I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or scream. I attended the Nuclear Waste Management Organization;s Deep Geological Repository Open House at the Ripley Community Centre several weeks ago. This is supposedly a process for helping people understand the implications of welcoming the highly radioactive waste fuel from all of Canada’s nuclear reactors into their community.
It was like attending a smoking information session by the tobacco industry that failed to mention lung cancer, emphysema or heart disease. The open house has lots of fancy displays and glossy literature but when one does a little thinking about it the goal seems more to gloss over or mislead the attendee than to provide the “transparency” it mentions in its literature.
1. I asked the very pleasant young man touring me through the displays if they had any information on the health impacts of radiation. He said yes but when we went to find the brochure it wasn’t there. It had not been brought to the open house. He did give me the name of it and promised to send it to me – but it meant that anyone who did not know to ask would not get easy access to that information.
2. There was a neat little display of some stones and a pair of salt and pepper shakers which you could rotate past a geiger counter and hear it clicking off radiation hits and see the scale. However there was no information about how this level of radioactivity compared with that of used fuel. When I asked the staff of the NWMO at the session they couldn’t tell me but would get back to me with that information.
3. A brochure entitled Multiple-Barrier System on its front page in bold print says “Barrier 1: The Used Nuclear Fuel Pellet.” Underneath is a photo of an ungloved human hand holding a pellet with tweezers in front of a pile of pellets in the back ground. When I point out to the staff that this can’t be used nuclear fuel pellets since they would be way too hot, both radioactively and thermally, for a person to be unprotected they agree that it is a misleading picture.
4. When I got home I went on the internet and looked up the document missing at the open house, The Nature of the Hazard. It mentions cancer once and fails to mention birth defects or genetic damage by name. It has a very small graph showing the radioactivity of used fuel compared to natural uranium. It uses double logarithmic scales on both the time and radioactivity scales. The equally spaced time points on the graph are 10-2, 100,102, 104, 106 – this translates to 3 days, 1 year, 100 years, 10,000 years and 1 million years. The radioactivity scale is equally confusing.
For ordinary people a more useful discussion can be found in a talk by Dr. Cathy Vakil, Queen’s University, Department of Family Medicine. To find it go to youtube and search for “Radioactivity, Health and the Nuclear Industry, Dr. CathyVakil.” Or Google “Chernobyl’s Children” if you want to see how these “hazards” play out in real life.
It is misleading and dishonest to talk about the “hazards” of radioactive fuel without being clearer about cancer, genetic damage and birth defects. This is not a good start to a community information process that purports to be open and honest.