A conversation with Dr. Gordon Edwards: contemporary issues in the Canadian nuclear industry, and a look back at the achievements of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR)

Contents

A conversation with Dr. Gordon Edwards: contemporary issues in the Canadian nuclear industry, and a look back at the achievements of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), http://www.ccnr.org/ Montreal, August 25, 2018.

Introduction.

  1. Nuclear waste in Canada: An exercise in cynical thinking.
  2. Private solutions for public problems.
  3. Early years: Cultivating ignorance about nuclear waste.
  4. Belated acknowledgment of the problem.
  5. Barbaric plans for nuclear waste.
  6. In situ entombment of nuclear structures.
  7. The wrong people are in charge: Telling is not consulting.
  8. Compounding the error: Small modular reactors.
  9. The elusive “willing host community.”
  10. The great unknowable: Long term care for nuclear waste. Who pays? Who cares?.
  11. A disturbed “undisturbed” geological formation is no longer undisturbed.
  12. Six hundred Lake Superiors needed to dilute radioactive waste to a barely tolerable level.
  13. No solution presently exists, and should not be assumed.
  14. Creation of hundreds of human-made radioactive poisons.
  15. Rolling stewardship: An alternative to abandonment.
  16. Opportunity costs of sticking with nuclear energy.
  17. Catering to industry needs versus protecting future generations.
  18. What to expect from media and politicians.
  19. Victories: Against all odds.
  20. Cross-border activism for environmental protection.
  21. High, medium or low-level waste: Similar ingredients in all of them.
  22. About the CCNR.
  23. Demystifying nuclear energy.
  24. Nuclear moratoria.
  25. Licensing hearings alone can become a waste of time.
  26. Old nuclear plants are living on borrowed time.
  27. “I would do what I’m doing regardless whether it was effective or not.”
  28. Activism as scientific method: Try it and see what happens.
  29. Being a conservative radical.
  30. The all-important nuclear weapons question.
  31. Propaganda battle over the film No act of God.
  32. The Slowpoke saga: The short, lonely life of a district heating reactor.

Introduction

On August 25, 2018, I visited Montreal and recorded an interview for Dianuke.org with Dr. Gordon Edwards, one of Canada’s pre-eminent anti-nuclear concerned citizens. He spoke primarily about the dilemma of nuclear waste management, but he also spoke at length about his forty-five years of experience as the lead member of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (www.ccnr.org), and he shared some valuable advice for other citizens who want a better world but feel discouraged by the seeming hopelessness of taking action.

Biographical information:

Gordon Edwards graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961 with a gold medal in Mathematics and Physics and a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. At the University of Chicago he obtained two master’s degrees, one in Mathematics (1962) and one in English Literature (1964). In 1972, he obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Queen’s University.

From 1970 to 1974, he was the editor of Survival magazine. In 1972-73, Dr. Edwards was the Assistant Director of a nationwide study of the Mathematical Sciences in Canada conducted under the auspices of the Science Council of Canada.

Dr. Edwards has worked widely as a consultant on nuclear issues and has been qualified as a nuclear expert by courts in Canada and elsewhere. Dr. Edwards has written articles and reports on radiation standards, radioactive wastes, uranium mining, nuclear proliferation, the economics of nuclear power, and non-nuclear energy strategies. He has been featured on several radio and television programs in Canada, and his work is well-known internationally. He has worked as a consultant for governmental bodies such as the Auditor General of Canada, the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, and the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning. In 2006, Dr. Edwards received the Nuclear-Free Future Award. He has also been awarded the Rosalie Bertell Lifetime Achievement Award and the YMCA Peacemaker Medallion. He held several teaching posts throughout his career, after which he retired as teacher of mathematics and science at Vanier College in Montreal.

Since 1975, he has been president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (www.ccnr.org), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to education and research on all issues related to nuclear energy, whether civilian or military—including non-nuclear alternatives—especially those pertaining to Canada. The CCNR website is an archive of hundreds of articles and multi-media resources on nuclear issues in Canada and throughout the world.

Listen to the interview in this YouTube video

1. Nuclear waste in Canada: An exercise in cynical thinking.

Dennis Riches (DR): Instead of a question I thought we would ask you to comment on something that has been published by an organization called Waste Management Symposia (Waste Management Symposia Inc.). They are a non-profit organization, but they seem to be something that was set up by the nuclear industry so that different players in the field could get together and talk about waste management issues. They have a symposium coming up in March of 2019 and they say on their website:

We are excited to have Canada as the Waste Management 2019 featured country to detail the most recent developments and ambitious plans for radioactive waste management. Several important waste disposal projects are underway in Canada, including deep geological, in situ, and near surface—all part of Canada’s goal to significantly reduce its waste liabilities. Learn how technical advancements and innovations are being carried out to reduce costs and improve safety. Come to learn how radioactive waste management is being planned and carried out in consultation with the public, with respect for the needs and interests of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and with an eye on the changing federal process for environmental assessment.

So would you like to add a comment about that?

Gordon Edwards (GE): Well it’s an exercise in cynical thinking. There has been a big change in Canada in the last three or four years. The previous government here was a Conservative government under Prime Minister Harper, and at that point we had a Crown Corporation, wholly owned by the federal government, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which was in charge of the federally owned nuclear facilities in Canada including, four prototype nuclear reactors, two nuclear establishments, one in Ontario and one in Manitoba, and it included leftovers from reprocessing of spent fuel back in the 1940s and 50s, and also reprocessing of targets, highly enriched uranium targets, for medical isotope production. So about ten years ago or more there was a recognition that this was a major liability on Canada’s national debt and that it was not being counted, so they added the liability as a seven-to-ten-billion-dollar liability, and that meant that it would take that much money to apparently sort out the mess.

Of course, the problem is that there’s no way of destroying this stuff. There’s no way of getting rid of it that is technically or economically feasible, so all we’re really doing is repackaging. We’re not getting rid of it, and of course the packages do not last forever, so you can’t eliminate this liability by simply repackaging it and moving it from one place to another. It may be justified on the basis of environmental protection—for example, moving it away from waterways and so on so as to have less opportunity for the material to be dispersed, but once again you really can’t get rid of it. So the with language itself, they talk about “disposal.” Disposal implies that you somehow magically eliminate or get rid of this waste when in fact all you’re doing is reconstituting it in a different form, a different physical form, a different chemical form, but generally not changing the nature of the problem fundamentally.

2. Private solutions for public problems.

So when the last government approached this problem they decided, being Conservative, that it’s better to get private enterprises to look after these things, so they hired a consortium of multinational corporations to solve the problem for us, and in the absence of any policy—the trouble is that Canada has absolutely no policy regarding any nuclear waste except for the irradiated nuclear fuel itself. There is a law on the books which is called the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act which at least attempts to deal with the irradiated nuclear fuel, but there’s no policy regarding all the other waste, for example, the post-reprocessing waste, the contaminated liquid waste, the trenches of buried waste, the underground plumes of waste in contaminated soil, and the decommissioned reactors. When you take apart these reactors, of course, you have a large volume of radioactive waste.

