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What to expect from media and politicians when we want action on nuclear wastes

We have to create such a social movement that the press cannot ignore it, and then the press starts reporting.
people, when they get themselves mobilized, can really have an effect on events

A conversation with Dr. Gordon Edwards: contemporary issues in the Canadian nuclear industry, and a look back at the achievements of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR),, August 25, 2018,   Nuclear waste management: an exercise in cynical thinking., 24 Sept 2018  “………… What to expect from media and politicians
I think you appear sometimes on CBC and they give you five minutes or ten minutes, so has any of that sort of transformed into journalists picking up the issue and working with it more seriously, or politicians bringing up the issue in parliament?

We live in a very scattered society right now with what’s going on with President Trump in the United States, and what’s going on with the media. The concentration of ownership of the media, the elimination of a lot of independent journalism, like neighborhood newspapers and that sort of thing, community newspapers. Even within the mainstream media there is the idea that journalists are now being shunted into media conglomerates where the reporting is expected to go simultaneously into numerous papers, and so this makes it more and more difficult for these kinds of things to be done. However, as I point out to my friends, we’ve had many, many examples like, for instance, apartheid South Africa, or the Soviet Union before its demise, where there was no free press, and yet people got things done. The thing is that I don’t think the absence of a vital press should be a serious obstacle. I think we have to use whatever tools we have available to us, and we in North America have all kinds of freedom to express ourselves, and so we have to use what tools are available to us. For example, we’ve had many victories.

19. VictoriesI could tell you a few stories because without knowing specific examples, it all sounds very airy-fairy. It all sounds very theoretical, but, for example, we have Bruce Power, which is a private company that rents publicly owned nuclear reactors in Ontario, eight of them, and operates them for profit. They wanted to ship sixteen contaminated steam generators through the Great Lakes and through the Saint Lawrence Seaway and across the ocean to Sweden for their convenience basically. It was for their convenience so that they could have these things dismantled in Sweden. And also some of the radioactive left leftovers would be in fact secretly blended, and I say secretly. They would not reveal the names of the companies involved. Those are secret because those companies would not want the public to know what they’re engaged in. And that was actually recorded in public hearings. They wanted to secretly blend some of this less radioactive metal with non-contaminated metal. So they wanted to deliberately contaminate scrap metal. They wanted to deliberately contaminate the scrap metal market without any knowledge or notification that this scrap metal contained post-fission radioactive waste. And of course more and more of this is going to be happening as time goes on.

So we managed to stop that, and we managed to stop that through very word-of-mouth methods. We managed to get hundreds of communities passing resolutions against it on both sides of the border, both in the United States and Canada. We got lawmakers in the United States sending letters objecting, and the press was never playing a leadership role in this, but as the story became more interesting they would report on it just because it’s a good news story.

But to expect the press to play any leadership role is dreaming in technicolor, I think, especially in today’s world. We have to create such a social movement that the press cannot ignore it, and then the press starts reporting. And the same thing goes with the government. In certain respects you could say that our government leaders are not leaders. They’re followers, and the largest voices, the loudest voices are usually the voices of industry, and so they follow what they’re being told by industry or by other countries, big players like the United States, for example, but occasionally the public voice becomes loud enough that it drowns out the industrial voice or at least rivals it. In those cases a government can finally act, in their own self-interest, but not totally in their own self-interest. I hope that there’s a glimmer of concern, genuine concern about the future and the environment and doing the right thing.

But you’ve got to have a combination. It’s often said, for example, in lawsuits that behind the technical judgment where a judge might make some technical decision which lets somebody off the hook or which convicts somebody of some crime, there’s often a non-technical reason behind. Certain evidence has been heard and certain issues have been raised which, if a judge is touched by those issues, and feels that this is a case which deserves very careful consideration, then without breaking the law or even bending the law, the judge can find some legal aspect which will allow her or him to do the right thing. That’s not the judge’s main prerogative. His or her main prerogative is to ensure that the law is obeyed, and that can be done, but there has to be some kind of a conscience involved there, too, and I think there often is.

