Submission to US Dept. of Energy, regarding use of nuclear weapons Plutonium in Canadian reactors

Norman Rubin
Energy Probe
June 7, 1996

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fissile Materials Disposition P.O. Box 23786 Washington D.C. 20026-3786 U.S.A. BY FAX: 202-586-2710 (Original following by mail)

Re: Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).

To whom it may concern,

Attached please find a submission from Energy Probe on the topic of the proposed use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, containing plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear warheads, at the Bruce “A” Nuclear Generating Station. The MOX-CANDU reactor proposal is noted in the Department of Energy (DoE) document Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) as one of the options under consideration by the DoE for plutonium disposition.

Energy Probe is a project of Energy Probe Research Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization founded in 1980, dedicated to raising public awareness about energy and environmental issues. Energy Probe Research Foundation has approximately 50,000 supporters, roughly half of them in the province of Ontario.

We have reviewed the relevant sections of the DoE PEIS. We have also reviewed the submission sent to you by Nuclear Awareness Project (Box 104, Uxbridge, Ontario L9P 1M6), and we generally endorse its arguments and conclusions, with some relatively minor exceptions and some additions noted below.

In brief, Energy Probe urges the DoE to rule out the option of using CANDU reactors located in Canada for plutonium disposition purposes unless and until the following conditions are met:

The undertaking must not impose uncompensated costs — financial, environmental, or social — on people in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada; The undertaking must not retard Ontario’s progress in achieving an open, competitive, and diversified electricity system, characterized by open access for electricity suppliers, and free choice for electricity consumers; The undertaking must not proceed without the full, public application of Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act, or an equivalent testing of its environmental acceptability; The undertaking must not proceed without a clear indication that it has the informed consent of the people of Ontario, especially those who will be most directly affected by it. If the U.S. government chooses to dispose of its nuclear-weapons plutonium in Canada, rather than within the United States, it must be clearly demonstrated that its decision is in no way motivated by Canada’s relative lack of citizen safeguards and rights — both legislated and common-law — that might make implementation easier in Canada than within the U.S..

For reasons outlined below and in the submission of Nuclear Awareness Project, we believe that these conditions are unlikely to be met. We therefore urge the U.S. government to focus its attention on plutonium-disposition options that can be carried out within the United States.

Sincerely yours,

Norman Rubin Director, Nuclear Research and Senior Policy Analyst

attachment

Energy Probe’s Notes Regarding the Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement

by Norman Rubin Director, Nuclear Research and Senior Policy Analyst

June 6, 1996

Canadian impacts “do not apply”!

In the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (henceforth, “the PEIS”), the “environmental impacts” of the Canadian CANDU option are almost universally described with a single phrase: “Does not apply”. The specific areas in which impacts “do not apply” include the following: Land Resources, Site Infrastructure, Air Quality and Noise, Water Resources, Geology and Soils, Biological Resources, Cultural and Paleontological Resources, Socioeconomics, Public and Occupational Health and Safety — itself subdivided into Normal Radiological Impacts, Hazardous Chemical Impacts, and Facility Accidents — and Waste Management.1

In the two areas where impacts are acknowledged to apply — Intersite Transportation of Fissile Materials and Environmental Justice — those impacts end at the Canadian border.

Of course, most Canadians would consider the impacts, in Canada, of the Canadian CANDU option for the disposition of U.S. nuclear-weapons plutonium to be just as real, significant, and “applicable” as the impacts of the other options in the U.S. And informed Canadians — including Energy Probe — would be concerned that the Canadian and Ontario governments may not give much more attention to these real impacts than this U.S. PEIS does. For example, Canadian federal government officials, up to the Prime Minister himself, seem to have publicly concluded — without any recourse to public process, public opinion, or environmental assessment — that the MOX-CANDU proposal is the best option for disposition of both U.S. and Russian nuclear-weapons plutonium.2

In short, we are concerned that the Canadian public (especially Ontario residents) may be treated like citizens of a “banana republic”, with neither our own officials nor those of the United States respecting our rights to participate in this important decision. We urge the U.S. government not to take advantage of the weakness of Canada’s, and Ontario’s, political and legal safeguards in making this decision.

Indeed, we believe that it is consistent with the spirit, and perhaps even the letter, of the U.S. National Environmental Protection Act, that adverse impacts outside the United States be considered before an option is chosen.