So in hiring this consortium of multinational corporations, they basically told them to deal with the problem, but in the absence of any policy they [the consortium] dealt with it in the way which they found most convenient for them, and we find it horrendous. It’s actually an abomination because what they originally wanted to do—they’ve already been partially stymied on this point—but what they originally wanted to do… Chalk River is a historical nuclear establishment where a lot of the work in the early years was related to the bomb program, the American bomb program. For example, for thirty years after World War II we sold all of the plutonium produced at the reactors at Chalk River to the US military for weapons use. Strictly speaking it wasn’t for thirty years. For twenty years it was sold for weapons use, and for ten more years after that it was sold not for weapons use, but all of our plutonium was sold to the Americans at that time, as well as, of course, huge amounts of uranium. We were the powerhouse of uranium supply, also for the for the nuclear weapons build-up in the United States.

DR: Was that enriched uranium?

GE: No, just raw out-of-the ground uranium. We have no enrichment facilities in Canada, never have had them. In fact, when we export the uranium to other countries, it has to be enriched somewhere, and those countries oftentimes do not have enrichment plants because they do not have a weapons program, and consequently they have never developed that infrastructure. So they have to designate where they want the uranium to be enriched. So Canadian uranium goes to an enrichment plant first, and then it goes to the customer after it has been enriched to the required degree of enrichment.

3. Early years: Cultivating ignorance about nuclear waste.

But if we just back off on all this, the way my organization sees the picture, my organization being the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, which formed in the early 1970s—Well, basically in 1974 we formed, and from our view, the first thirty years of the nuclear age were characterized by a total ignorance about nuclear waste. That is, the public was not informed that there was such a thing as nuclear waste and the decision-makers who authorized the spending of billions of dollars in building a nuclear infrastructure and nuclear reactors were also not informed that this was a major unsolved problem. So it was basically a lie. Nuclear energy was presented as an absolutely clean energy source and people interpreted that to mean, “Hey, no problem. There is no waste.” When it became clear that it is, in fact, the most dangerous industrial waste ever produced on the face of the earth, in the form of the irradiated nuclear fuel, the industry then embarked upon a second lie which was, “Yes, we do have this waste product, the irradiated fuel, and it is very dangerous, and it is essentially indestructible, but we know exactly what to do with it. We know how to solve the problem, and the solution is simply to stick it underground in an undisturbed geological formation and then it’s all safe. We just walk away from it, and no problem.”

4. Belated acknowledgment of the problem.

Well, of course, that was then and this is now, and in the light of experience in the intervening years… In the mid-1970s there was a series of reports in Canada, the United Kingdom, the USA and other countries calling attention to this nuclear waste problem and basically saying quite plainly that unless this problem could be adequately solved that there should be no more nuclear power plants built. So I call this the nuclear ultimatum. It was really an ultimatum to the nuclear industry: You do not have a future if you don’t solve this problem. And because the industry said that they knew what to do with it, the expectation was that they could solve it in ten or twenty years. It would only take ten or twenty years.

So, for example, in 1978 we had a report here in Canada that said if they can make good progress towards solving this problem by, let’s say, 1985, then OK. Otherwise we should have a moratorium on nuclear power reactors.

Similarly, in the States the California Energy Resources and Conservation Development Commission had three years of hearings on the question of nuclear waste in order to advise the California Legislature whether there was in fact a safe method for disposing of this stuff. And they reported to the California Legislature that, no, at the present time there is no consensus about a safe method for disposing of this material. As a result, there has been no more licensing of nuclear reactors in California from that day forward. They also expressed the view that it may be that there never will be a solution. We’re not sure that this is a solvable problem.

DR: But it seems like they want to keep up the impression that the solution is being worked on. It’s underway. As long as they can keep doing that, the nuclear plants can keep running.

GE: That’s correct, and people have been bamboozled by this empty promise really, and of course it’s become increasingly clear. There have been eight attempts in the United States to locate a high-level waste repository, all of which have failed. There have been two underground repositories in Germany which have failed, for low-level and intermediate-level waste. There’s no facility anywhere in the world which is operational for high-level waste, although there are some that have been built like the one in Finland, for example, near Olkiluoto.

5. Barbaric plans for nuclear waste.

And now we have this consortium of private companies that has come into Canada to deal with not the irradiated nuclear fuel, but the decommissioning waste and the other post-fission waste, and they have come up with what we consider to be barbaric suggestions. One of them is to, just less than one kilometer from a major river—the Ottawa River which flows into the St. Lawrence River and which comes right down here to Montreal flowing through the nation’s capital—they wanted to build a gigantic mound, basically a surface facility, which is simply a landfill, nothing more than a glorified landfill, and put all the low-level and intermediate-level waste into this one facility which would be five to seven stories high and cover an area which would be equivalent to 70 major-league hockey rinks, and this would basically have no solidity to it. It would be just a mound, an earthen mound of radioactive waste, about million cubic meters.

There has been a massive outcry over this. For example, the twenty-eight communities which make up the municipality of Montreal, as an agglomeration of municipalities, have all come out unanimously against this project. And there are over a hundred municipalities up and down the Ottawa River.

DR: How about Ottawa itself?

GE: No, not Ottawa itself, unfortunately. Most of the opposition has come from the Quebec side of the border. There has been far, far less opposition on the Ontario side. Of course, Ontario is also largely dependent upon nuclear power and so that may be the reason why.

We do not find that Canada has produced any enviable plans for nuclear waste disposal. On the contrary, we feel that they’re setting a terrible example for the rest of the world, and we are fighting to stop it cold in its tracks. We actually had a press conference just last week in Ottawa, just the last few days, in fact, and a march and a demonstration and so on, calling upon the federal government to stop these plans which are underway right now.

6. In situ entombment of nuclear structures.

In addition to piling up the waste on the surface, as I was mentioning, in a huge mound, they’re also planning to take four prototype nuclear reactors, or at least two of those four (they haven’t talked about the other two), and use a process of entombment whereby they will simply dump all the radioactive waste from the reactor itself into the sub-basement and then flood the interior of the building with concrete and turn it into a concrete mausoleum, very close to various rivers, including the Ottawa River, and the Winnipeg River in Manitoba. This they call in situ decommissioning. What it means is that you are taking a facility which was originally licensed to house a nuclear reactor, and you’re turning it into a permanent nuclear waste repository, even though it was never chosen with that in mind. It never went through the examination, the scrutiny, and the qualification that would be associated with a permanent waste repository. And yet that’s what they’re planning to do: just wave their magic wand and turn it from a reactor into a waste repository. We are totally opposed to this, and we’re mobilizing citizen opposition to it.

So for Canada to be put on the front stage as a hero of advanced nuclear waste? On the contrary. These are very primitive kinds of concepts, and they are scandalous. Unfortunately, we have the wrong people in charge of nuclear waste. When the reactors are operating and when the facilities are operational, then it makes sense for the nuclear waste to be kept on-site because you have the expertise. You have the equipment. You have the wherewithal to monitor the material, to make corrective measures, and to look after it. If there is leakage, you have the ability to try and nip it in the bud and stop it as quickly as possible.

7. The wrong people are in charge: Telling is not consulting.

The nuclear industry wants to abandon these wastes because they cannot possibly look after them for the period of time we’re talking about. Who can really? But we feel that they’re the wrong people to be in charge of this because they have a clear conflict of interest, and this conflict of interest manifests itself in many different ways. And it is absolutely untrue that these plans have been arrived at through consultation with Canadians. There has been no consultation with Canadians to arrive at these plans. These plans have been announced, and then there have been meetings to inform the public of what they’re planning to do, with no opportunity to change those plans other than to criticize them. Basically it is regarded as a fait accompli.

