To The Montreal Gazette (published 99/04/10) in response to a letter by Gordon Edwards (99/04/02), president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility:

1999 April 10

To the Editor, The Montreal Gazette:

Gordon Edwards (Letters, April 2) advises Canadians to "ascertain the whole truth" about Canada's MOX (mixed uranium-oxide fuel) proposal, and then proceeds to provide half of it. The proposal itself - to dispose of tonnes of surplus weapons plutonium by extracting energy from it safely in CANDU reactors - is at the conceptual stage, but Mr. Edwards would have us believe that the deal is done.

If and when the former Cold War belligerents eventually ask us to dispose of some of their plutonium, public consultation will take place by the usual processes. I hope the members of the Canada's "Nix MOX" campaign, who hope to destroy the initiative here and now, take heed.

In fact, Canadians have been deriving energy from plutonium for almost 40 years - about as much as we have been deriving from uranium.

Plutonium is created naturally in a nuclear reactor, and contributes enormously to the total energy production. What plutonium survives is locked within the spent fuel, diluted and inefficient for military use. Management of spent nuclear fuel is common practice, and an ultimate disposal technology exists that a federal environmental review panel recently found to be safe, albeit lacking in public support. The MOX proposal is simply to replicate this process, but with the substitution of small amounts (about 2 per cent) of weapons plutonium.

The product would be similar to regular spent CANDU fuel, and would be highly proliferation-resistant. Mr. Edwards refers to the relevant U.S. National Academy of Sciences study, but neglects to point out that this respected source recommended the reactor approach as one of two parallel strategies to the U.S. government, a recommendation ultimately accepted.

The other approach, which Mr. Edwards supports but does not mention, is to mix the weapons plutonium with radioactive material and store it for thousands of years. This method also increases proliferation resistance, but lacks a reactor's ability to both destroy plutonium and denature the remainder beyond military effectiveness. There are pros and cons to both approaches, but I fail to see how an objective appraisal could condemn one over the other, as Mr. Edwards has done.

Finally, what benefit would this offer to Canadians? Beyond the normal benefits of having nuclear power in their energy mix - billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases avoided, reduced air pollution, preservation of dwindling oil and gas resources, and thousands of jobs in a world-leading Canadian high-tech industry - Canadians would be providing neutral-territory disposition of some of this world's nuclear weapons. As an employee of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and as a Canadian citizen, I am proud that CANDU technology could play such a role in the global disarmament effort.

Mr. Edwards gave his Web site for further information, and I give mine:


Jeremy Whitlock