When decommissioned, the steam generators fromt he Bruce Nuclear Generating Station each weigh approximately 100 tonnes and are contaminated on the inside with a small amount of radioactivity due to decades of use.
By Tyler Irving
Posted March 2011
As soon as the ice melts this spring, a ship containing 16 radiation-contaminated steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station could travel across the Great Lakes to Sweden. Despite vocal objections about the public safety risk of shipping radioactive materials across the Great Lakes from environmental groups, First Nations, and regional officials, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the shipment in early February.
The generators in question once contained water that was heated by a nuclear reaction. Over the years a small amount of radioactive material was deposited on the inside of tubes in the generators. Because they are radioactive, their transport requires approval from the CNSC. Hearings were held last fall, with opponents arguing that approval would set a precedent for shipping nuclear waste on the Great Lakes. However, in a rare technical briefing following the announcement of the decision, CNSC Executive Vice President and Chief Regulatory Officer, Ramzi Jammal characterized the public response as “fearmongering.”
“It’s 100 tons of steel but it is less than 4 grams of radioactive substances,” he said. “The maximum public dose for a person standing at one metre from the steam generator is 0.08 millisieverts [per hour] therefore extremely low.” By comparison, medical isotopes put out 1.2 millisieverts, and thousands of these are shipped around the world in approved containers every year. Jammal asserted that the only difference between this shipment and others is the size of the object. “If [the steam generators] would fit into an existing approved package, I’ll be very honest with you, we would not be here.”
The plan still faces hurdles. The Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Sierra Club of Canada are in the process of trying to challenge the ruling on the grounds that it exceeds CNSC’s jurisdiction. Hearings were also held before the federal government’s committee on natural resources in early March.
Photo Credit: Bruce Power
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