The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

SNC-Lavalin Named In Panama Papers

 Daniel Tencer, The Huffington Post Canada   Canadian construction and engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, already embroiled in corruption scandals in numerous countries around the world, can add one more black mark to its reputation: It has been named in the Panama Papers leak of offshore accounts, according to news reports.

Among the 11.5 million files in the Panama Papers were documents showing SNC-Lavalin paid a company in the Caribbean nearly $22 million to help secure contracts in Algeria, according to an investigation by the CBC and The Toronto Star.

The two news outlets are the Canadian partners of the consortium that has released the Panama Papers.

SNC landed $4 billion-worth of contracts in Algeria over the span of a decade.

The CBC reports that the setup described in the Panama Papers is similar to how SNC-Lavalin operated in Libya, where the company has been accused of bribery.

The RCMP laid charges against SNC-Lavalin last year, alleging the company offered some $47 million in bribes to Libyan officials in the hopes of securing work there between 2001 and 2011.

It also alleged the company committed fraud worth $130 million in its dealings in Libya for paying bribes so it could secure contracts for infrastructure projects there.

A former SNC vice-president, Riadh Ben Aissa, was convicted of bribery in a Swiss court in relation to the Libyan allegations.

SNC is now suing Aissa and ex-employee Sami Bebawi for $127 million. It alleges that both of them used offshore accounts, as well as the company’s Libyan commissions, to bribe people and funnel money to their families, the Star reports………

The numerous allegations against SNC-Lavalin and its subsidiaries helped Canada dominate a World Bank blacklist of corrupt companies. …….


March 2, 2018 Posted by | Canada, secrets,lies and civil liberties | Leave a comment

Yet another loss for uranium mining company Cameco

Uranium miner Cameco Corp. reports $62-million Q4 loss, revenue down,  SASKATOON  11 Feb 18, — Cameco Corp. lost $62 million in its latest quarter, an improvement from the year-earlier loss of $144 million…… Revenue in what was its fourth-quarter totalled $809 million compared with $887 million in the year-earlier quarter

February 12, 2018 Posted by | business and costs, Canada, Uranium | Leave a comment

Massachusetts gets a great power deal from Quebec. What is Ontario waiting for?

-Angela Bischoff,, 31 Jan 18, On the heels of signing an agreement to supply Massachusetts with enough power to meet the needs of one million homes at the barn burner price of 3 to 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), Hydro Quebec says it is still ready to make similar deals with Ontario and New York.

Meanwhile, Ontario muddles forward with plans to rebuild aging nuclear reactors at tremendous expense and is about to hold hearings on the safety of keeping the 47-year-old Pickering Nuclear Station (surrounded by 2.2 million people) running for up to another 10 years. As a result, Ontario Power Generation has told the Ontario Energy Board that it will need to raise its price of nuclear power to 16.5 cents per kWh.

Hydro Quebec has already offered Ontario power at a great price (5 cents kWh) only to have this province respond with the bizarre claim that the offer wasn’t competitive enough — despite it being less than one third the cost of rebuilding and extending our aging nuclear fleet.

Now Quebec is making it clear it won’t wait forever for Ontario to come to its senses and will prioritize deals with those jurisdictions that are ready to reap the benefits of its low-cost, renewable power right now.

With five months until the next provincial election, could this be the moment when our opposition parties finally get serious about offering real solutions to dealing with rising electricity costs and begin to champion making a deal with Quebec? Are there any candidates for the PC leadership ready to offer real help to Ontario power users by promising to quickly ink a deal with Quebec? Will the NDP make a money-saving Quebec deal part of its “pocketbook” promises to help average Ontarians? The next few months should be very interesting.

Please contact Interim PC Leader Vic Fedeli [], potential PC Leadership candidate Caroline Mulroney [] and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath [] and ask them to champion a long-term deal with Hydro Quebec to lower our electricity bills.


January 31, 2018 Posted by | Canada, politics, renewable | 1 Comment

Quebec Labour Tribunal rules in favour of man who claims he developed cancer from radiation at work

Tribunal rules in favour of man who claims he developed cancer from radiation at work Staff , January 26, 2018  The labour tribunal in Quebec has ruled in favour of a Trois Rivieres man who says he developed “aggressive” cancer from radiation exposure at work.

As the director of quality control at a sugar refinery previously known as Sucre BBR, Michel Plante used an X-ray machine to ensure the sugar was free of metal. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2014, and underwent surgery.  Less than a year later, he was also diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Plante is now taking legal action because he claims his workplace made him sick. His claim is backed by the labour tribunal, which recently ruled that there’s reason to believe the X-ray machine exposed Plante to unsafe amounts of radiation.

