When it comes to weapons-grade uranium, there’s general agreement such material should be kept out of the wrong hands.
How to make sure that happens is another story entirely – including frequent debate about transportation and storage concerns – your basic NIMBY conflicts, writ large.
So, consider this a heads-up: sometime soon an armed convoy of trucks carrying depleted uranium may be trundling down roads between a nuclear facility in Chalk River Ontario and a reprocessing site in South Carolina.
For obvious reasons, specifics about transporting highly-enriched uranium (HEU) are not being publicized. As the crow flies, though, such a journey could easily involve cutting across New York State.
Here’s the story as reported in the Ottawa CItizen this week by Ian MacLeod:
…a 2011 federal government memo says the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) considers it unnecessary to hold public sessions that would allow citizens to ask questions and comment on the HEU repatriations to the U.S. The CNSC declined to comment on the memo Tuesday.
Documents from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say an “expedited” approval is being sought for transport of the liquid HEU. It is believed to be the first time such a highly radioactive solution has been transported by road in North America and, according to U.S. commission documents, could happen as early as August.
Other U.S. commission documents show March 1 is the U.S. target date for approving transport of the spent fuel rods to the Savannah River Site.
Filing for the National Post Ian MacLeod also reports:
“This does seem to be an unprecedented, cross-border shipment of liquid high-level waste and, for that reason alone, it needs the highest order of environmental review on both sides of the border,” says Tom Clements, a South Carolina campaign co-ordinator for Friends of the Earth and former executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington.
(More technical information regarding this complex subject is discussed in both articles.)
The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River is operated by the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). According to the AECL, the facility does not generate electricity:
The NRU reactor was built for three purposes: to be a supplier of industrial and medical radioisotopes used for the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases; to be a major Canadian facility for neutron physics research; and to provide engineering research and development support for CANDU® power reactors.
But getting back to the potential convoy in question, this strikes me as a tough call. Two friendly nations are co-operating in pursuit of a mutually-desired goal: safe handling and disposal of dangerous material. No one has invented teleportation yet, so the conveyance choices consist of plane, barge, truck or rail. Each has potential problems.
How should any public right to know be weighed next conflicting needs of secrecy and security?