Comments on the AECL "Emergency Response Assistance Plan,
MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River", dated September 2000

Prepared by:
Sierra Club of Canada, National Office
September 15, 2000

Submitted to:
MOX Comments Officer
Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate
Transport Canada

The comments contained herein address the AECL "Emergency Response Assistance Plan, MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River", dated September 2000. They are to be considered as an addendum to Sierra Club of Canada’s comments dated August 24, 2000 (and submitted to Transport Canada on August 25, 2000) which address the AECL "Emergency Response Assistance Plan, MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River" dated July 2000.

Sierra Club’s August 24, 2000 comments are included as Appendix 1 to this document.

We would briefly note that the 15 day extension to the public comment period to address Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) September revisions is wholly inadequate in length of time, as are the limitations of scope imposed upon the review process as a whole.

With regard to the revised ERAP itself, the AECL “Emergency Response Assistance Plan, MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River", dated September 2000, raises a number of questions concerning the issue of a plutonium fuel spill, including the level of remediation and clean-up required under the plan. For example, would AECL be required to recover 100 percent of spilled plutonium, or only 80 percent or some smaller amount? Would AECL make a distinction between an immediate (versus “longer-term”) public health threat from released plutonium? If so, how would this distinction be arrived at?

The September 2000 AECL ERAP, provides an inadequate response to these questions and to the possible release of plutonium into the environment. This interpretation is not merely a matter of opinion or conjecture. Transport Canada has confirmed, in a letter to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) from John Read, DG, Dangerous Goods Directorate, dated September 14, 2000 (responding to questions put forward by CELA on behalf of Sierra Club, the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout and other groups) that “clean-up is not required within the scope of an emergency response assistance plan”. The letter (a copy of which is included as part of this submission in Appendix 2) goes on to state that “The goal of emergency response is to arrive as rapidly as possible at a stable state in which there is no longer an immediate threat to public safety”.

Testimony provided by Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute has confirmed accidental release of plutonium-fuel powder is indeed possible (see for example, Dr. Lyman’s August 25, 2000 submission to Transport Canada). It is known that the “Type B” container chosen by AECL can be destroyed by a severe impact, such as that caused by an aircraft accident. The ceramic fuel pellets would be partially pulverized by such an impact, and can become almost completely pulverized by exposure to fire in the presence of oxygen for as little as 30 minutes.

This possibility leads to the logical conclusion that 1) transport of plutonium fuel by air is an unacceptable risk and 2) given the extraordinary toxicity of plutonium particles if inhaled, it is imperative that any release be immediately and completely contained, ie. in such a manner that to quote the Transport Canada letter, “there is no longer an immediate threat to public safety”.

With respect to the latter point, the only way to deal with the immediate threat posed by spilled plutonium would be through a full and immediate clean-up. In other words, there can be no distinction made, with regard to the need for a full and complete clean-up, between an immediate and longer term threat. The very nature of plutonium toxicity makes it one in the same. The revised AECL ERAP fails to outline how this full and immediate clean-up would be undertaken.

The revised AECL ERAP for the first time describes the use of full-face respirators, body suits and double rubber gloves for AECL personnel in the event of an accident. However there is no training program described for instructing firefighters, medical personnel, and others on the use of this clothing. Nor is there any indication of how to prevent the inadvertent spread of plutonium contamination picked up by clothing and equipment. (It is notable that AECL previously held the position -- if statements to the media are an indication -- that a piece of paper could be used to block radioactive emissions if there were an accident involving MOX fuel. See for example, The Montreal Gazette, March 23, 1999, p. A11 and the Calgary Herald, April 27, 1999, p. A9).

Similarly, there is no consideration of measures to prevent plutonium contamination of vehicles, emergency rooms or medical personnel who might be required to deal with casualties prior to the arrival of the AECL Radiological Assessment Team.