After the X-ray machine Plante used at work was sold to a company in Ontario, it was tested and determined to be emitting higher levels of radiation than permitted.  Plante’s lawyer, Sophie Mongeon, said the objective of the legal action is “not financial.”  “Our objective is purely for the workers,” she told CTV Montreal.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Bernard Fortin, who studied the files related to Plante’s case, said he agrees that the workplace radiation exposure was unsafe.

“Even if the cancer was not related to the radiation exposure, (Plante) must have been exposed, and that’s not OK,” Dr. Fortin told CTV Montreal………


January 27, 2018 Posted by | Canada, Legal | Leave a comment

Indigenous Canadians oppose “insanity” of planned nuclear waste disposal near Ottawa River

‘Insanity’ to allow nuclear waste disposal near Ottawa River, Indigenous groups say
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories facility in Chalk River, Ont., could be up and running in 2020, CBC News  Jan 18, 2018 Indigenous groups say a plan to dispose of nuclear waste near the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario is “insanity” and want the federal government to intervene.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a private company, wants a 10-year licence to keep running the Chalk River nuclear labs in eastern Ontario.

In 2014, the federal government gave Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) control over nuclear operations at Chalk River. The government continues to own the nuclear assets.

CNL has plans for a permanent nuclear waste disposal site at Chalk River, plans that have been criticized by a concerned citizen’s group as being “cheap, dirty, unsafe and out of alignment with International Atomic Energy Agency guidance.”

Nuclear waste in Chalk River will cost billions to deal with and leave a legacy that will last centuries, opponents say.

“Trying to build this giant mound of radioactive waste … is insanity,” said Patrick Madahbee, grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, which advocates for around 40 communities representing around 65,000 people across Ontario.

He said CNL has an obligation under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to consult Indigenous people about storing hazardous materials in their territory, but CNL hasn’t talked to them about it.

The waste facility could be operational by 2020.

“We understand this is a complex file, but clearly the risks here are to people’s drinking waters and traditional territories,” said Patrick Nadeau, executive director of the Ottawa Riverkeeper.

CNL’s licence to run the Chalk River labs expires on March 31 and the consortium has asked the regulator, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, for a 10-year licence agreement, rather than the usual five-year term.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will hold public hearings in Pembroke, Ont., from Jan. 23 to 25 to consider CNL’s licence.

Dozens of delegations have registered to comment at the hearings. But Mark Lesinski, president of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories said among those posed to present submissions at the hearings, there are a number of “misunderstandings.”


January 19, 2018 Posted by | Canada, indigenous issues, opposition to nuclear, wastes | Leave a comment

Groups opposed to new nuclear licence march in Ottawa

,Opposition groups say private consortium lacks proper oversight for nuclear labs, By Julie Ireton, CBC News  Jan 18, 2018 Ole Hendrickson, a former government research scientist, worries that if Canadian Nuclear Laboratories gets the 10-year licence the private consortium wants to keep running the Chalk River nuclear labs in eastern Ontario, approval of a proposed nuclear waste site won’t be far behind.

Hendrickson will be among the concerned citizens, Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and former nuclear scientists marching through downtown Ottawa on Thursday, as they deliver their objection to the licence proposal to municipal and federal politicians.

Nuclear waste in Chalk River will cost billions to deal with and leave a legacy that will last centuries, notes Hendrickson.

In 2014, the federal government gave Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) control over nuclear operations at Chalk River. The government continues to own the nuclear assets.

CNL’s licence to run the Chalk River labs expires on March 31 and the consortium has asked the regulator, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, for a 10-year licence agreement, rather than the usual five-year term…….

CNL also has plans for a permanent nuclear waste disposal site at Chalk River, plans that have been criticized by a concerned citizen’s group as being “cheap, dirty, unsafe and out of alignment with International Atomic Energy Agency guidance.”

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission will hold public hearings in Pembroke, Ont., from Jan. 23 to 25 to consider CNL’s licence.

Dozens of delegations have registered to comment at the hearings.

Lynn Jones, who worked in public health for years and now represents a coalition of concerned citizens, will be among those speaking out at the Pembroke hearings next week.

“Personally I have a big problem with profit being part of dealing with nuclear waste. I’m not alone in that,” Jones said.

She noted that two-thirds of the 88 interventions take issue with the 10-year licence and what they perceive as “reduced oversight”.

Lack of stability, oversight: scientists

In submissions already published, former Atomic Energy of Canada scientists write that “a decision by the Commission to grant a 10 year licence to CNL would be an unsafe and unsound decision.”

