Ottawa Citizen Online

Monday 9 June 1997

The active U.S. and passive Canada

Kelly O'Grady

I am grateful to the Citizen staff for alerting us downstream residents of the discovery of yet another radioactive leak.

It is apparent that AECL does not feel any moral or legal obligation to notify the public. There have been no press releases issued that I am aware of. AECL clearly intends to avoid dealing with the radioactive waste contamination problems created by it s past and current actions, and is concealing the magnitude of these waste problems and their public health consequences.

Chalk River's dismissal of any concerns expressed over this latest leak looks irresponsible and unprofessional if you compare thei r reaction with the way the U.S. deals with its nuclear-waste problems.

Hanford in Washington State, like Chalk River in Canada, was chosen to be that nation's first nuclear complex. Unlike Chalk River, however, officials there have decided to face the problem of nuclear waste contamination. Cleanup of Hanford is under way, but it is an expensive, complex process. It will take at least 40 years and cost more than $50 billion to complete. Parts of the site will likely never be safe for human use.

In Hanford, it has been demonstrated that cesium, a gamma-ray emitting isotope, can travel through the soil. The Department of Energy's contractors dug hundreds of dry wells. No one at Hanford expected to find cesium at the bottom of those wells, which are 1 25 feet below the surface. But cesium was found, moving through the soil column. This is a significant contradiction of the current theory that cesium does not migrate far from the leak source.

Officials in Hanford are very worried about contamination of ground water, and of the Columbia River which runs close by. Atomic energy experts in Canada, meanwhile, tell us not to worry. We are fed drivel about there being more background radiation in a glass of milk, or in our walls, or wherever.

Residents downstream from Chalk River have been repeatedly assured that deadly contaminants from the nuclear reactors were trapped in the soils beneath the tanks and were not travelling downward to the ground water. This new information about cesium concerns us.

People in the area drinking well water should be concerned. There are documented cases of contamination in wells being traced back to toxic dumps 90 miles away!

In March of 1996, Anne McLellan, federal minister of natural resources, introduced the Nuc lear Safety and Control Act in the House of Commons.

The act replaces the outdated Atomic Energy Control Act of 1946. It enshrines in law the powers of inspectors and increases the minimum penalties for infractions from $10,000 to $1,000,000. It empowe rs the commission to order remedial action in hazardous situations and to require responsible parties to bear the cost of such actions.

AECL has had a poor record for leaks over their entire history. Now in discovery of this latest leak, what does the AECB do in light of its new authority? It meekly asks for a written report on the incident.

No fines are issued.

No remedial action is ordered.

My question is: How much longer will AECL be allowed to flaunt its total disregard for public health a nd safety?

(For more information on contaminated sites at AECL you can visit Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County's Web site at: ~cmichener/ccrc/CCRChome.html)

Kelly O'Grady, Pembroke