In conclusion, and as stated at greater length in our August 24th comments, Transport Canada has a duty to place the public interest ahead of the priorities of the nuclear industry and its government supporters. If Transport Canada chooses to exercise this duty it follows that approval to transport weapons plutonium fuel (MOX) from Russia to Canada should be withheld.

Note to the MOX Comments Officer, Transport Canada: Please publish and publicly distribute these comments.

Appendix 1

Sierra Club of Canada

Comments on the AECL "Emergency Response Assistance Plan,
MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River" dated July 2000

Prepared by:
Sierra Club of Canada, National Office
August 24, 2000

Submitted to:
MOX Comments Officer
Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate
Transport Canada

1. Introduction

The Sierra Club of Canada is a national, membership-based, non-profit organization dedicated to environmental protection and restoration and increasing public awareness about the natural environment. The Sierra Club of Canada has raised concerns about the import of weapons plutonium fuel (MOX) with governments, the public and the media since 1996.

In its correspondence with Government of Canada officials between 1996 and 2000, the Sierra Club of Canada was never lead to believe at any time, of the possibility of the MOX shipment from the United States being transported by air. Moreover, media reports and the consultation materials provided in the fall of 1999, indicated that the shipments would occur by road.

As for the Russian shipments, the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Transportation Plan and the Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) of August, 1999 both ruled out air shipment and instead pursued approval for shipment by sea and road only.

The Sierra Club of Canada is opposed to the transport of plutonium fuel (MOX) from Russia to Canada. We believe that 1) the July 2000 AECL 'MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River' ERAP is fundamentally flawed and should not be approved; 2) the manner in which the weapons plutonium fuel issue has been managed in Canada has ignored basic democratic processes and the public interest; 3) the entire MOX project should be cancelled.

2. Scope of Opposition to the Parallex Project

Opposition to the Chrétien government's participation in the "Parallex Project" (the weapons plutonium fuel 'test' project) and its support for the larger plutonium import plan is widespread. In 1998 parliamentary hearings, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade recommended that the plutonium import plan be scrapped because it was found to be "unfeasible" in terms of non-proliferation objectives.

Since then, First Nations communities along with hundreds of municipalities, including 167 municipalities in Quebec, have passed resolutions against the importation and transport of weapons plutonium fuel (MOX) in Canada. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has also passed a resolution against the project, as well as the Conference of Great Lakes Mayors. Firefighters and Police associations have recommended that the project not go forward.

3. Constraints placed on matters of public interest /
Reasons to reject the July 2000 ERAP

The federal government's limiting of the scope of public comments concerning the MOX import plan in the fall of 1999 to elements of the Parallex Project transportation plan – which was then radically changed (ie. land to air transport for U.S. weapons plutonium fuel) without opportunity for further public comment – clearly compromised the premise of "public consultation". During the fall 1999 comment period on AECL's emergency plans, over ninety percent of the submissions made to Transport Canada were opposed to the project.

The federal government's approach to approving the transport by air of U.S. weapons plutonium fuel to Chalk River in January 2000 calls into question whether Transport Canada is truly prepared (or perhaps, due to political intervention, able) to serve the public interest by rejecting the current Russia to Canada ERAP.

Establishing a 28 day comment period for the Russian phase of MOX transportation, at the height of Canada's summer holiday period, points to a continued and deliberate pattern of constraining public input. It’s also reasonable to assume that the only reason the comment period was established is because a coalition of First Nations and environment groups launched a lawsuit in June 2000 over ack of public consultations in connection with the move from land to air transport (the lawsuit was withdrawn following the federal government’s announcement of the comment period in July).

The extent of public opposition and the government’s failure to adequately serve the public interest stand as compelling reasons to not only cancel the current Russia to Canada MOX transport plan but the entire project. However if (as the department’s prior conduct would suggest) Transport Canada considers these facts to be outside the scope of its mandate, numerous problematical issues associated with the content of the July 2000 ERAP clearly fall within it.