The scientists allege “instability in CNL management, lack of knowledge of key regulations and international obligations, and lack of open and transparent public engagement.”

Canadian firm, SNC Lavalin is one of the members of the CNL consortium.

At least one submission cites the legal issues facing SNC Lavalin as a reason the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission must reject the licensing application…….



January 19, 2018 Posted by | Canada, opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Energy regulator orders compensation cut in nuclear budget for Ontario Power Generation

Energy regulator orders compensation cut in nuclear budget for OPG, The Canadian Press  January 2, 2018  TORONTO –– The province’s energy regulator has ordered Ontario Power Generation to cut $500 million from the compensation budget for its nuclear operations over the next five years.

In a decision released Friday, the Ontario Energy Board orders the province’s largest electricity generator to cut “excessive” costs associated with pensions and benefits from its nuclear business’ administration, operations and maintenance budget by $100 million a year until 2021.

The decision comes after OPG, in May 2016, asked for $16.8 billion from the board for a period between 2017 and 2021 — a request that would ultimately lead to an increase in rates. OPG says the request is intended to, in part, help offset the cost of a major nuclear refurbishment project at the Darlington Nuclear Station and the continued operation of the Pickering Nuclear Station past 2020.

The OEB’s decision approves a request for $4.8 billion in costs related to the Darlington refurbishments and $292 million in fees associated with Pickering and says rate increase associated with the request will be retroactively effective from June 1, 2017.

While the final impact will be determined in early 2018, OPG estimated that its application would cost the average ratepayer an additional 65 cents a month over the five-year-period.


January 3, 2018 Posted by | Canada, politics | Leave a comment

Ontario’s nuclear emergency plan – inadequate, says Greenpeace

Ontario’s long-awaited new nuclear emergency plan falls short, Greenpeace says Ontario has updated its plan for dealing with nuclear emergencies for the first time since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, The, By , Dec. 28, 2017 Ontario has updated its plan for dealing with potentially deadly emergencies at nuclear power plants for the first time since the 2011 Fukushima disaster forced the evacuation of 70,000 people in Japan.

The 173-page effort follows criticisms from provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk earlier this month that the nuclear response blueprint has not been changed since 2009 to reflect lessons learned elsewhere.

“Ontario has three nuclear power facilities and 18 operating reactors, which makes it the largest nuclear jurisdiction in North America and one of the largest in the world,” she wrote in her annual report.

“Plans need to be regularly updated with current information and to reflect the best approach to respond to emergencies so they can be used as a step-by-step guide during a response,” Lysyk added.

The new plan takes into account radiation emergencies that could stem from reactor accidents, leaks during the transportation of radioactive material, explosions and even a satellite crashing on nuclear plants at Pickering and Darlington east of the heavily populated Greater Toronto Area or at the Bruce reactors near Kincardine on Lake Huron…….

The plan was released a week after the government put out a request for experts to conduct a technical study of it, making a mockery of the process, said the anti-nuclear group, Greenpeace.

“It’s ass backward and incompetent,” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, senior energy analyst for Greenpeace, a vocal critic of the government’s nuclear energy program.

There is little in the updated nuclear response plan to prepare for a major disaster, he added, such as emergency zones that are too small given the potentially large scale of nuclear disasters.

“While other countries have strengthened public safety since Fukushima, it’s taken the Ontario government six years to maintain the status quo,” said Stensil.

“Other countries are preparing for bigger accidents.”……….

Toronto city council passed a motion in November calling on the province to prepare for more severe accidents and expand delivery of anti-radiation potassium iodide pills beyond the current 10-kilometre zone around nuclear power plants.

The city also requested a study on the potential impacts of a major nuclear accident on the Great Lakes, which are a source of drinking water for millions in Canada and the United States, awareness campaigns for Toronto residents on how to prepare for a nuclear accident at Pickering or Darlington, just east of Oshawa.


December 30, 2017 Posted by | Canada, safety | Leave a comment

Ontario frighteningly unprepared for nuclear emergencies

IFPress 7th Dec 2017,Ontario’s lack of readiness for nuclear emergencies is a frightening
situation that should alarm every resident, especially those in
Southwestern Ontario, says Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley. “The province
preaches to municipalities about emergency plans. It turns out the preacher
isn’t following his own gospel,” Bradley said Thursday. Bradley joined
a chorus of critics slamming the Liberal government a day after Ontario’s
auditor general revealed shortcomings in provincial emergency and nuclear
response plans, concluding it’s not ready for a large-scale emergency.
Southwestern Ontario is home to the world’s largest operating nuclear
plant, the Bruce nuclear complex near Kincardine.–glowing-review-of-provincial-preparedness


December 11, 2017 Posted by | Canada, safety | Leave a comment

Just say no to a nuclear waste dump anywhere near the Great Lakes: the message from many officials and residents

Officials continue fight against nuclear waste dump on shores of Lake Huron, Many local leaders sign opposition letter Voice News  By Jim Bloch | For The Voice, 3 Dec 17

    Just say no to a nuclear waste dump anywhere near the Great Lakes.

