Media Release

Environmentalists Attack Legality and Politics of Plutonium Airlift: Legal opinion demonstrates that January transport of plutonium by air violated principles of law. Groups call on Government of Canada to halt all imports of plutonium

Feb 22 2000

Ottawa. Environmentalists today attacked the legality of the January plutonium airlift and the broader politics surrounding the Chrétien government's highly controversial plutonium import (MOX) scheme.The decision to transport plutonium by air violated Canadian law, according to a legal opinion released today by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). The legal opinion was requested by several groups including the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the Sierra Club of Canada, Northwatch, Greenpeace Canada, the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne and the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County. Based on the opinion, a number of these groups may seek a judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada as well as participate in U.S. litigation. The groups are calling on the Government of Canada to rescind its decision to proceed with the weapons plutonium project."The decision to transport plutonium fuel by air in January contravenes Administrative Law principles protecting against unreasonable decision-making by public officials," states Theresa McClenaghan, a lawyer with CELA. The legal opinion finds that the government had created an expectation that the public would be consulted on any change in transportation plans. This is especially the case with regard to air transport, which Transport Canada had publicly declared was "contrary to American and Canadian law". Several Canadian groups have already joined in a U.S. suit claiming that not only have U.S. laws been broken, but public safety compromised. The transportation of plutonium by air is effectively prohibited for safety reasons by U.S. law. "We are bringing in several new Canadian plaintiffs in our case. We will be filing our motion later this week," states Terry Lodge, lead counsel in the U.S. case. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility states: "Plutonium transport is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. Because plutonium is the stuff of nuclear weapons, security interests will always be given priority over the rule of law and democratic principles." "There is mounting opposition to the plutonium transport through Québec, but flying it over Québec will be an even greater threat. " says Marc Chénier of the Centre d'analyse des politiques énergétiques. In Québec, 53 municipalities have passed resolutions against plutonium transport.Kathleen Brosemer, spokesperson with Northwatch expressed frustration over the way the plutonium fuel issue has been handled: "We have been lied to repeatedly. We were told that the plutonium would be trucked - then it was flown over our heads. We were told that it was absolutely safe - yet we saw a military operation at Sault Ste. Marie involving up to 100 soldiers of unidentified nationality and dozens of military vehicles." Many groups are concerned that the Russian shipment of plutonium fuel will also be flown over their communities. Chief Mamie David of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, a community along the Russian plutonium transport route, states: "We don't want plutonium transported through Akwesasne. First Nations must be consulted as to whether dangerous materials are going to be shipped through First Nations communities and this includes airspace." Dr. Ole Hendrickson is a researcher with the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, an organization located close to AECL's Chalk River Labs, the destination for the plutonium shipments. He states: "We have repeatedly called for the cancellation of this project. The Chalk River site is already overburdened with nuclear contamination problems. Two workers at Chalk River were overdosed with plutonium just this summer. Moreover, plumes of highly radioactive fission products from the facility have migrated into surface waters at Chalk River, and then into the Ottawa River." Kristen Ostling, National Coordinator for the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, says that "not only must plutonium overflights be stopped, but all plutonium imports whether by air, land or water must be halted. It's time for the Chrétien government to listen to the wishes of the people of Canada rather than the special interests of the nuclear lobby. The government must face the fact that the CANDU MOX scheme does not stand up to the stated goal of nuclear non-proliferation. It was for this reason that an all-party parliamentary committee recommended that the entire plutonium import project be scrapped." - 30 -For more information:Theresa McClenaghan, Counsel, CELA 416-960-2284 Additional documentation available at the website of the Campaign for Nuclear Phase-out