DR: Yeah, in Japan they call those setsumeikai—explanatory meetings, which means it goes in one direction—we’re explaining to you what’s going to happen.

GE: Yeah. This is by no means a consultation. And we’re calling upon the Canadian government to actually stop these plans and to launch true consultations with Canadians and with First Nations, and to follow up on the recommendations that have been made by several independent bodies in Canada, all of which have recommended that there should be a nuclear waste agency completely independent from the nuclear industry and which has on its board of directors major stakeholders, including First Nations people, in order to ensure that the sole efforts of this organization should be the protection of the public and the environment, and not the furtherance of the nuclear industry, the promotion of expansion of the nuclear industry, which is what the consortium is interested in.

8. Compounding the error: Small modular reactors.

They want to basically clear the decks by shoving this waste off to the side so that they can use this territory, which is crown land owned by the Government of Canada, in order to develop a whole new generation of small modular reactors which are also pie-in-the-sky. They don’t have any customers at the present time. They say there’s a great deal of interest in small modular reactors. However, the interest is almost totally confined to the nuclear establishment. It’s the nuclear people who are interested in these small modular reactors, nobody else.

In fact, we’ve had bad experience with small modular reactors Canada. We had two ten-megawatt nuclear reactors designed and built. They were built around the year 2000, and each one of these reactors was supposed to be able to replace the very old NRU reactor at Chalk River, which is the largest isotope production reactor in the world. And each one of these reactors—they’re called maples, the maple reactors—each one of them would be able to take over the workload of the already-existing NRU reactor which is now shut down. They couldn’t get either one of them to work properly. They were so unsafe, and so unstable in their operation that without operating them and after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars in building them, they now are dismantling them without ever having produced any useful results.

They also had here in Canada a design called a “slowpoke district heating reactor,” and this reactor was ranging from ten megawatts to a hundred megawatts, thermal power only, no electricity, and the idea of this was it could be a reactor which could supply district heating for buildings and so on. That was also a complete failure. That was back in the last century in the 80s and 90s in Canada. They tried to give these things away for free, and they couldn’t even give them away for free. Nobody wanted them.

So the whole business of nuclear waste has really been obfuscated by the industry who are perpetually trying to convince people that they have the solution, that they know what to do, and that when they do it, it’ll be perfectly safe. All of our experience points in the opposite direction.

9. The elusive “willing host community.”

 

DR: I know too there have been a lot of targeted “willing host communities” that have rejected it. Do you think they’ll succeed in finding one?

GE: Here in Canada they have gone through this process of looking for a “willing host community,” which is kind of foolish because these communities are very small. For example, I just visited two of them within the last few weeks way up above Lake Superior. In the two communities that I visited, Hornepayne and Manitouwadge, I gave presentations. These communities have less than a thousand residents in each one of them and they get $300,000 a year as basically bribe money in order to keep them on the hook, to keep them interested in learning more. It’s called the “learn more” program, and as long as they’re “learning more,” they can get $300,000 a year. Well, they are both interested in getting the money, and consequently they’re still in the running, but do they really want to be a nuclear-waste community? If this is such a good deal for them, then why aren’t other communities bidding for this—larger communities? Of course, one of the points that comes to mind immediately is that if you had a city of a million people or so, then you’d have to shell out $300 million instead of $300,000 every year, so this idea of a “willing host community” exists only because of the bribes that are given by the industry in order to keep these communities supposedly interested in receiving the waste. And in some of them, of course, there are people who see dollar signs and who see an opportunity for them to make a lot of money. In a small community, a certain small number of people can make a lot of money by capitalizing on an opportunity like that without being concerned very much about the long-term wisdom of it.

DR: Yeah, and the seventh future generation doesn’t get a voice.

I did speak to two other communities a couple of years ago in that same general area north of Lake Superior. One of them was the town of Schreiber, and one of them was White River, and both of those communities are now off the list. They’re no longer candidates, so we now have only three communities up north of Lake Superior which are still actively pursuing this program of taking money and “learning more.” I have spoken now to two of them and I haven’t yet been invited to go to the third one.

10. The great unknowable: Long term care for nuclear waste. Who pays? Who cares?

When I go there I try and point out to them not only the fact that this whole exercise is questionable, but also the fact that once the nuclear waste is moved up to a small remote area like this, what guarantee is there that it’s really going to be looked after properly? Because these small communities do not have a powerful voice. They don’t have economic clout, and so they can’t really control this. If a person like Donald Trump, for example in the United States, or Doug Ford in Ontario, who many people think is a kind of a mini Donald Trump, thinks, “Why are we going to spend money on that? Forget it we’re not going to spend money on that,” then it’s going to not be pursued as originally planned. And it could become just a surface parking lot for high-level nuclear waste. Who is going to guarantee that it is actually going to be carried out? Now the nuclear plants are in danger of closing down. We’re having fewer nuclear plants every year than we had the year before now in North America, and consequently there’s not the revenue generation that there used to be. The money that’s been set aside is nowhere near adequate to carry out the grandiose project they’re talking about, which here in Canada is estimated to cost at least twenty-two billion dollars. They have maybe five or six billion, but that’s not nearly enough.

So there’s also another problem lurking in the wings, and that is that if you do want to carry out this actual full-scale program of geological excavation with all the care that was originally planned, how do you generate revenue? What company is willing to spend twenty-two billion dollars on a project which generates absolutely no revenue?

There are only two ways you can generate revenue from that, and one way is to take waste of other countries and charge a fee for storing the waste. The other thing is to sell the plutonium. If you extract the plutonium, then you could have a marketable product, but both of these ideas are extremely far from what these communities are being told. In other words, the plan that’s being presented to them does not include either one of these possibilities, and it changes the game considerably. As we all know, getting the plutonium out of the spent fuel involves huge volumes of liquid radioactive waste. It involves very great emissions, atmospheric emissions, and liquid emissions. The most radioactively polluted sites on the face of the earth are the places where they’ve done extensive reprocessing, such as Hanford in Washington, Sellafield in northern England, La Hague in France, Mayak in Russia, and so on.

DR: And Rokkasho in Japan.

GE: That’s right, and so this is a completely different picture than what they’re being presented with. Now whether or not that would actually happen is anybody’s guess, but it’s written right in their documents that this is an option, and they’ve never excluded that option. They’ve always included the option. In fact, the first sentence of the environmental impact statement written by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited many years ago says that when we say high-level nuclear waste we mean either irradiated nuclear fuel or solidified post-reprocessing waste. They have always kept that door open for reprocessing.

11. A disturbed “undisturbed” geological formation is no longer undisturbed.

But even under the best of circumstances we know that you can’t get waste into an undisturbed geological formation without disturbing it. As soon as you disturb it, it’s no longer the same ballgame. The other thing that people are unaware of, generally, is the nature of this waste. They really don’t realize that this waste is not inert material, that it’s active. It’s chemically active. It’s thermally active. It generates heat for fifty thousand years. They have a fifty thousand-year time period they call the thermal pulse, and the degree of radio-toxicity staggers the mind. Most people have no ability to wrap their mind around that. Take a simple example like Polonium 210 which was used to murder Alexander Litvinenko, and which will breed into the irradiated fuel as time goes on… According to the Los Alamos nuclear laboratories (it’s on their website), this material is 250 billion times more toxic than cyanide. That’s a staggering concept. In fact, nobody can wrap their mind around that, really. 250 billion times more toxic?! Theoretically that means that if you had a lethal dose of cyanide, and you had the same amount of Polonium 210, the cyanide could kill one person. The Polonium 210 could kill 250 billion persons. That’s amazing. How do you possibly wrap your mind around that?

