nuclear industry try to create the impression that the transport of radioactive waste has been entirely safe. But this is bunk.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Nuclear Waste Shell Game May Bring Contaminated Canadian Metals to the US – and Back’.