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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Plutonium, To Canada or Bust

Air Date: Week of

Canadian commentator Suzanne Elston ponders her country's willingness to receive shipments of plutonium for nuclear reactor use testing from the U.S. Department of Energy. Ms. Elston is a syndicated columnist who lives in Courtice, Ontario, and she comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.


CURWOOD: Next month the US Department of Energy is scheduled to begin shipping weapons-grade plutonium to Canada for testing as fuel for nuclear reactors. Commentator and Canadian Suzanne Elston wonders why her country is being so hospitable.

ELSTON: On the stupid scale from 1 to 10, this one definitely rates an 11. The folks at Ontario Hydro and Atomic Energy Canada Limited have come up with a mind-numbing plan. They want to take weapons-grade plutonium and turn it into fuel for Canada's nuclear reactors. See, when the United States and the former Soviet Union stopped threatening to nuke each other, they were left with this huge arsenal of nuclear bombs. So they've been slowly taking them apart, only to be left with big piles of the deadliest substance known to man: weapons-grade plutonium.

Now, the Americans and the Russians may have decided to make peace, but there's a whole new generation of potential nuclear terrorists out there. They'd just love to get their hands on the stuff, so they could take their turn at threatening the world. So the problem becomes how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands for the next several thousand years.

Enter us Canadians. We've cooked up this plan to mix the plutonium with uranium and use it for fuel in our nuclear reactors. Now, the first hurdle is getting the stuff up here from Los Alamos, New Mexico. So the US Department of Energy proposed 3 different truck routes. Michigan has already said no. So now the DOE has to decide on one of the 2 remaining routes, either through upstate New York or through the Dakotas.

What's really funny about this fiasco is that the communities that are simply going to get to wave at the stuff as it motors on by are more concerned than the Canadians who are going to end up babysitting it forever. Even once this mixed fuel has been spent in the reactor, it will be more radioactive than regular waste. And if this plan actually gets off the ground, Russia and the US have enough plutonium to keep Canadian reactors going for 20 years or more.

Talk about a growth economy. We're going to build a whole new industry around weapons-grade plutonium, and we get to keep the leftovers. That's right. Canada may soon become a global nuclear waste dump. What a deal. We get the waste, the terrorist threat, and possible environmental impact for thousands of years. And the 2 countries that made the mess in the first place get off scot-free. But hey, isn't that what good neighbors are for?

CURWOOD: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist who lives in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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