12. Six hundred Lake Superiors needed to dilute radioactive waste to a barely tolerable level.

The Ontario government had a Royal Commission on electric power planning back in the 70s, and they made this comparison. They said, “Look, just to try and get an idea or try to communicate the toxicity of this material, let’s ask this question: If you took one year’s worth of spent fuel from one CANDU reactor only, and if you wanted to dissolve this in water to the point where the water was contaminated to the maximum legal degree permitted, the maximum degree of contamination for drinking water, how much water would you need for one year’s worth from one reactor?” And the answer is approximately the volume of Lake Superior. So now you multiply that by 600 because we have 20 reactors operating each for 30 years, so it’s 600 times. 600 Lake Superiors! Well, nobody has that much fresh water, so the only purpose of that calculation is simply to highlight the disparity between what we normally think of as toxic and what we must acknowledge as toxic in this setting.

13. No solution presently exists, and should not be assumed.

So in my organization, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, we feel that it is wrong to assume that there is a solution. We do not know that there is a solution. These proposed solutions are really untested ideas, and in fact, there is not even a scientific definition of the word disposal. If you look at the IAEA, at the nuclear industry’s definition of disposal, all it says is they have no intention of retrieving it. That’s a political definition, not a scientific definition. There is no scientific criterion which allows you to say, if you check the boxes, “Yes, disposal has been achieved.” In other words, that we have achieved this goal of disposal. We’re really conducting experiments on the planet on the assumption that we can achieve a goal which has never been achieved by the human race ever before. We’ve never actually disposed of anything in the whole history, and now we think that we can dispose of the most toxic material we’ve ever created. So how come we can do it now when we never could before, to truly dispose of this material?

14. Creation of hundreds of human-made radioactive poisons.

Our organization has come to the conclusion that these wastes did not exist seventy-five years ago. It’s only in the last 70 some years that these wastes have been produced, and there are hundreds of human-made radioactive materials, in addition to the couple of dozen radioactive materials that exist in nature. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials, but the difference is most of the existing radioactive materials are different chemical species from the non-radioactive materials. You can separate them chemically. Uranium, thorium, radium and so on are different chemical species than normal non-radioactive atoms. In a nuclear power plant what you’re-creating is hundreds and hundreds of radioactive varieties of otherwise non-radioactive materials. Non-radioactive iodine is now contaminated with radioactive iodine. Non-radioactive cesium is contaminated with radioactive cesium—non-radioactive strontium and so on. And the result is that once these things are blended together, the radioactive and the non-radioactive, you can’t separate them anymore. It is an impossible task to separate out the radioactive from the non-radioactive once you have created duplicates of virtually every element in the periodic table of a radioactive variety.

15. Rolling stewardship: An alternative to abandonment.

So we feel that for the foreseeable future, and that means for however long it takes, 100 years 200 years or more, we should not fool ourselves into thinking we have a solution. We should adopt a policy of rolling stewardship which means that we have to keep these things under constant surveillance, constant monitoring and they must be retrievable, and they must be guarded, and they must also have a built-in mechanism, a social mechanism, for ensuring that there is funding and knowledge and resources and tools available to future generations so that they can, in fact, know what these wastes are, that they can monitor them, and that they can take corrective measures when things start going wrong, and that they can improve the containment so that this is not just a status quo. This is not an idea of just leaving it where it is and ignoring it. On the contrary, it’s an active involvement, an active engagement to continually improve the storage of these materials because we know how to do this. We know how to store the materials in such a way that they do not get out into the environment, and we can do this for periods of decades or even centuries, depending on the circumstances.

We feel that this is the policy that we should be following, not that this is an acceptable long-term solution, either, but it is something that can be managed over an intergenerational period of time indefinitely. The point here is that rather than abandoning the waste, which is what the industry now wants to do… And by the way, it’s not only industry that wants to abandon the waste. It’s also the regulatory agency because the regulatory agency wants to also cut its liability. They don’t want to have to look after or be responsible for these wastes beyond a certain point in time. So they have a conflict of interest. Institutionally, they have an interest in abandoning the waste and saying it’s not our problem anymore. Any problems that are caused are your problem, not ours. Unfortunately, the people who are more likely to suffer the consequences of major leakage or major failure of containment will not have the resources or the knowledge. So abandonment actually presupposes amnesia. It means that you’re saying that we’re just going to forget it, and that means that when these things do come back to the surface, if they do, and do contaminate surface waters and food paths and so on, nobody knows anymore. It’s a question of rediscovering what these materials are, how we contain them, and so on.

So we feel that rolling stewardship is a more responsible approach and that entails really admitting that we don’t have a solution, and admitting that we should stop producing the waste. One of the reasons why we continue to produce this waste is because we are continually being presented with a dangled carrot, with the idea that the solution is just around the corner, and that we’re working on the solution. As long as we’re working on the solution, how can you possibly object to us just continuing? So we feel that that’s the fundamental track of the nuclear power dilemma and that somehow we have to wake people up to this and make them realize that this is not leading us to a sustainable future. It’s leading us quite in the opposite direction.

16. Opportunity costs of sticking with nuclear energy.

One of the worst things about this that people sometimes forget is the opportunity cost because, again, look at the twenty-two billion dollars—it’s probably going to be a lot more than that—but they say twenty-two billion dollars. Imagine what you could do with twenty-two billion dollars in terms of energy conservation, in terms of renewable energy, in terms of making society more sustainable. So the opportunity cost is enormous, not only when you build these reactors are you siphoning money that could be used for other purposes. But then there’s the prolongation of the operating life of reactors, which also siphons money, and then there’s the decommissioning of the reactors, which also siphons money, and then there’s the storage of the waste which also siphons money. So you have not only one generation of opportunity costs. You have generation after generation of opportunity costs and we have to put an end to that. So that’s why rolling stewardship… which, by the way, is an idea that was first put forward by the National Academy of Sciences back in 1985 in a report that had nothing to do with radioactive waste. It is a report that had to do with indestructible toxic materials like heavy metals, for example, and other kinds of toxic materials. They proposed rolling stewardship as a sensible approach to that, and we feel that that same idea should be applied to nuclear waste.

17. Catering to industry needs versus protecting future generations.

But we are completely opposed to the current plans in Canada, which are only a few years old, of simply abandoning these wastes in the most abominable ways really for the convenience of the industry. The only thing that is attractive about these plans is that it is convenient for the industry to be able to just not even have to take the reactor apart and package the materials, and ship them off-site, but simply to pour concrete on it.

Many people who don’t know any better have the wrong idea. They have been deliberately misled into thinking that once you take the irradiated fuel out of the reactor, then it’s all gone and consequently they think “What’s the worry?” But, as a matter of fact, the core area of the reactor is intensely radioactive because it is not only contaminated with radioactive materials from the from the irradiated fuel, but it’s also activated by neutron activation which turns strictly non-radioactive materials like Cobalt 59 in the steel into Cobalt 60, which is highly radioactive. In the cement it creates radioactive isotopes of arsenic, in the steel and zirconium it produces radioactive isotopes of iron. Some of the nickel isotopes have half-lives of 76,000 years. So the structure itself becomes radioactive waste, and it’s not only the core, which is the most radioactive, but the entire primary cooling system—the loop which carries the high-pressure water. So the pumps, the condensers, the boilers, each of which weighs hundreds of tons—these boilers become radioactively contaminated—and they all become radioactive waste. In that radioactive waste some of the isotopes are short-lived, in the sense that they’ll be gone in a matter of decades, but many of them last for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, so it remains a perpetual hazard. It remains really a hazard into eternity.