Especially the one proposed for the shores of Lake Huron in Kincardine, Ontario, Canada, about 110 miles uplake from Port Huron.

That’s the message delivered by more than 100 mayors, township supervisors and other elected officials in the region to Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

 Of the 104 signatories, 14 hail from St. Clair County or nearby communities.

“Madame Minister, we the undersigned request that you act to protect North America’s most precious resource (the Great Lakes) and the health and safety of the millions of people who rely on your leadership by rejecting Ontario Power Generation’s application for its Deep Geological Repository in Kincardine, Ontario,” said the group.

OPG is proposing to excavate huge cavern out of a band of limestone more than 2,200 feet below the earth’s surface, framed by shale on the top and granite below, that has been stable for 450 million years, and store the nuclear waste there.

The site, next to Bruce Energy’s eight nuclear reactors, is about six-10ths of a mile from Lake Huron. The DGR is projected to hold 200,000 cubic meters of waste, some of which will remain toxic for at least 100,000 years, roughly 10 times longer than the Great Lakes have been in existence. Putting so much poisonous waste so close to the lakes amounts to madness, critics contend, especially given that all major underground burial sites for nuclear waste to date have leaked.

McKenna has asked OPG for additional information three times following the decision Joint Review Panel to recommend the project in 2015, which the company supplied — and some of which the mayors challenge in their letter.

McKenna’s delay in making a final decision on the project seems to hinge on getting feedback from the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, which is still undecided about the dump.

The chiefs and councils of SON wrote to McKenna in July reminding her of “OPG’s commitment that it will not move forward with the DGR Project until the SON communities are supportive of it…Through the process, ‘Anishnaabekiing, Anishnaabe Inwewin, Anishnaabe Naaknigewin — Our Territory, Our Voice, Our Decisions,’ members of the SON communities are becoming better acquainted with nuclear waste issues in order to be able to make a well-informed decision on whether they can support the DGR Project or not.”

In her response, McKenna suggested that her final decision may differ from the recommendation of the SON.

“I will make a decision based on science and traditional knowledge, taking into account the Joint Review Panel Report and the report by the Agency on the additional information, including the views of Indigenous Peoples, the public and other stakeholders,” McKenna said in her August response to the SON.

The signatories

Frank Fernandez, who helped organize the letter-writing drive on behalf of the Canadian-based Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, said the signees represent nearly 16 million residents hailing from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.

“We are deeply concerned that Ontario Power Generation is proposing to bury nuclear waste in close proximity to the Great Lakes,” the letter states. “The Great Lakes are critically important resources to both Canada and the United States and supply drinking water to 40 million people including to the citizens we represent. The Great Lakes support fishing, boating, recreation, tourism, and agriculture and are the life-blood of a $6 trillion Great Lakes region economy.”……… Jim Bloch is a freelance writer. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com


December 4, 2017 Posted by | Canada, opposition to nuclear, wastes | Leave a comment

Candu nuclear reactor to be buried.

Decommissioning of Candu protoype moves forward, WNN, 01 December 2017

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has extended the deadline for public comments on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for decommissioning the country’s first ever nuclear power reactor by two weeks to 13 February. The Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor was the prototype for the Candu reactor design……

CNL’s NPD Closure Project aims to safely carry out the decommissioning of the NPD facility and complete the closure of the site, using an in-situ approach. This would see the reactor systems and facility structure entombed in place using specially formulated grouts. The structure would then be capped with a reinforced concrete cap and covered with an engineered barrier. The decommissioned facility would be considered to be a licensed disposal facility under Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

The CNSC is currently accepting public comments on CNL’s draft EIS for the project, which provides an analysis of potential environmental effects and measures to mitigate those impacts. The public comment period opened on 15 November and had originally been due to end on 29 January…..


December 2, 2017 Posted by | Canada, decommission reactor | Leave a comment

Strong civic movement opposes Canadian proposal for nuclear waste dump close to Lake Huron

Canadian, American civic leaders urge feds to reject nuclear-waste proposal National Post, 30 Nov 17, TORONTO — More than 100 mayors and other elected officials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are urging Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to put the kibosh on a proposed nuclear-waste bunker near Lake Huron.