Among the reasons that Transport Canada should not approve the July 2000 AECL ERAP,
"MOX Fuel Shipment from Moscow to Chalk River" are the following:

a) In November 1999, Transport Canada approved AECL's plan to transport the US weapons plutonium fuel by truck, and the Russian weapons plutonium fuel by land and sea, stating not once but five times that the plutonium would not be flown for safety reasons.

b) When heated in the presence of oxygen, ceramic MOX pellets spontaneously swell (increasing their volume by as much as 30 percent) and crumble into dust. In 1982, a German laboratory reduced a MOX pellet to a fine powder by heating it at 400° C for about 30 minutes. A temperature of 400° C is about that of a kerosene fire. (AECL has used the same technique, at about the same temperature, to break down nuclear fuel pellets in its "DUPIC" process.)

If the package is damaged in a severe air crash, allowing oxygen to get to the MOX fuel, then fire - even at relatively low temperatures - could release a fine plutonium-bearing powder into the atmosphere. Once released, such radioactive dust is extremely difficult to control, locate, or clean up. United States law effectively prohibits the air transport of MOX plutonium, given the extraordinary toxicity of inhaled plutonium dust. The July 2000 ERAP fails to address this kind of accident scenario.

c) Transport Canada has failed to require AECL to provide detailed plans for identifying, locating, controlling and retrieving an atmospheric dispersal of plutonium-bearing dust, and dealing with plutonium-contaminated casualties. A review how AECL would respond to the dispersal of a fine plutonium dust into the atmosphere is critical given that last year, two Chalk River employees were over-exposed to respirable plutonium dust even though they were wearing protective equipment. Charges have been laid against AECL by the Nuclear Safety Commission (formerly known as the Atomic Energy Control Board) in connection with this incident.

d) AECL representatives and federal Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale have stated that it is virtually impossible for plutonium to be released in a respirable form during an accident. Yet the US Department of Energy, in a 1997 environmental assessment document ("Environmental Assessment for the Parallex Project Fuel Manufacture and Shipment"), states:

"Two credible transportation accident scenarios were analyzed for the shipment of MOX fuel to the Canadian border . . . .

"The first accident relates to an event that leads to the MOX fuel package container breaking open, igniting, and releasing plutonium dioxide particles into the air. The public is assumed to be near enough to the accident to breathe air contaminated with plutonium dioxide."

The report makes it clear that this scenario, while unlikely, has "a reasonable probability of occurrence". (Section 5.2 "MOX Transportation Accidents")

In the previous AECL Emergency Plan for land and sea transport, AECL identified four out of eight categories of accidents where the container would be completely destroyed. But in the new plan, accident scenarios are not discussed.

Transport Canada should not approve the July 2000 ERAP as it fails to consider the possible consequences of credible accident scenarios. AECL should be required to publish its detailed accident analyses and subject them to independent public scrutiny.

e) Transport Canada has acknowledged that there is no MOX container qualified to survive all credible air accidents.

In its November 1999 report, Transport Canada stated "the material will not be flown" because a severe transportation accident "could result in the release of a heavy dust

[which] has the potential for damage if inhaled." Noting that AECL would be using a Type B container (rather than a Type C container or better, as required by US Law for air transport), Transport Canada stated that the MOX test samples could not be flown:

"Not until there were a container deemed safe enough to survive all credible airplane accidents."

Transport Canada should not approve AECL's plan to transport plutonium fuel (MOX) by air using a "Type B" container. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has, since 1996, been formulating standards for a stronger "Type C" container, intended for transporting radioactive materials by air. The only reason "Type B" casks are permitted at present by IAEA is because the new standards have not yet been adopted.

It is illegal to transport plutonium fuel by air in the United States because there is no container that has been deemed safe enough. Even a Type C container, as currently envisaged by IAEA, would not be strong enough to meet U.S. standards.