The idea of pouring concrete onto this really means that nobody will ever be able to recover that material and repackage it. You’ve made it into such a mess that it’s untreatable, and when it starts falling apart, as it will, when the concrete starts falling and the stuff starts leaking into the groundwater or into the surface waters, nobody is going to be empowered to really take that messy situation and make it better. You’ve actually made the problem much worse by doing what you have done in the in situ decommissioning. Similarly, by piling all this radioactive material of all kinds, whether it’s plutonium, whether it’s fission products, whether it’s post-reprocessing waste, whatever it might be, piling it up into a gigantic mound means it’s going to be virtually impossible to disaggregate these wastes again in the future and treat them properly according to their half-lives, according to their radioactive characteristics.

What should be done is that they should be packaged in a very sensible way where they are well labeled and well segregated so that future generations will be able to identify those packages and be able to say, “OK, if this package is leaking, then we have to deal with that package. We have to repackage it. We have to come up with a better way of packaging it that will last for a longer period of time.” That doesn’t mean that you abandon the idea of a permanent solution. It just means that you acknowledge that we don’t have one yet, and so you continue to work on a permanent solution while managing the waste and meantime.

18. What to expect from media and politicians.

 

I think you appear sometimes on CBC and they give you five minutes or ten minutes, so has any of that sort of transformed into journalists picking up the issue and working with it more seriously, or politicians bringing up the issue in parliament?

We live in a very scattered society right now with what’s going on with President Trump in the United States, and what’s going on with the media. The concentration of ownership of the media, the elimination of a lot of independent journalism, like neighborhood newspapers and that sort of thing, community newspapers. Even within the mainstream media there is the idea that journalists are now being shunted into media conglomerates where the reporting is expected to go simultaneously into numerous papers, and so this makes it more and more difficult for these kinds of things to be done. However, as I point out to my friends, we’ve had many, many examples like, for instance, apartheid South Africa, or the Soviet Union before its demise, where there was no free press, and yet people got things done. The thing is that I don’t think the absence of a vital press should be a serious obstacle. I think we have to use whatever tools we have available to us, and we in North America have all kinds of freedom to express ourselves, and so we have to use what tools are available to us. For example, we’ve had many victories.

19. Victories: Against all odds.

I could tell you a few stories because without knowing specific examples, it all sounds very airy-fairy. It all sounds very theoretical, but, for example, we have Bruce Power, which is a private company that rents publicly owned nuclear reactors in Ontario, eight of them, and operates them for profit. They wanted to ship sixteen contaminated steam generators through the Great Lakes and through the Saint Lawrence Seaway and across the ocean to Sweden for their convenience basically. It was for their convenience so that they could have these things dismantled in Sweden. And also some of the radioactive left leftovers would be in fact secretly blended, and I say secretly. They would not reveal the names of the companies involved. Those are secret because those companies would not want the public to know what they’re engaged in. And that was actually recorded in public hearings. They wanted to secretly blend some of this less radioactive metal with non-contaminated metal. So they wanted to deliberately contaminate scrap metal. They wanted to deliberately contaminate the scrap metal market without any knowledge or notification that this scrap metal contained post-fission radioactive waste. And of course more and more of this is going to be happening as time goes on.

So we managed to stop that, and we managed to stop that through very word-of-mouth methods. We managed to get hundreds of communities passing resolutions against it on both sides of the border, both in the United States and Canada. We got lawmakers in the United States sending letters objecting, and the press was never playing a leadership role in this, but as the story became more interesting they would report on it just because it’s a good news story.

But to expect the press to play any leadership role is dreaming in technicolor, I think, especially in today’s world. We have to create such a social movement that the press cannot ignore it, and then the press starts reporting. And the same thing goes with the government. In certain respects you could say that our government leaders are not leaders. They’re followers, and the largest voices, the loudest voices are usually the voices of industry, and so they follow what they’re being told by industry or by other countries, big players like the United States, for example, but occasionally the public voice becomes loud enough that it drowns out the industrial voice or at least rivals it. In those cases a government can finally act, in their own self-interest, but not totally in their own self-interest. I hope that there’s a glimmer of concern, genuine concern about the future and the environment and doing the right thing.

But you’ve got to have a combination. It’s often said, for example, in lawsuits that behind the technical judgment where a judge might make some technical decision which lets somebody off the hook or which convicts somebody of some crime, there’s often a non-technical reason behind. Certain evidence has been heard and certain issues have been raised which, if a judge is touched by those issues, and feels that this is a case which deserves very careful consideration, then without breaking the law or even bending the law, the judge can find some legal aspect which will allow her or him to do the right thing. That’s not the judge’s main prerogative. His or her main prerogative is to ensure that the law is obeyed, and that can be done, but there has to be some kind of a conscience involved there, too, and I think there often is.

I think it’s the same thing with government. As I’ve said to people here, even if you yourself were the Minister of Energy all of a sudden, you couldn’t just do what you wanted. You have to have the support of your colleagues in cabinet. You have to have the support of people who have contributed to the party, and so on. These are all considerations, but if you have a vocal public who are clamoring to have something done, and it’s something you agree should be done, it strengthens your hand as a political person to be able to enact a law or to be able to take some political step which can be justified to colleagues. I don’t know if I’m making much sense here, but we’ve had some very good examples of this, not only with the steam generators.

20. Cross-border activism for environmental protection.

I’ll give you one other example. In Vermont, the US Department of Energy were hunting for a repository in crystalline rock for high-level radioactive waste. This is back in the 90s. We had a busload of people here from Quebec who went down to Vermont and participated in public meetings and so on, and the Vermonters were delighted to see us there. And we raised some very pointed questions which the industry found difficult to answer. For example, the first question I asked at a public meeting was, “If this project is so safe, why is low population density one of your criteria?” And the man from the Department of Energy said that’s a good question, and he went red in the face, and he couldn’t give an answer.

So this thing blew up until the point where we had many public meetings in Vermont and we, as Quebecers, were invited to attend, and the US Department of Energy said, “Look, we have no choice. We have to obey the law, and the law has been written by the US Congress, the highest law of the land, and they passed a law saying that there will be a repository in crystalline rock in the Northeast United States, so don’t blame us. We can’t just snap our fingers and say we’re not going to do this.” But the voices of the people were so strong, and what really happened here was that it became an international incident because a lot of the people who were interacting within this debate were from the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Sherbrooke in particular, and the Member of Parliament from Sherbrooke was Jean Charest, who subsequently became the premier of Quebec. He was at that time a federal member of parliament. He went to his bosses in his own party, and who were the ruling party at that time, and they had a diplomatic note delivered to the Americans through the Canadian ambassador in Washington, saying that Canada would not look kindly on a nuclear waste repository right on our border where the water flows into Canada from the United States.