In an open letter to McKenna on Thursday, the officials say they speak for 16 million people who want the Ontario Power Generation proposal shelved as a potential eco hazard.

“We are deeply concerned that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is proposing to bury nuclear waste in close proximity to the Great Lakes,” the letter states. “We find it irresponsible and deeply troubling that OPG failed, and continues to refuse, to investigate any other actual sites.”

The 104 signatories include mayors, wardens and reeves in Ontario, among them Keith Hobbs, of Thunder Bay, Maureen Cole, of South Huron, Heather Jackson, of St. Thomas, and Pat Darte, from Niagara-on-the-Lake. American signatories include mayors Ron Meer, of Michigan City, Ind., Stephen Hagerty of Evanston, Ill., and Mike Vandersteen, of Sheboygan, Wisc.

A covering note from Mayor Mike Bradley of Sarnia, Ont., says the message in the letter is clear.We oppose the risk to our precious fresh water,” Bradley writes.

The Ontario Power Generation project, estimated to cost $2.4 billion and growing, would see a bunker built at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont., close to the Lake Huron shoreline. Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of low and intermediate radioactive waste — stored for years at the site above ground — would be buried 680 metres deep…….


December 1, 2017 Posted by | Canada, opposition to nuclear, wastes | Leave a comment

Chalk River nuclear waste dump now to get only ‘low level’ waste

World Nuclear News 2nd Nov 2017, Only low-level radioactive waste will be disposed of in the planned Near
Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) at Chalk River, Canadian Nuclear
Laboratories (CNL) has announced. CNL made the decision not to include
intermediate-level waste after reviewing comments and concerns expressed
during a public comment period on the facility’s draft Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS).


November 3, 2017 Posted by | Canada, wastes | Leave a comment

Canada’s plan for replacing some U.S. nuclear power with renewable energy

Canada Aims To Solve U.S. Nuclear Woes

When New York state and Massachusetts retire three nuclear reactors between 2019 and 2021, the two states will lose a combined 2.7 gigawatts of carbon-free power. Both states want to replace that capacity with other forms of clean energy, in line with their ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the share of renewables in their energy mix.

Some thousand miles north, Hydro-Quebec, owned by the Quebec government, is struggling with stagnate demand at home, and as it expands its hydropower generation capacity, the company seeks to sell power to New York and Massachusetts.

 Hydro-Quebec faces strong competition from wind and solar proposals in the two U.S. states. In addition, hydropower is a reliable baseload option, but environmentalists say it is destructive to rivers and to river and nearby forest habitats.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass., is planned to cease operations on May 31, 2019, while the two operating units at the Indian Point Energy Center will close in 2020-2021, with the decision driven by sustained low wholesale energy prices.

The closing of the three reactors would mean that NY and Massachusetts will lose a total of 2.7 gigawatts of carbon-free power.

This year, both NY state and Massachusetts issued requests for proposals for clean energy projects. Massachusetts seeks renewable energy generation and renewable energy credits (RECs) of 9,450,000 MWh annually and seeks proposals for long-term contracts of 15–20 years to provide the distribution companies with clean energy generation. The state has received more than 40 bids, including proposals from Hydro-Quebec-led developments. Hydro-Quebec says it is proposing six options —either 100-percent hydropower or a hydro-wind supply blend — offered over one of three proposed new transmission lines.


October 18, 2017 Posted by | Canada, renewable | Leave a comment

The Nuclear History of Port Hope – Book “Blind Faith”

Blind Faith: The Nuclear History of Port Hope, Ontario  by Dennis Riches  @DennisRiches Port Hope and Public Charity for a Corporate Citizen

Since the 1940s, nuclear weapons tests, power plant failures and uranium mining have left radioactive contamination at hundreds of sites around the world. Whether the contamination is from weapons tests, accidents, or just reckless routine operations, the story of the affected people unfolds in much the same way, as if it were a formulaic plot for a generic television soap opera. Communities that have been chemically contaminated follow much the same script, but radiation adds some distinctive elements to the situation.

Radiation is invisible, and it has always been imbued with a diverse range of magical powers in science fiction. Ironically, in a very real sense, radiation does make people invisible (the phenomenon is fully explained by Robert Jacobs in “Radiation Makes People Invisible”) [1]. Once groups of people have become victims of a radiological contamination, they are, in addition to being poisoned (or being traumatized by the possibility that they have been poisoned), marginalized and forgotten. Their traditions and communities are fragmented, and they are shamed into concealing their trauma. When contamination occurs, there is a strong impulse even among many victims to not admit that they have been harmed, for they know the fate that awaits them if they do.

