Weapons-grade uranium available in Canada

Tom Adams

June 28, 2002

Dear Concerned Citizen:

Experts in nuclear weapons recognize that by far the most difficult step in building a bomb like the one that destroyed Hiroshima is acquiring sufficient weapons-grade material.

Yet a private Canadian multinational, MDS Nordion, has stockpiled almost two nuclear bombs’ worth of the material near Ottawa. And this company is trying to import enough from the U.S. to more than double its stockpile.

MDS – a medical supplier – likes to use weapons-grade uranium instead of other materials that are not attractive to terrorists and rogue states because it is convenient and profitable. As it said in 1999, “switching to safer, low-enriched uranium fuel would be too costly and too troublesome.” Some of MDS’s commercial competitors have installed or are installing modified processes that do not require the use of the nuclear-bomb ingredients.

Blinded by its commercial interests, MDS has failed to recognize its contribution to the risk of nuclear arms proliferation and global terrorism. When asked recently by the Ottawa Citizen about Canadian and U.S. watchdog groups’ concerns, a corporate vice president said, “It would be the first time that I’ve ever heard that Canada is a proliferation threat.”

To our disappointment, Canada’s government is less concerned about the proliferation implications of trafficking in weapons-grade uranium than the U.S. government. While the U.S. government has been trying to phase out commerce in weapons-grade uranium, our federal government’s own Atomic Energy of Canada is building two new reactors and a processing facility north of Ottawa on behalf of MDS that are designed to use the convenient but dangerous substance. These projects are proceeding poorly. AECL has experienced serious safety problems, delays, and cost overruns. One reactor was started up briefly, only to be shut down for extensive testing and renovation following a failed safety test. The other reactor has yet to be brought on line.

The delay in starting these reactors creates an opportunity to convert to a safer process that does not rely on weapons-grade uranium. If MDS is not forced to discontinue its commerce in weapons-grade uranium soon, it will be more expensive to convert to a safer system once the two new reactors are fully radioactive and the processing facility becomes contaminated.

There is a growing international consensus that to reduce risks to international security, reliance on weapons-grade uranium in research reactors, test reactors, and isotope production reactors should be eliminated. Canada is one of the last nations to engage in international trafficking in weapons-grade uranium.

If you agree that we should stop putting profits ahead of public safety, please contact Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bill Graham, and urge him to bring Canada into line with international efforts to cease all use of, and commerce in, weapons-grade uranium (see contact information, below).

And please consider a generous donation to Energy Probe. We are working with other citizens’ groups around the world to stop all production, stockpiling, and trafficking in weapons-grade material. Your tax-creditable, charitable donation will support us in this cause.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Adams
Executive Director

 

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