So to make a long story short, what happened was the impossible was done. The law was rewritten, and there was no repository in Vermont. Now you might say, “Well, that’s just postponing the problem or pushing it off.” True. But it’s a victory for us, and it shows that people, when they get themselves mobilized, can really have an effect on events, and we’ve had many successes of that sort, here in Quebec, in particular, and we hope to have many more. But the purpose is not to pursue a NIMBY idea (not in my backyard). The purpose is to call attention to the fact that this whole exercise is really an exercise based on dishonesty. It’s based on the dishonest claim that they in fact know what they’re doing, and that they in fact know that this will be a solution. It is really the survival strategy for the nuclear industry rather than a strategy that will ensure the safety of future generations. So we don’t feel that we’re acting in bad faith. We feel that we’re acting in good faith, and we’re doing our best to enlighten people as to the nature of this bad deal, and the nature of the fact that the wrong people are in charge of the program.

21. High, medium or low-level waste: Similar ingredients in all of them.

GE: We have concentrated a lot here on the high-level waste, but in fact this consortium is not dealing with high-level waste. They’re dealing with low-level waste, medium-level waste. I hate these words because, of course, it’s the same material in many cases. They are exactly the same isotopes that you find in the high-level waste in many cases. They’re just at lower concentrations, so it’s bad language from the nuclear industry that is again fundamentally dishonest. But it’s really the decommissioning and the storage of all those other post-fission wastes that most people have never even given a thought to because they’ve been misled into thinking they don’t exist.

DR: I had a lot of questions prepared but you covered all them.

GE: The guy who interviewed me for the video you mentioned, for the Green Majority, didn’t ask me a single question. I just talked the whole hour. He said, “Well, I didn’t ask any questions, but you answered them all. So I hope that’s useful.

22. About the CCNR.

There’s a lot of stuff that I should have put on the website which I haven’t, so I’m way behind in terms of moving stuff onto the website that should be there. It’s because of my personality which is a little obscure. I do everything myself, so I manage the website. There’s nobody else who touches it, and this is silly. It’s inefficient, but that’s the way it is.

In some ways CCNR is very small because it’s Montreal-based. In other ways it is very big because CCNR is known across the country, and we depend a great deal on goodwill. We have many organizations, hundreds of organizations across Canada in every single province and territory, that cooperate. We have an unusual characteristic. Unlike Greenpeace, for example, and I don’t mean to pick on Greenpeace, but unlike many organizations which are jealous of their own kind of turf—they like to say, “This is my turf. Stay off, or if you want to support us, fine, but don’t think…” We have a policy that we’ll cooperate with anybody who’s interested in educating, illuminating, addressing, questioning, challenging, whatever. We’ll cooperate with them all. It doesn’t matter what their political stripe is. We’re non-partisan. So we just are there to help no matter what, and so the result is we have hundreds of organizations throughout Canada who will cooperate with us on a dime. If we want to do something, they will cooperate with us right away, and if they start getting into a difficult situation, they’ll call on us for information.

We often get phoned by journalists who say, “I’m going to interview the head of Hydro Quebec about nuclear. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should ask him? Do you have any background you can tell me that would help me?” That’s what we do. It’s kind of like pass the ammunition, the ammunition being information. So it’s primarily information.

When the CCNR was first formed there were about thirty people who were involved in the formation of it down at 2010 Mackay Street [Montreal], right across from the Hall Building. As a matter of fact it was in the basement of 2010 Mackay Street. That’s where it was formed, and above that was the building which was assigned to the Department of Science and Public Affairs. At that time Loyola [in Montreal] had a Department of Science and Human Affairs. The main professor was Professor Knellman, and he’s the one who got me into doing some of these environmental courses at Loyola, and I also taught some graduate courses at McGill along the same vein. That’s where it formed, and the original mandate that we assigned ourselves was to act as a clearinghouse for information for groups and communities across Canada on nuclear issues—to just collect and share information, and also to collectively call upon the Government of Canada to have a national debate on the pros and cons of nuclear power, to have a national inquiry into the pros and cons of nuclear power so that everybody including decision-makers would at least have the information available to them as to what the arguments were in favor and what the arguments were against.

23. Demystifying nuclear energy.

We felt that anything that demystifies this subject helps the anti-nuclear cause because the only way the nuclear cause prevails is with massive mystification. If people are mystified by it, then the nuclear industry can do very well. The more demystification takes place, it becomes more and more difficult for them to move forward. So basically we’re committed to democracy. We say, “Look, if that’s what society really wants, then in a democracy we can voice our objections, but we feel that the majority really doesn’t want it.” The majority has just been simply tricked and lied to and fooled into going down this path. It’s rather idealistic and old-fashioned in some ways, but it seems to work.

24. Nuclear moratoria.

For example, in British Columbia they wanted to open a uranium mine. We have a lot of uranium mines in Canada, and one of the things that we can take partial credit for, that is our organization, is that there is a total permanent ban on uranium mining in British Columbia. There’s a law against uranium mining in Nova Scotia, and there’s a temporary moratorium on uranium mining in Quebec. When I first came to Quebec in 1974, I had never lived in Quebec before. At that point they were already planning to build fifty nuclear reactors along the St. Lawrence River. Fifty! And I and two colleagues wrote a brief which was quite thick and very well written. That’s one of the things we do. We write things really clearly and we make it very easy to understand, as much as we can. We wrote a very thick brief, half of which was on energy efficiency and renewables, and half of which was on nuclear and nuclear accidents, nuclear waste and so on. We went to Quebec City and delivered this before a committee, and two years later there was a moratorium on any new nuclear reactors in Quebec. And that moratorium has lasted through all the other governments that have come along, even from other parties. They’ve all maintained this moratorium. Then in 2012 we got the only operating nuclear reactor shut down here in Quebec, so Quebec has phased out completely from nuclear power. We’ve also got a temporary moratorium on uranium mining.

25. Licensing hearings alone can become a waste of time.

We feel that our techniques, our methods—which are basically just openness, demystification and cooperation with all other groups of no matter what kind—work very well. We don’t believe in going through the channels that are established, like the public hearings that are held by the regulator. These things are largely a waste of time because they never ever say no to a licensee. They just rubber-stamp. They’ve never actually denied any license in the seventeen years of their existence.

DR: The regulators are full of people who have come from the industry.

GE: Exactly. And they are also doing the will of the government because the government created the nuclear industry, and the government sells uranium overseas, and sells nuclear reactors overseas. So they’re doing really what the government wants them to do, which is to keep the industry going. But a lot of people, unfortunately, who have very good hearts and who want to actually stop nuclear power make the mistake of pouring so much of their energy into the official process that they just get more and more frustrated because they accomplish very little, even though they put excellent work into it. I think “what a shame” because what if they only devoted that same time and energy to organizing outside, to getting society at large?

What happened in British Columbia was that when this uranium mining project came up in 1979, initially people in British Columbia knew virtually nothing about uranium mining. Within a year of supplying them with information, we had the British Columbia Medical Association speaking out against it. We had the Fruit Growers of British Columbia. There’s a lot of fruit-growing in British Columbia. We had the merchants, the chambers of commerce. Our experience is that when so many different sectors of society like the doctors, the merchants, the agricultural people… When so many different sectors of society begin to speak out on the same issue, the government kind of loses its cool. If they can put a label on people, if they can say, “Oh yeah, those are the anti-nuclear people. They don’t represent very many votes and so we can dismiss them. We can ignore them.” But they get nervous when the thing seems to be out of control. They say, “Where’s this coming from? How can this be happening?” And then they start panicking.