The victims are helped in this denial by those who inflicted the damage on them because nuclear technology, both for weapons and electricity production, has always been treated as two sides of a single national security problem that requires secrecy and the occasional sacrifice. Its workings must be hidden from enemies, terrorists and citizens themselves. Thus governments have never been interested in helping their citizens investigate nuclear accidents and environmental damage left in the wake of nuclear development.

As secretive programs of nation states, nuclear complexes operate free of any governing body that could provide checks and balances. In this sense, they are a more intractable problem than the corporate villains that are occasionally held in check by government supervision. The American tobacco industry was eventually forced into retreat by government, and it had to pay enormous damages to state governments for health care costs, but the nuclear weapons and energy complexes still operate free of any higher power that could restrain or abolish them.

Thus it is that hibakusha (the Japanese word for radiation victims) become invisible. When a new group of people become victims, such as in Fukushima in 2011, they feel that they have experienced a unique new kind of horror. For them, for their generation, it is new, but for those who know the historical record, it is a familiar replay of an old story. The people of Fukushima should know by now that they are bit players who have been handed down a tattered script from the past.

A case in point is “Blind Faith,” the superb 1981 book by journalist Penny Sanger, about the small irradiated Canadian town of Port Hope on the shores of Lake Ontario. (See the timeline at the end of this article) [2] In the 1970s it faced (and more often failed to face) the toxic legacy of processing first radium, then uranium for nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

In a saner world this book would not be out of print and forgotten. It would be a classic text known by everyone who has ever had to share his town with a dangerous corporate citizen. Then there would be no surprises when a nuclear reactor explodes or a cancer cluster appears somewhere new. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the victims themselves fall over each other in a rush to excuse their abuser, beg for a continuation of jobs and tax revenue, and threaten the minority who try to break the conspiracy of silence.

On the back cover of the 1981 paperback edition of “Blind Faith” there was an endorsement by the late great Canadian writer Farley Mowat, who passed away in the spring of 2014:

Penny Sanger has written a fascinating and fearsome account of the emotional turmoil that engulfs a small town when it discovers that its major industry is a threat to the health of its citizens. This is a classic account of how economic power enables industry to ride roughshod over those who must depend on it for their daily bread.

Although I wrote above that “Blind Faith” illustrates universal truths about what happens to communities contaminated with radiation, there are always unique aspects of the situation that come into play. In this case, we see the extreme complacency and obliviousness of Canadian society to the role that the country played in the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

The uranium refinery in Port Hope was a key element in the Manhattan Project. It was the main facility for refining uranium ores from the Congo and northern Canada. However, as a subordinate nation in the American-led war, Canada just had to go along in complete secrecy. As was the case even in the US, there was never any debate in public or in elected legislatures. Canada was just taking orders and didn’t have to feel responsible. Canadians are still largely ignorant about their complicity in making the bombs that fell on Japan, as they are about being one of the sources of the uranium that was in the reactors of Fukushima Daiichi.

Another factor in our sense of irresponsibility is the comfortable delusion that all bad things are done by the evil empire south of the border. We’re the good guys, with universal health care and multiculturalism……..

The Port Hope refinery began operations in the 1930s to produce radium from uranium ore. The ore came from the recently discovered rich deposits in the Port Radium mine on the shore of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories (previous post on this topic here). This mine would later become one of the primary sources of uranium for the first atomic weapons, but in the 1930s radium was the only product that had value for its use in making luminescent paint and medical applications.

By the 1930s it was well understood that radium and uranium mines were extremely dangerous. The high lung cancer rates of miners in Czechoslovakia had been noted for a long time, but there were others who failed to acknowledge any connection. Marie Curie died in 1934 from aplastic anemia, and she never acknowledged that her numerous health problems had been related to the vials of radium that she carried around in her pocket or perhaps to the unshielded x-ray machines she worked with. [3] Today her diaries and papers still have to be stored in a lead box.

Because there was no consensus on the dangers of radium by the early pioneers (DNA wasn’t even understood until the 1950s), there were few safety controls in place when radium became an industrial product. Radium paint workers got sick and died for mysterious reasons, as did workers in processing plants like the Eldorado Mining and Refining facility in Port Hope. Almost nothing was done to protect workers or properly dispose of the waste product. The wastes were isolated in a dump, but when that became problem, the dirt was sold as fill to unsuspecting (or unscrupulous) buyers and used at construction sites all over town.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that a few citizens of Port Hope started to notice radioactive wastes turning up in various locations. This new awareness was the beginning of bitter social divides that would be familiar to anyone who has followed what has happened in Fukushima prefecture since 2011. The enormous implications of the necessary cleanup forced political and economic powers to downplay or ignore the dangers, and ostracize anyone who dared to threaten real estate values and tarnish the image of the community. The mayor even boasted of what a great role the town had played in the Cold War by refining uranium so that America could beat back the Soviet threat, as if the contamination had been worth it.

