What’s acceptable to nuclear industry shouldn’t be to us

Monday 9 June 1997

Norman Rubin

As in most of his writing, and on his Web page, Jeremy Whitlock’s letter (June 4) is a mixed bag: a handful of quasi-religious nuclear-industry “perspective” and a pinch of downright falsehood.

Whitlock is leaping to the defense of hi s employer, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which has been discovered — again — to have allowed radioactive liquid waste — tens of millions of litres of it — to reach the Ottawa River because of leaky plumbing (“Another leak at Chalk River,” June 4) .

Part of the defense is that the Ottawa is a large river, and any toxic and cancer-causing substance leaked into it — the main concern here is a radioactive hydrogen isotope called tritium — would be diluted by its impressive volume. That’s a fact. But for those who don’t share his nuclear-industry religion, it’s not a justification for putting cancer-causing substances into the public drinking water for 20 years in a row.

Another part of his defense is that nature exposes us all to a great deal of radiation — more, for most of us, than the nuclear industry does. That is also a fact and a sad one: Whitlock conveniently neglects to mention that the international scientific establishment now estimates that roughly one percent of Citizen readers wi ll die of cancer caused by that natural radiation. I can accept that risk in return for living on this terrific planet, but I’ll be damned if I’ll condone AECL making those risks even greater.

Unfortunately for the truth, Whitlock confuses the nuclear industry with Mother Nature when he says “the natural radioactivity of the Ottawa River is something like five becquerels per litre.” In fact, the vast majority of the Ottawa’s “background” radioactivity is not from nature, but from the remaining fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. So is the tritium in our milk, and our beer. That might seem “natural” to some of the former weapons designers at Chalk River Labs, but not to me.

The real tragedy is that Canada’s nuclear regulator, the AECB, sh ares Whitlock’s quasi-religious views on radioactive pollution. That is why its “strict” regulations allow Chalk River to dump more tritium into the Ottawa River each month than our whole planet creates naturally in a year.

Norman Rubin director of nuc lear research Energy Probe, Toronto

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