Regardless of the legal issue, we do not see how you can hope to choose an option that minimizes adverse impacts, without comparing all the impacts of all the options.

Energy Probe’s comments on the submission by Nuclear Awareness Project3:

It is even clearer than NAP indicates that Ontario Hydro does not plan to retube the 4 reactors of Bruce-A station. Nuclear Awareness Project writes (Submission, p. 1):

Energy Probe’s Notes, page 2

Capacity Factors and Reliability of CANDU Reactors

The Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) proposal assumes that the four Bruce “A” Nuclear Generating Station reactors will be retubed regardless of whether or not the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel scheme is implemented, and that these reactors will operate at an average capacity factor of 80% for a further 25 year period. These assumptions are inappropriate, given current debates about the future of the electricity sector in Ontario, and given operating experience at CANDU reactors.

The AECL Final Report Plutonium Consumption Program – CANDU Reactor Project notes:

“It is assumed for the purposes of this study that the Bruce NGS A units will be retubed because there is a demand for electricity.”

Retubing is the rebuilding of a CANDU reactor core where all fuel channels are replaced at a cost now

Energy Probe’s Notes, page 3

estimated by Ontario Hydro at about $350 million per reactor. The DoE should note that the Bruce reactor 2 was shut down in 1995 to avoid this cost and other major repairs, primarily to steam generators. The other 3 reactors are scheduled for retubing starting in 2000, but could instead by shut down at that time. The Bruce “A” Station began operations between 1977 and 1979. It is unlikely that Ontario Hydro will be able to justify the expense of retubing its aging reactors when faced with increasing competition in the electricity sector. [emphasis added; endnotes omitted.]

In fact, according to Ontario Hydro documents and sworn testimony, the other 3 reactors of the Bruce-A station are not scheduled for retubing starting in 2000, or at any other time. Rather, they are scheduled to be shut down when they reach the end of pressure-tube life, starting in 2000. Ontario Hydro, of course, retains the option of changing its mind and retubing one or more of these reactors. But AECL’s assessment of the likelihood of that outcome must be viewed in the context of AECL’s historical record of forecasting future events, which can best be described as “laughable”. Indeed, it is just as hard in Ontario as in the U.S. to find competent, informed experts who expect to see major capital refits to aging nuclear stations, especially as our electricity system becomes more market-oriented and competitive.4

In the early 1990s, Ontario Hydro spent a considerable sum — $203 million in Canadian dollars — on its plans to retube two of the reactors of the Bruce-A station — units 1 and 2, in reverse numerical order. In 1993, Ontario Hydro officially “wrote off” that investment, on the grounds that it was not expected to accrue to the benefit of electricity customers.5

Furthermore, on March 21, 1994, Ontario Hydro Nuclear submitted its “Strategic Plan for Future Operation of Bruce A Nuclear Generating Station” in writing to the Atomic Energy Control Board.6

That document is quite clear in assuring the Atomic Energy Control Board that all four units of Bruce-A will actually reach a premature end of life. Consider, for example, the following specific passages:

In paragraph 1.0 — “Strategic Plan Overview” — of Attachment 1 of the package and the corresponding chart — “Bruce ‘A’ Operating Strategy” — Ontario Hydro told the Atomic Energy Control Board that Bruce Unit 1 would “SHUT DOWN JANUARY )” in the year 2000, and gave the explanation “P/T [i.e., pressure tube] LIFE LIMIT”. For Bruce Unit 3, the notice “SHUT DOWN APRIL” appears in the year 2008, accompanied by “P/T LIFE LIMIT”. For Bruce Unit 4, the notice “SHUT DOWN APRIL” appears in the year 2006, accompanied by “P/T LIFE LIMIT”, but it is followed by the following Note: “ADDITIONAL SLAR IN THE 1990’S WILL ENABLE UNIT TO EXTEND PRESSURE TUBE LIFE LIMIT TO APRIL 2011.”

Attachment 4, Section 1, first paragraph, says “… the elements required to ensure safe operation of Units 1 and 2 to their planned end of life (which have now been firmed up) have been incorporated into their operating strategies.” Same section, page 2, first complete paragraph says “For Unit 1, an end of life in 2000 is now planned, based on fuel channel creep induced elongation.”