There was a minimal recognition of the need to do something about the worst hot spots, to placate critics and relocate residents in the worst danger. Everyone agreed, for example, that something had to be done to clean up a contaminated school, but for the most part the problem was denied in favor of keeping the town’s biggest tax payer and employer satisfied. At the same time, the federal government was not motivated to do anything that would set back the expansion of the nation’s nuclear energy program. The Darlington and Pickering nuclear plants were built nearby in this era on the shores of Lake Ontario.

By this time, Eldorado was no longer selling uranium for American nuclear weapons, but it had become a major player in the uranium fuel market. It would provide the fuel for the large fleet of CANDU reactors that Ontario was building, and by the 1980s Eldorado was privatized, turned into Cameco, and was then selling about 80% of its output to the US where the uranium was enriched for use in light water reactors.

Thus a full acknowledgment of the extent of the problem—the cost of cleanup and the health impacts—would have jeopardized the refinery’s role as a major supplier in a growing nuclear energy industry. Eldorado might have seemed like a wealthy giant to outsiders, but the uranium business was perilous and changing rapidly. Just as the public was becoming aware of the extent of the pollution, Eldorado was stuck in long-term contracts that were a bargain for its customers but disastrous in a time of soaring costs.

The situation presented especially difficult obstacles for opponents because Eldorado was a crown (publicly owned) corporation. One obstacle was secrecy. Since 1942, the operations of Eldorado have been state secrets, and much remains locked up in archives that are yet to be opened to historians. [4]

The other problem was in the fact that the government had no interest in investigating its own corporation, and because Eldorado was a federal crown corporation, the province of Ontario had no authority to investigate it for environmental crimes. Thus complaints from citizens ran into this dead end.

Similar situations in the United States, such as at the Rocky Flats plutonium pit factory, involved the Department of Energy hiring large defense contractors like Rockwell to manage the plant. This meant there was a possibility the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigations could act if enough public pressure were applied and evidence of crimes became apparent. As much as the American nuclear weapons complex was a monstrous crime against nature, there is at least something redeeming in the fact that the American system of government consisted of various institutions that could sometimes keep the others in check. In the dying days of operations at Rocky Flats in 1989, the EPA and the FBI raided the facility which was then operated by Rockwell under contract for the Department of Energy. The US government essentially raided and prosecuted itself. [5]

Unfortunately, no such checks and balances existed in Canada’s nuclear industry. The federal government and its crown corporation had a monolithic grip on the historical records and on decisions about environmental safety and health related to radiation. There was no outside force that had legal authority to prosecute them and force them to divulge information.

There are some further details in “Blind Faith” that stand out in my memory. Some are unique to the Port Hope story, while others are typical of stories of other irradiated and poisoned communities.

At one point, a doctor in a nearby town grew alarmed at the number cancer cases that appeared in his patients from Port Hope. He tried to bring the issue to the attention of health authorities, but was slandered and opposed by city officials to a degree that he found alarming. He had foolishly thought that his efforts to speak up for public health would be appreciated.

Instead, city officials made a pathetic attempt to sue him for defaming Port Hope, and when that immediately failed, they complained to the provincial medical association. They had thought that this would succeed in getting him stripped of his license to practice, but they were quickly rebuffed by the medical association that found no fault in a doctor expressing his opinion about a serious public health concern. Such was the sophistication of the strategies of the town fathers as they floundered for ways to preserve the tax base.

Eldorado and the federal government, and even the Workmen’s Compensation Board were equally combative in the lawsuits that former workers eventually managed to bring to court. Lung cancer was the only health issue that was admitted for consideration in the lawsuits, and once it became a legal battle, all ethical considerations went by the wayside. It became a matter of winning at all costs, of admitting to absolutely no wrongdoing no matter how absurd the defendants had to appear. The government lawyers played hardball, abandoning any thought that the government corporation owed anything to the citizens who had lost their health working on a project so essential for national security. The government side was not too ashamed to engage in extreme forms of legalistic hair-splitting.

For example, the victims were forced to prove their exposure, but everyone involved knew that the only party that had the information were the defendants, and Eldorado did its best to conceal it. One victim was denied compensation because the records showed his cumulative exposure was 10.8 working level months. Expert witnesses were brought in to say that the threshold of danger to health was 12 working level months.

