Intervenor: Vol 25. No 3 & 4 July-December 2000

MOX - Plutonium flown into Canada

This past summer, CELA represented six First Nations and environmental groups in launching a federal court application for judicial review against the federal Minister of Transportation, David Collenette.

CELA asked the court to declare that plutonium fuel (MOX) from Russia could not be brought into or through Canada by air without public consultation. Intervenor readers will recall that the Federal government conducted a consultation in the Fall of 1999. At that time, federal officials told the public that there would be no air transport of MOX fuel; in fact they even said that it was against the law in Canada to transport MOX fuel by air. It seems that they decided that they were mistaken, because after approving the original emergency response assistance plan in November of 1999, the Department of Transport secretly approved an amendment sought by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) to allow the transport of the US source plutonium fuel within Canada by air. Canadians found out about that amendment after the fuel was brought into Canada and flown by helicopter from Sault St. Marie, Ontario, to Chalk River.

Various reports over the winter and spring caused CELA's client groups to become concerned that there were plans to fly the Russian source MOX fuel into Canada and within as well, and to amend the transport route and even the quantity of the fuel to be transported. Accordingly, the already mentioned federal court case was launched in June to prevent secret amendments to the emergency response assistance plan. One month after the court case was launched and days after CELA filed affidavits documenting its application, the federal government announced a short 28-day consultation to amend the transportation plans to allow transport by flight and to increase the quantities of plutonium to be shipped. They declined to advise as to the route to be taken.

CELA continued to seek information about the transportation plans from the federal government and in the course of doing so, discovered that AECL was being asked to resubmit their emergency response plans for flight on the basis of assuming that an accident happened and that plutonium dust was dispersed. CELA and our clients and others sought and eventually received a short extension to the original comment period in order to see the new plan and comment on it. Within a few days of the expiry of the new comment date, Transport Canada had approved AECL's plans and within days of that we discovered that the plutonium fuel from Russia had been flown into Canada by Aeroflot and then from Trenton air force base in Ontario to Chalk River Laboratories by helicopter.

Both AECL and the federal government refused to advise as to the exact time of arrival of the shipment or as to the exact route. They claimed that it is now illegal to release this information, even after the fact, because of the new nuclear safety regulations promulgated by the federal government earlier this year. CELA takes exception to this interpretation of the new regulation, especially since it means that Canadians cannot find out about matters of critical interest to them, such as whether they have had plutonium fuel fly over their homes, and if so, when.

Theresa McClenaghan is a lawyer at CELA