So then they figured, “Well, we’ve got to do something.” So in British Columbia what they did was they announced the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into uranium mining. They started having these hearings and all it did was intensify the chorus of voices against uranium mining to such a degree that the premier of the province went to Australia for some kind of a junket, and when he came back he realized that things had got far worse. So he canceled the Royal Commission right in midstream. He didn’t even allow the Royal Commission to finish, and he said there’s a seven-year moratorium on uranium mining right now. And that just put the kibosh on the project. There was one project that was the most likely to proceed. But with a seven year moratorium that was it. That project was finished.

Then once that moratorium expired, things of course died down, but it wasn’t until many years later when the price of uranium went artificially high a few years ago, when there was that that crazy spike in uranium prices, which was totally speculative… and at that time once again uranium mining was back on the agenda in British Columbia, and once again people started mobilizing. They went to Victoria and confronted the government. I can’t remember the year but it was about 10 years ago. It was during that spike of uranium prices.

DR: It was around 2008, I think.

GE: That’s right. Around the time they went to Victoria and confronted the government and said, “We want a permanent moratorium on uranium mining.” The government said, “You will never get a permanent moratorium on uranium mining, but we will toughen the regulations, if you make your case well.”

Our organization got contacted and we said, “What do we do?” I said, “Ignore it. Ignore them saying that they will never be a permanent moratorium. Increase your pressure. Just crank it up tenfold.” And one year later there was a permanent moratorium on uranium mining. So the government will respond, but you have to attract them. They are used to thinking in terms of organizations, in terms of discernible entities, and if they feel that there’s a kind of an amorphous movement and it’s not clearly discernible where it’s coming from or who’s involved, they get nervous. And that that’s when they’re more inclined to do things, and we’ve had a lot of successes that way.

Why did the US government rewrite the law? They never expected that this would become an international incident. The fact that Canada sent a diplomatic note! That freaked them out. So I think that sometimes the unexpected is the most important thing. If something happens unexpectedly, they just never counted on that, and it makes them lose their nerve sometimes. Of course, you can’t always count on that for sure, but we’ve had a lot of success in certain ways.

What we’ve done already, I think, is quite a lot and, as I tell my friends, although the nuclear waste question is really a burning issue and far from any satisfactory resolution at the moment—I agree with you—nevertheless we’ve won. In North America there’s not going to be anymore nuclear reactors built. There hasn’t been a single nuclear reactor ordered in Canada since 1978. That’s a long time.

26. Old nuclear plants are living on borrowed time.

DR: Pickering [near Toronto] was just announced as successfully refurbished.

GE: No!

DR: I was wondering if they actually rebuilt the reactor.

GE: No, they didn’t. And in fact they did not refurbish those. There are two sets of four reactors. There’s Pickering A and Pickering B. None of them have been successfully refurbished really, and in fact with Pickering B they’ve even announced that they don’t want to refurbish them. What they have done is they’ve given them an extended lifetime to run without refurbishment, so they’re running it on borrowed time because they have not been refurbished.

What’s happened in the CANDU reactors is you have over seven kilometers of small-diameter piping, and some of it is right in the core of the reactor, the pressure tubes and so on. You have hundreds of individual pressure tubes, and these pressure tubes become geometrically distorted. They become embrittled. They become corroded, and the feeder pipes—each pressure tube is connected to a feeder pipe, so you have thousands of feeder pipes coming in both ends of the reactors, and these also become… In some cases the wall thicknesses has been eroded by more than sixty percent, so there’s only forty percent of the wall thickness that was there originally. And that’s why they refurbished reactors. The reason they refurbished reactors is because these things are getting unsafe, and I mean particularly unsafe, and so what they do is they remove the old piping and they replace it with all new piping, but they have not done that with the Pickering reactors. What they have done is they’ve simply extended the license without any refurbishment, so they’re running those things with degraded components in the core, and they know that. I’ll send you a copy of my submission on the Pickering relicensing.

DR: A couple weeks ago there was a big celebration…

GE: On the part of the nuclear industry?

DR: Yeah.

GE: “Congratulations. We pulled the wool over their eyes yet again.”

27. “I would do what I’m doing regardless whether it was effective or not.”

In our organization the only power we have is the power of telling the truth. That’s the only power we have. We don’t have any other power, and we do that as much as we can. I only do this because my conscience made me do this. I have perhaps a strange attitude, but my attitude is I would do what I’m doing regardless, whether it was effective or not because it’s not for me to judge the effectiveness of what I do. I figure that it is arrogant to try and think that you’re doing anything. I say we’ve had victories, but I say that out of a sense of amazement really because I think that we had no power. We really had no ability to affect these things. We had no way of stopping those steam generator shipments, but they got stopped. We had no way of stopping that nuclear waste dump in Vermont, but it got stopped. We had no way of shutting down the Gentilly 2 reactor here in Quebec, but it got shut down.

28. Activism as scientific method: Try it and see what happens.

So the thing that amazes me is that when I first got started in activism—I was never an activist as a young man at all—a man who got me involved in this in a very rude kind of way, and one of the things he told me… He was a mathematician. He was one of the most famous mathematicians who ever lived called Alexander Grothendieck, and he said people give all kinds of arguments as to why it is hopeless, but really these arguments are simply arguments for doing nothing, so when people say, “Well, there’s no point in doing that because this isn’t going to work,” all they’re doing is giving you a reason for doing nothing. So he said this is unscientific. He said the experimental method means you try something and you see if it works. You see what the results are. You don’t know what the results are going to be, but you see what the results are. So he said try to be active and see if there are any results. This is the philosophy that I followed. I figured there’s no reason to give up. Never say die. Never say the end. You just try, and you see. Time and time again I’ve been very surprised to see how strangely things happen that I would never have thought were possible at first.

So my philosophy is you just do what you can. It’s the only human thing to do. If your family were threatened, you would fight even against any odds. If your house is burning down—Grothendieck used that example, too—you’re not just going to sit around saying, “No point in doing anything because I can’t stop that fire.” Well, you can try. So I believe that if more people had that kind of not exactly faith but just… if they just follow their conscience in terms of feeling that it’s better to do something than to do nothing, that’s all you have to do. Just say, “Well, let’s do something.”

You can’t take credit for things. You just have to see it. It’s lovely when you see something that you’ve been promoting and there it is in somebody else’s work. Sometimes I read a union document, for example, and there’s that paragraph! I wrote that paragraph! It’s right there, and it’s a very happy thing when you see what you’ve done being used by other people. The credit is unimportant. It doesn’t matter that there has to be credit for it. I don’t care about that, and oftentimes, as for the CCNR, we don’t promote ourselves a lot. In fact, we don’t have any money, but we just make ourselves available. It’s basically all volunteer stuff. And it doesn’t follow the general principles of how you should organize at all.

DR: I wanted to ask you something. After Fukushima they shut down all the nuclear power for a while, and the public was amazed that the lights were still on.

GE: Exactly.

DR: If that happened in Ontario, what would Ontario do?

GE: Well, they would import power, of course, and the point is we have a huge surplus of power here in Quebec.

DR: Could they do it quickly like that to keep the lights on?

GE: Yeah, sure. Now I think in Japan, if I’m not mistaken, they did give a challenge to industry to reduce their consumption about 15%. You have to bear in mind that nuclear power in Japan, with the 58 reactors that were operating before the Fukushima accident, was generating thirty percent of Japan’s electricity. Thirty percent is not one hundred percent, and if industry is able to cut back by 15 percent, that’s a big help. They had to import a lot of fuel.