Another segment of the book that stands out is that in which Penny Sanger was able to discover that at one time, before the contamination was known by townspeople, the Canadian military had used Port Hope as a training ground for operating in the aftermath of nuclear warfare. The military knew what the citizens of the town didn’t know at the time: there were sizzling hot spots of various sizes all over town, so it made for an ideal training ground for soldiers who would have to map radiation levels and move through contaminated terrain after a nuclear attack. After the training exercise, they might have bothered to tell the locals about what they were living with, but the contamination remained a secret until residents started to figure it out for themselves.

As the years of legal struggles and activism dragged on, there were signs that the government was tacitly admitting to the scale of the problem, even if it refused to accept legal responsibility for health damages. The management of Eldorado was routed, and it would eventually be privatized and turned into Cameco. The refinery became the object of pork barrel politics when the federal Liberals came back to power in 1980. They announced that the more dangerous uranium trioxide operation would be relocated to Blind River, a town in the north that had voted Liberal. Eldorado wanted the refinery kept in place close to markets. (I wonder if anyone saw the ironic symbolism of progress in the names; going from hope to blind—a fiction writer couldn’t have come up with anything better).

One stand-out account is that of a widow whose husband, a long-time Eldorado worker, had died of lung cancer at age 50. He had worked at Eldorado for over twenty years, during the era when workplace monitoring and standards were non-existent. Her husband was no longer there to say whether he too was “philosophical” about it and “couldn’t be bitter about it” like his wife and his daughter claimed. The widow said that in spite of her husband’s shortened life, they were grateful for the good jobs and university education that the children were able to get. Thanks to Eldorado, they had come up in the world.

Penny Sanger passed no judgment on this thinking, but I find it to be a rather disturbinging example of working man’s Stockholm Syndrome. The victim has internalized the values of the captor, and lost self-esteem and critical thinking skills in the process. The bereaved family shrugs that they “can’t be bitter about it.” They’ve internalized the value that children have to go to university to live worthwhile lives, and it’s alright if parents have to kill themselves to accomplish this goal.

It seemed to never occur to any of the Port Hope boosters that there were dozens of similar towns in rural Ontario that had found ways to survive without hosting toxic industries. I know a family of Polish immigrants who landed in Port Hope in the 1960s, and they managed to get by without working for Cameco. The children had the sense to leave town after high school when they saw their friends going straight to grim lives working with the yellowcake down at the plant. One of them managed somehow to get a couple of university degrees after he left town.

This lack of imagination among the terminally hopeful applies more widely. Not only do company towns fail to imagine less toxic ways to live, but large nations also fail to imagine new paradigms for energy and economic systems.

Port Hope’s troubles with its radioactive legacy didn’t end with the privatization of the refinery and other varied forms of resolution that came about in the 1980s. A cleanup was done in the 1980s, but twenty years later hot spots were still turning up, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission finally admitted the extent of the problem and committed taxpayer funds to a billion-dollar decontamination project which is presently underway—an amount that is, ironically, about the same as the budget for the new Chernobyl sarcophagus under construction now. [6][7]

There is further irony in the fact that while the Fukushima and Chernobyl exclusion zones have become the famous global icons of radiation-affected communities, the Port Hope disaster has no place in Canada’s national consciousness. [8] There is little public awareness of the history, and the present billion-dollar decontamination project has received scant media attention and no public alarm over the high cost.

Opposition parties in Ontario have focused in recent years on stoking citizen outrage over cancelled plans to build gas-powered electric generating stations. That loss was comparatively little, amounting to “only” a few hundred million dollars. The same can be said of the province’s plan to spend $20 billion or more to refurbish nuclear power plants to operate them beyond their originally planned expiry dates. This issue receives little attention, as none of the major political parties wish to use it to stoke debate with rivals. Nuclear energy has vanished from political discourse.

Meanwhile, Cameco has continued to practice its philosophy of good corporate citizenship by funneling all its uranium sales through Switzerland in order to avoid Canadian taxes. The company is in an ongoing legal battle with Canada Revenue Agency, while it has warned stockholders it may owe as much as $850 million in back taxes[9]. Note that this amount falls a bit short of the cost of the decontamination project in Port Hope, but it would provide a big chunk of it.


“Blind Faith” is available on a website dedicated to the history of Port Hope. Since it is out of print and over thirty years old, I asked the author if she would allow its free distribution as a pdf file. She gave her permission, but of course the common sense rules apply. If you want to sell the book, ask the author for permission. If you redistribute it free, in whole or in part, do so with proper citation.Read it in a web browser: download (permitted by author):
Penny Sanger, Blind Faith” (pdf) (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1981), 135 pages.

October 9, 2017 Posted by | Canada, environment, Reference, resources - print | Leave a comment