Media Release

Legal Challenge Prompts Public Accountability; Consultation Reveals AECL Unable to Confirm Safety of Plutonium Flights

Aug 31 2000

Toronto. Claiming a partial victory for public accountability, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) announced today that it has dropped the lawsuit launched on behalf of opponents to the plan to import mixed oxide (MOX) plutonium for use as fuel in Canadian nuclear reactors. "The Canadian government has now done what we were asking the Court to order them to do, namely, to publicly declare their intentions rather than to operate in secrecy," stated Kathleen Brosemer of Northwatch. "Accordingly, it is not necessary for us to proceed with this litigation." "We remain deeply offended by the government's actions in January, secretly flying plutonium from the United States over protests rather than facing public concern," said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada. "Public scrutiny of plans to fly Russian plutonium into Canada is further revealing the serious hazards of this project," Ms. May said. On July 28th, Transport Canada's Dangerous Goods Directorate provided the public with 28 days to comment on plans to transport plutonium fuel by airplane from Russia to Canada, and by helicopter within Canada. However, this very brief summer consultation is now being slightly extended (likely to mid-September) to enable further public scrutiny of highly pertinent information required of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). "It is evident from Transport Canada's requirement for more information as well as from independent expert review of the Russian plutonium flight proposal that AECL has not adequately addressed the risks of air transport," said Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. "If we had not initiated our lawsuit, there would not have been a public review of these flawed plans. Greater scrutiny is also apparent within Transport Canada. Rather than accepting AECL's line that an accident is impossible, Transport Canada is insisting that AECL address the very real possibility of an accident releasing plutonium powder into the environment," Dr. Edwards said. According to a detailed review of the Russian proposal by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) in Washington, D.C., "The flaws in the ERAP are extremely damaging to the AECL's credibility with regard to its ability to safely oversee this shipment."The NCI review reveals that, incredibly, the plutonium containers proposed for use by AECL do not even meet "black box" standards from the 1970s. Current "black box" standards are far more stringent precisely in response to their previous inability to prevent damage resulting from an air accident. "Without the public review process prompted by our litigation, Transport Canada might never have received this kind of independent review of AECL's lack of safety planning," said Theresa McClenaghan, counsel with CELA. "Public input on these transportation plans is important," said Kristin Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout. "Since Ottawa has chosen not to allow any public hearings on the fundamental acceptability of plutonium imports, it is only through public comments on the transportation plans that federal decision makers can learn about Canadians' concerns and opinions." "Canadians can use the comment period to raise their concerns with decision-makers at all levels. The Chretién government must be held accountable not only on the transportation hazards and emergency plans, but also the larger ramifications associated with the whole idea of Canada getting involved in the plutonium business" Ms. Ostling stated. "Starting a global trade in deadly plutonium erodes Canada's reputation both as a peace-maker and as an environmentally concerned nation state," added Ms. May. Applicants in the lawsuit included the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, the Mohawks of Akwesasne, Northwatch, and the Sierra Club of Canada. - 30 - For more information:Theresa McClenaghan, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association 416-960-2284and 519-757-5266 (cell)Kristen Ostling, Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, 613-789-3634Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, 514-853-5736 (pager)Kathleen Brosemer, Northwatch, 705-949-3862Elizabeth May, Sierra Club of Canada, 613-241-4611 On-line: Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility:  Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout: Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout Action Alert on Weapons Plutonium Fuel