DR: They had a lot of gas turbines that were running below capacity, and they just increased capacity, as if they knew that was going to happen someday and they were ready for it.

GE: People are misled on the subject. They think there’s going to be disaster if the nuclear plants are shut down. It’s not necessarily the case, and of course, don’t forget, too, those 58 reactors were not shut down right away. What happened was, of course, during the aftermath there were failures of the grid, and so there were a lot of nuclear reactors shut down as a result of the emergency, but it was over the following year, approximately a year, maybe a little longer, that those reactors were shut down one at a time, and the reason they were shut down one at a time is because in Japan the local governors of the prefectures have to give their approval. When they shut it down for maintenance or for refueling, whatever it might be—they have to do maintenance during refueling—in order to get it started up again they have to get the approval of the governor of the prefecture. I was told this. I believe it’s true. The governor’s would not give their approval, and so it was a forced shutdown, but it didn’t happen all at once. It happened because of local opposition, local opposition manifested through the governors of the prefectures, which caused those progressive shutdowns until finally all of them were shut down.

And then they were shut down for at least a year. I think it was maybe two years. It was about two years and then the government had to fight like hell to get any of them restarted, and in the meantime of course they were toughening the rules supposedly.

DR: Yeah, there was a new regulatory agency.

GE: Yeah, but there were court actions and there were court blockages to some of those restarts, and even under the best of circumstances, even if they got total permission from the local governors and from the population, they would not be able to restart more than about a third of them. They cannot restart them all.

I’m glad to see that there’s at least some discussion of the plutonium. One of the things that I was very concerned about was the lack of discussion of the plutonium question in Japan, but this is now getting a little bit more attention finally.

DR: Yeah. It’s absurd. They made a commitment to the local people in Rokkasho. The promise was that it was going to be processed and then taken away, but now they’re being told, “Well, if we shut this down the plutonium is going to be here, and it’s not going to be providing the jobs, so we’ve got to keep this promise.” It’s absurd.

29. Being a conservative radical.

GE: It is absurd. Really absurd.

And I also make this point, just for the sake of maintaining good credibility. Rather than quoting anti-nuclear people, whom I learn a great deal from and have a lot of respect for, I don’t quote them. Instead I find the same information in official government reports or industry reports, and I quote that. And that way, the industry, if they want to disagree with me they have to disagree with themselves because I got it from some sources that are at least as believable as they are. That’s a game I played. I call myself a very conservative radical. I have a radical perspective on it, in the sense of going to the root, but I don’t use radical rhetoric, and as a result I have a very good reputation in Canada. I’m fortunate to have a very good reputation, and people just assume that if I tell them something, it’s probably true. I make sure that that is the case. Occasionally, I have made a mistake or two and said things that were simply not true, but I generally immediately apologize or immediately send out a correction if I know that something is untrue that I said. I’ll send out a correction right away, generally.

30. The all-important nuclear weapons question.

This nuclear question is only one facet of the planet we live on, and the planet is in very dire shape. We humans have been so destructive to the planet in so many different ways, and in fact the only reason I got involved in the nuclear issue in particular is because of the nuclear weapons connection really because, frankly, all these questions about nuclear waste and so on are important, but they’re not all-important. But the nuclear weapons question, I think, is all-important. This is really what got me involved in this before I knew anything about uranium mining or nuclear accidents or any of that stuff. It was the weapons connection that got me to devote a large part of my life to this.

Fortunately, I was able to make money as a teacher while doing all this in my spare time with no recompense. As I’m sure most people do. It’s not exactly a high-paying career. I plan to get rich by becoming an anti-nuclear activist! [laughter]

DR: I see the pro-nuclear groups writing sometimes, “How can we possibly fight against these anti-nuke people with all the money they have!”

31. Propaganda battle over the film No act of God.

GE: [laughter] I know. It’s ridiculous. It’s truly astonishing sometimes. There was a film made called No Act of God by the National Film Board of Canada which was a very powerful anti-nuclear film focusing on plutonium. It could have been a better film, but it was nevertheless a very good one, and it was basing itself on that quote by Hannes Alfven, the Nobel prize-winning Swedish physicist, who said, “Nuclear power is safe only if no act of God is permitted.”

When this movie came out the Canadian Nuclear Association wrote a book with page after page after page taking apart the movie frame by frame, and putting the frame of the movie and then putting down all the reasons this was lies and wrong and incorrect and misleading and false. They published this book attacking this film, and the Minister of Natural Resources in Ottawa wrote to the National Film Board demanding that this film be removed from circulation, and he provided as background letters that he had received from the nuclear industry claiming that I and various other people involved in advising the filmmaker were part of an international conspiracy, a well-funded international conspiracy. It was just totally poppycock. It was amazing to read this, but it just shows how paranoid they are. They can’t imagine why anybody could get something like this done unless they had lots of money and lots of operatives and agents infiltrating. It’s just incredible. Totally in their imagination.

Anyway, the National Film Board of Canada did not panic. They said, “Well, we better take this seriously,” so they hired a man to go through it, a good man, somebody I knew, as a matter of fact, but I didn’t recommend him for the job. Anyway, they hired this guy, and he went through the CNA book and found that everything in the film actually was OK, but everything in that book was wrong, and so the National Film Board published another book in which they went through the CNA book and showed how it was full of lies and distortions, and that the actual the content of the film was OK.

So that’s where I come in handy and sort of counteract the lies really. That’s it. I’m pretty good at that. I’m pretty good at spotting the lies and being able to flip them on their heads because they do lie almost all the time. It’s amazing. Let’s put it this way they don’t exactly lie all the time, but they never tell the whole truth. It’s as if, I say to people, they simply can’t afford to tell the whole truth, and that’s the saving grace from the point of view the anti-nuclear point of view because whatever they put out there, you can be sure it’s not the whole truth, and all you have to do is reveal the whole truth and people say “Aha.”

32. The Slowpoke saga: The short, lonely life of a district heating reactor.

We’ve won many battles. I told you about the slowpoke district heating reactor. I mentioned it briefly. They wanted to give one free to the University of Sherbrooke which is down in the Eastern Townships near Vermont, and the Sherbrooke Hospital—they have a university hospital complex—had a board of directors that unanimously voted to accept this gift of a free nuclear reactor as a district heating reactor to heat all the buildings. Then we became involved, interacting with the people in Sherbrooke. We got nurses. We got nuclear physicists. We got economists. We got agricultural people. We got all kinds of people coming out against this project, and one year later, almost exactly one year later, the very same Board of Directors, without any change of personnel, unanimously voted against it. As a matter of fact, I’ll show you. I just got this the day before yesterday when I was in Ottawa. I had lost my copy. This is it right here: Beware of the CNA Bearing Gifts: A Slowpoke Journal. This is an account of the whole struggle from beginning to end of that whole thing where they wanted to give it. It just goes through the dates, you see. It just describes everything that happened all the way along, and how it finally led to the same Board of Directors rejecting.

I told them, “Look, now that we’ve won the battle, you have to document it because if you don’t document it, nobody will know you won it.” And then we were able to send this account to Saskatchewan. The CNA went to the University of Saskatchewan right after they were turned down in Quebec, and so we sent all of our information to Saskatchewan and said, “Here it is. All you have to do is use this stuff and you can shoot them down.” It was all done without any organization. It’s just individuals organizing themselves to get it done That’s what I mean by victories. We’ve had a lot of victories.

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