The Bruce nuclear power complex on the eastern shore of Lake Huron in Ontario is, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, among the most concentrated single sites of nuclear risk in the world. There are 8 nuclear reactors at Bruce (plus another that is permanently closed down), all of the “low” and “intermediate” level radioactive waste from 20 reactors across Ontario is disposed of there, and its already large inventory of high-level radioactive waste is growing. Now, Ontario Power Generation’s imminent loading of the first of 2,000 dry storage containers with high-level radioactive waste would add to that risk. The Bruce dry cask facility would be 100 times bigger than anything of its kind on the US side of the border on the Great Lakes.
The concentration of risk at Bruce renders it a potential terrorist target, which could have cataclysmic consequences. The latest al Qaida tape recorded threat, aired on the Arab satellite television network Al Jazeera on Nov. 12th, allegedly featuring Osama bin Laden’s voice, explicitly names Canada as a potential target for future terrorist attack. As reported in the Sept. 9, 2002 UK Guardian (Sunday Times), al Qaida spokesmen have claimed that nuclear power reactors were among the original targets considered for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and that nuclear power plants have not been ruled out as targets in the future. In his January 2001 “State of the Union” address, George W. Bush mentioned that documents relating to US nuclear power plants had been seized by US personnel from al Qaida enclaves in Afghanistan.
Bruce is located upstream from the drinking water supplies of millions of Canadian and American citizens. The Michigan shoreline is just 50 miles across Lake Huron from Bruce, and Detroit is only 150 miles to the southwest (see Detroit News, “Nuke foes fight expansion of Canadian plant,” July 24, 2002).
Security policies, procedures and personnel at nuclear reactors in both the US and Canada are strained to the breaking point (see New York Times, “Guards at Nuclear Plants Say They Feel Swamped by a Deluge of Overtime,” Oct. 20, 2002, and New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal E-Brief, “Mounties protecting Lepreau burnt out,” Nov. 6, 2002. See also the Project on Government Oversight report, “Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices from Inside the Fences,” Sept. 12, 2002).
Calling the proposal a “radioactive bull’s eye in the heart of the Great Lakes,” U.S. environmental and public interest organizations spoke out against the Bruce dry cask facility at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing on Sept. 13, 2002 in Ottawa. Growing concern led US Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin (Chairman, US Senate Armed Services Committee) from Michigan to express concern over the Bruce nuclear complex and its waste in an Oct. 17, 2002 letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Despite al Qaida’s explicit threats against nuclear power plants, the unprecedented concentration of radioactive risk at the Bruce site, and the strained state of security at US and Canadian nuclear reactors, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Paul V. Kelly responded on Oct. 29 to Senators Levin and Stabenow that “intense collaboration” between US and Canadian agencies, “combined with other security measures,” provided adequate “physical security of nuclear materials” and “protection of the Great Lakes” at Bruce. Whether or not Secretary Powell has discussed Bruce nuclear complex security concerns with Canadian Foreign Minister Graham, as requested by the US Senators from Michigan in their letter, is not yet clear.
“In addition, the US, Canadian, and Russian governments have not abandoned their consideration of using weapons-grade plutonium as fuel in Bruce reactors,” said Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes in Monroe, Michigan. “Weapons-grade plutonium, whether being shipped on the Great Lakes, trucked or railed through Michigan to be used at Bruce, would be yet another terrorist target with catastrophic potential. This proposal should be officially cancelled once and for all.”
A joint US/Canadian/Russian project to determine the feasibility of using weapons plutonium in Canadian reactors is still underway at the Chalk River Nuclear Lab in Canada, utilizing samples of US and Russian weapons plutonium in a Canadian research reactor. The Bruce nuclear complex has been considered as a host site for the use of such mixed oxide (MOX) uranium/plutonium fuel derived from US and Russian weapons plutonium.
“Given that half the electricity would be exported to the US, and profits would be exported to the UK, we oppose the restart of Bruce A units 3 and 4,” said Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. “After all, the high-level radioactive waste and all its perpetual risks and liabilities would stay in Canada,” he said.
British Energy, the nearly bankrupt UK utility, operates the Bruce reactors under a lease agreement with OPG. OPG is responsible for managing the high-level radioactive waste generated by British Energy’s operation of the Bruce reactors.
(Documentation mentioned in this press release is available, upon request, from Kevin Kamps at NIRS, 301-270-6477)