If Transport Canada approves air transport of Russian MOX using a the proposed container it will establish a dangerous precedent for the shipment of radioactive materials.

f) Transport Canada has a responsibility to potentially affected communities. Yet in AECL's July 2000 ERAP, there are no routes delineated and no potentially affected communities specified. Has Transport Canada contacted all of the emergency services in all of the potentially affected communities, including municipal governments, emergency responders and hospitals along the route? The communities potentially affected by an accident have a right to know that they are on the flight path.

g) The Parallex Project was originally intended to lay the groundwork for a parallel, symmetric reduction in the excess weapons plutonium stockpiles of the USA and Russia. When the US announced earlier this year that they have no intention of sending any more plutonium to Canada, the stated rationale for the Parallex Project collapsed. Yet the Project is still proceeding as if nothing has changed.

In fact, Russia is now sending four and a half times more plutonium than the U.S. There is no parallelism left any more, even for the test phase of the plutonium import program. Transport Canada should not approve the emergency plan given that the rationale behind the project no longer exists.

h) The impetus for the idea of burning plutonium in reactors comes not from the peace and disarmament community, but from the nuclear power establishments of Canada, Russia and the United States -all of whom would like to extend the life of their aging nuclear reactors. This raises many legitimate public safety concerns.

When a CANDU reactor is fuelled with MOX, the radioactive inventory in the reactor core ends up being four to five times greater than if the same reactor were fuelled with natural uranium. Therefore, the harmful consequences of a reactor accident involving fuel damage will be correspondingly much greater if MOX fuel is used.

MOX fuel is also more reactive than natural uranium fuel, making greater demands on the control and shut-down systems of a CANDU reactor fuelled with MOX. Therefore,

the probability of a serious reactor accident is correspondingly increased if MOX fuel is used.

Because the irradiated fuel from a CANDU reactor fuelled with MOX ends up being four to five times more radioactive (than natural uranium), the plutonium content of the spent fuel is also correspondingly greater.

These characteristics of irradiated MOX fuel will introduce additional complications in the long-term storage of high level radioactive waste because of increased heat generation, increased concentration of fission products, and increased probability of accidental criticality (whereby the residual plutonium in the irradiated fuel spontaneously undergoes a nuclear chain reaction).

It is inappropriate for Transport Canada to be put in the position of approving the July 2000 ERAP, when an entire range of reactor safety, security and cost implications associated with the use of MOX fuel have not been fully examined.

4. Conclusion

Importing weapons plutonium to Canada will not serve the interests of nuclear disarmament or nonproliferation. The use of plutonium fuel in civilian reactors will encourage the circulation of this dangerous nuclear material in the civilian economy, not only in Canada, the United States and Russia, but possibly in countries with Canadian-designed reactors.

Canada's plutonium import program could seriously undermine the non-proliferation objectives of policies first adopted by the Carter Administration in the late 1970s and supported by every subsequent US administration, to discourage the widespread civilian use of plutonium - in order to minimize the global spread of nuclear weapons materials and capabilities. Rather than propping up a dying nuclear industry, Canada should be phasing out nuclear power and calling for the end of the production of plutonium.

If the federal government is serious about addressing the global plutonium problem they should promote an international initiative to halt the production of all new plutonium, oppose the separation of plutonium from irradiated fuel for any purpose, and take existing separated plutonium out of circulation, treat it as a dangerous waste product and guard existing weapons plutonium stocks under a strict international security regime. The federal government should not encourage, or be party to, the transport of plutonium materials between countries.

The Sierra Club of Canada calls on Transport Canada to place the public interest ahead of the priorities of the nuclear industry and its government supporters and refuse to approve air transport of weapons plutonium fuel (MOX) from Russia to Canada.

Note to the MOX Comments Officer, Transport Canada: These comments may be published and publicly distributed.

Appendix 2

Letter from Transport Canada, Dangerous Goods Directorate
to Canadian Environmental Law Association, dated September 14, 2000

(attachment to print version)

Sierra Club of Canada