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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the March 2013 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.34, No.1.

Bomb-Grade Logic

by Jeremy Whitlock

CAMBRIDGE BAY, NUNAVUT, June 2045: Anti-diesel groups are decrying a plan by the federal government to ship over two million litres of the bomb-grade liquid petroleum product to the U.S. for safe conversion and recycling.

The material has been in storage under high-security at this remote northern Canadian community for most of the last two decades, following the start-up of a suite of "micro" nuclear reactors that now provide the municipality's heating and electricity needs.

Diesel once saw widespread use in the Canadian arctic, particularly in regions without ready access to natural gas, and wherever natural gas price volatility made it increasingly less practical.

The advent of nuclear energy has now limited the use of diesel to transportation, leaving millions of litres of the fuel under close scrutiny in storage tanks.

The problem, according to groups like the Canadian Coalition for Fossil Responsibility (CCFR), is that diesel oil can be directly used in weapons of mass destruction and other forms of terrorist bombs.

Moreover, it is used in over 80% of mining and construction explosives in North America, which, according to the CCFR, means that the knowledge of how to manufacture an explosive with it is widespread.

"These so-called ANFO, or fertilizer bombs, have been the weapon of choice for terrorists and insurgents around the world since the 1970's," says the literature on the CCFR website.

ANFO's notoriety stems from high-profile attacks such as the 1993 World Trade Centre and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, as well as countless car bombs and other IEDs used in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other trouble spots over the years.

"In any situation where the essential technical know-how is widespread," says the CCFR, "the only limiting factor is access to materials. Since the key ingredients for ANFO weapons are diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate found in fertilizer, the attractiveness of these devices becomes understandable."

Hence the level of security accorded this surplus material in Cambridge Bay. Recently, however, U.S. Homeland Security has increasingly become concerned about stockpiles of the bomb-grade fuel around the world, and has attempted to reduce the global risk by buying it up and shipping it to U.S. soil for safekeeping.

The plan with the Cambridge Bay stockpile is to convert it from Arctic diesel to standard transportation grade for the rest of the United States, and safely distribute it to the nation's vehicle fleet.

However this will involve hundreds of truck shipments, as well as ocean freighter shipping.

"Rather than leaving this deadly material in its current secure location, where it presents a minimal risk," says a CCFR news release, "the government seeks to make a buck by selling it to the U.S., sending it thousands of miles through our waters and on our highways."

This poses an environmental risk that is even greater than the terrorist risk, according to the CCFR.

"Humankind has never mastered the art of safely handling petroleum products, either on water or land," says the CCFR.

"History is littered with the environmental catastrophes of past attempts. This lethal proposal demands nothing less than a full Environmental Assessment, so the public can have a say in whether it is safe enough."

At issue is the government decision to keep the route of the diesel shipments top secret, and to avoid a public Environmental Assessment due to security concerns.

"It's environmental hypocrisy," claims the CCFR, "This is not like shipments of nuclear fuel or waste, where we know much more about the process, and where we have never had a problem. Why can't diesel shipments be held to the same level of accountability and protection?"

"Furthermore, nuclear material hasn't been used in a bombing anywhere for a hundred years. This deadly and toxic diesel fuel is used to blow something up, somewhere in the world, on a weekly basis."

"And it sets yet another dangerous precedent - that it's OK to ship high level liquid bomb material whenever the fossil-fuel technocrats find it convenient to do so."

"It appears more and more that the Age of Diesel Power is drawing to a close, but the Age of Diesel Waste has just begun. It is essential that the public withhold approval from dangerous and unnecessary practices such as this."

Discussion welcome.

©2013 Jeremy Whitlock

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