I think it’s the same thing with government. As I’ve said to people here, even if you yourself were the Minister of Energy all of a sudden, you couldn’t just do what you wanted. You have to have the support of your colleagues in cabinet. You have to have the support of people who have contributed to the party, and so on. These are all considerations, but if you have a vocal public who are clamoring to have something done, and it’s something you agree should be done, it strengthens your hand as a political person to be able to enact a law or to be able to take some political step which can be justified to colleagues. I don’t know if I’m making much sense here, but we’ve had some very good examples of this, not only with the steam generators.

20. Cross-border activism for environmental protectionI’ll give you one other example. In Vermont, the US Department of Energy were hunting for a repository in crystalline rock for high-level radioactive waste. This is back in the 90s. We had a busload of people here from Quebec who went down to Vermont and participated in public meetings and so on, and the Vermonters were delighted to see us there. And we raised some very pointed questions which the industry found difficult to answer. For example, the first question I asked at a public meeting was, “If this project is so safe, why is low population density one of your criteria?” And the man from the Department of Energy said that’s a good question, and he went red in the face, and he couldn’t give an answer.

So this thing blew up until the point where we had many public meetings in Vermont and we, as Quebecers, were invited to attend, and the US Department of Energy said, “Look, we have no choice. We have to obey the law, and the law has been written by the US Congress, the highest law of the land, and they passed a law saying that there will be a repository in crystalline rock in the Northeast United States, so don’t blame us. We can’t just snap our fingers and say we’re not going to do this.” But the voices of the people were so strong, and what really happened here was that it became an international incident because a lot of the people who were interacting within this debate were from the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Sherbrooke in particular, and the Member of Parliament from Sherbrooke was Jean Charest, who subsequently became the premier of Quebec. He was at that time a federal member of parliament. He went to his bosses in his own party, and who were the ruling party at that time, and they had a diplomatic note delivered to the Americans through the Canadian ambassador in Washington, saying that Canada would not look kindly on a nuclear waste repository right on our border where the water flows into Canada from the United States.

So to make a long story short, what happened was the impossible was done. The law was rewritten, and there was no repository in Vermont. Now you might say, “Well, that’s just postponing the problem or pushing it off.” True. But it’s a victory for us, and it shows that people, when they get themselves mobilized, can really have an effect on events, and we’ve had many successes of that sort, here in Quebec, in particular, and we hope to have many more. But the purpose is not to pursue a NIMBY idea (not in my backyard). The purpose is to call attention to the fact that this whole exercise is really an exercise based on dishonesty. It’s based on the dishonest claim that they in fact know what they’re doing, and that they in fact know that this will be a solution. It is really the survival strategy for the nuclear industry rather than a strategy that will ensure the safety of future generations. So we don’t feel that we’re acting in bad faith. We feel that we’re acting in good faith, and we’re doing our best to enlighten people as to the nature of this bad deal, and the nature of the fact that the wrong people are in charge of the program.

21. High, medium or low-level waste: similar ingredients in all of themGE: We have concentrated a lot here on the high-level waste, but in fact this consortium is not dealing with high-level waste. They’re dealing with low-level waste, medium-level waste. I hate these words because, of course, it’s the same material in many cases. They are exactly the same isotopes that you find in the high-level waste in many cases. They’re just at lower concentrations, so it’s bad language from the nuclear industry that is again fundamentally dishonest. But it’s really the decommissioning and the storage of all those other post-fission wastes that most people have never even given a thought to because they’ve been misled into thinking they don’t exist……..

September 26, 2018 - Posted by | Canada, media


  1. Dr. Gordon Edwards is an International Treasure

    Thank you!

    Comment by MICHAEL KEEGAN | September 27, 2018 | Reply

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