These passages make absolutely clear how firm and unambiguous Ontario Hydro has been in assuring the Atomic Energy Control Board that it actually plans to shut down Bruce A Units 1, 3, and 4 in January 2000, April 2008, and April 2011, respectively. Any assurances to the contrary — especially from AECL — should be given little credence.

The fear of exemption from environmental assessment in Ontario is even more well-founded than NAP indicates.

Nuclear Awareness Project writes (Submission, p. 4):

Energy Probe’s Notes, page 4

There is no guarantee that the plutonium fuel scheme will undergo an environmental assessment at either the provincial or federal level. An exemption was granted to the Bruce “A” Station in 1976 under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, and the use of MOX fuel may come under this exemption.

Indeed, Energy Probe has direct and painful experience in this matter: A legal attempt by Energy Probe to force an Ontario EA of another serious change at an exempted nuclear station — specifically the decision to build an Ontario-wide Tritium Removal [and storage] facility at the Darlington station — was rejected by the Ontario courts. The courts found that the proposal to build the nuclear station, which was exempted from the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, was extremely vague and general. Therefore, the exemption from Environmental Assessment even covered the later decision to construct an Ontario-wide waste-extraction and – storage facility — on a part of the property that was shown as an open space on the maps drawn when the exemption was granted!7

Moreover, the Federal Environmental Assessment Panel on High-Level Waste Disposal (see p. 3 of NAP’s submission) has already repeatedly indicated its unwillingness to enter into discussions of the potential implications of this proposal on the quantity or nature of high-level nuclear waste in Canada, because it views the proposal as still hypothetical.

As one indication of the treatment of this issue before the Federal Environmental Assessment Panel, following is an intervention on the second day of the hearing by Dr. P. Brown of Natural Resources Canada, explaining why there is no need for that panel to review this proposal:

THE CHAIRMAN: Microphone number 3?

DR. P. BROWN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Your indulgence, please. This is more of a comment rather than a question.

The CANDU option — I just want to clarify one point, and that is that the CANDU option for burning MOX fuel is only a proposal for consideration; it is not a confirmed project. And any project that was there would not start until the year 2000, and, in any event, it would have to meet all applicable Canadian environmental and regulatory requirements before a decision to proceed with the option was indeed given.

So it is not a fait accompli at this point. Thank you.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Dr. Brown.8

These recent developments give further credence to NAP’s concerns in regard to any federal Environmental Assessment of this undertaking.

Energy Probe’s Notes, page 5

End-Notes

1. See, for example, PEIS, Summary volume, Attachment B: “Summary Comparison of Environmental Impacts for Plutonium Disposition Alternatives”, pp. S-122–S-155. http://web.fie.com/htdoc/fed/doe/fsl/pub/down/any/doedn006.htm Back to document

2. See, for example, Mark Nichols, “Debating the CANDU option: Should Canada process plutonium?” in Maclean’s, May 6, 1996, pp. 46-47; “Plutonium plan to go before G7” in The Financial Post, April 17, 1996, p. 2. Back to document

3. Nuclear Awareness Project, Submission to the U.S. Department of Energy Regarding the Storage and Disposition of Weapons-Usable Fissile Materials Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, June 6, 1996. Back to document

4. This morning’s release of A Framework for Competition, The Report of the Advisory Committee on Competition in Ontario’s Electricity System to the Ontario Minister of Environment and Energy, can only be seen as reinforcing and accelerating this widespread trend. Back to document

5. Testimony at the Ontario Energy Board, HR22 hearing, esp. Transcript volume 16, pp. 3174-3178. Back to document

6. The document bears Ontario Hydro file number BGA 00531 (P). It was distributed by AECB staff to its Board and to the present author as Board Member Document BMD 94-65A, dated 1994-03-30. This document was also filed (by Energy Probe) as Exhibit 4.2.17 at the Ontario Energy Board on June 8, 1994. As far as we know, this document remains in force and has not been superseded by any subsequent documents. Back to document

7. Specific citations on request. First the Ontario lower court dismissed our action, then the Court of Appeals declined our Application for Leave to Appeal, without giving any reasons. Back to document

8. ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT REVIEW AGENCY, NUCLEAR FUEL WASTE MANAGEMENT AND DISPOSAL CONCEPT, PUBLIC HEARINGS, MARCH 12, 1996, VOLUME 2, p.

 

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