Manufactured Nuclear Crisis and Harperian Lies

900 ft Jesus at In the House and Senate has done a great job of telling the Chalk River reactor story using details from Hansard to make her points, the most important being that Tony Clement, Minister Responsible for Natural Resources has lied. Twice. Or four times, depending on whether or not any of the statements are true. 900 ft Jesus suggests that Harper and his band of neo-cons hoodwinked Parliament. Of that, there is no doubt in my mind.

This decision to re-open the plant should not have been made the way it was. Yes, there is an emergency need for isotopes – with some doubt as to how critical it actually is – but lowering safety standards isn’t the answer, nor is bullying people who are sincerely trying to do their job and protect Canadians in the process.

JimBobby Sez also says that the need for isotopes was not at all as great as was suggested. It appears to be a manufactured crisis. Europeans were gearing up to increase supplies, as it did when a labour dispute disrupted the Chalk River supply in 1998. But, this shutdown would have meant a financial loss for the multinational corporation MDS-Nordion, the company that manufactures the isotopes. According to the US Federal Register / Vol. 61, No. 181 / Tuesday, September 17, 1996 / Notices 48921 Nordion signed an agreement for an additional isotope with a Belgian supplier should the supply from Chalk River be interrupted. In 1996!

Nordion has established a European subsidiary by acquiring the radiopharmaceutical department of the Institut National des Radio-elements (IRE) in Fleurus, Belgium, but IRE (fully owned by the Belgian Federal Government) remains the owner of Mo-99 production. IRE and Nordion have signed a mutual Mo-99 backup agreement to avoid a complete shortage of Mo-99 in case of an unscheduled shutdown of the Canadian NRU reactor. DOE has been informed that the current contractual backup arrangement requires IRE to supply Nordion with the excess capacity of its facility for up to eight weeks in the event of a shutdown.

Eight weeks! In her grilling by Parliament, Ms Keen said that the Chalk River facility could have been up and running in two weeks. So, what was the big deal? Ms Keen’s outright refusal to bend to Harper’s will, which went so far as to include the use of an Order in Council to have the Nuclear Safety Commission change its mind, forced him to abuse both her and Parliament.

Harper scored a big point in undermining Canadian democracy. With the Christmas break coming, Harper gambled that the Members would not want to return to Ottawa to deal with the issue. Parliament could have insisted upon more information before making a decision and would have had to return during the holly daze. They chose to remain dazed. Our elected officials look like the fools they are for supporting Harper’s lies. He has learned much from his corporatist friends and his tutors in the USA.

As to the brouhaha following Canada’s vote to become a nuclear outlaw, where Clement suggested the problems at AECL were taken care of by the resignation of the AECL Chair, Michael Burns, Le Revue Gauche points to the news report quoting Mr. Burns saying that tendered his resignation on November 29! Two weeks before the “crisis!”

Mr. Burns said he submitted his resignation, which becomes effective on Dec. 31, after a little over a year in the job because of delays in getting a series of proposed reforms instituted at the Crown corporation. He would not elaborate on the nature of the reforms. He also acknowledges he had become “a bit of a burr under the saddle.”

“There were a number of initiatives that I got started and was waiting [for them] to happen,” he said. “And next year looked as if there was just going to be more waiting. Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t wait well. My view was that I had done all I could. … Nobody asked me to leave but nobody begged me to stay, either.

“When I resigned, there was no isotope crisis,” Mr. Burns said.

On November 29 there was no isotope crisis! News searches confirm that the “worldwide shortage” was not news before Burns resigned. So how did a crisis develop so quickly? And why?

Might it have something to do with Harper’s plan to support the nuclear industry through the Nuclear Energy Division of Natural Resources Canada and his questionable sustainable future climate change plan?

The Minister of Natural Resources Canada is responsible for ensuring the best energy future for Canada through developing policies and programs which enhance the economic and environmental well-being of Canadians. (Sustainable Development Strategy – Moving Forward)

Might it have had anything to do with the nuclear industry’s failed attempt to get $58 billion out of the US government coffers?

When the budget-battle dust settled, Congress officially gave nuclear little to crow about. The only indication that lawmakers support loan guarantees for particular energy sources is in a paragraph-long “report” that accompanied the omnibus bill. This nonbinding paragraph spelled out the limit for loan guarantees for various energy sources. It set a ceiling of $38.5 billion, with capped amounts of $18.5 billion for new nuclear reactors, $2 billion for new nuclear fuel uranium enrichment facilities, $6 billion for coal-based power generation with carbon capture and storage, $2 billion for coal gasification, and $10 billion for renewable energy development.

Significantly, the funding levels in the report “are recommended obligation levels and not an appropriation of funds,” Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) wrote in a December 17 “dear colleague” letter. Visclosky is chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.

In his letter, the congressman pointed out that the omnibus bill merely restated 2005 energy legislation provisions, which require the Department of Energy to obtain approval from the House Appropriations Committee for any plan to solicit loan guarantee applications.

Given the projected costs of building new reactors, the measure is hardly a victory for the nuclear industry. Cost estimates have escalated to as much as $12 billion to $18 billion for the kind of twin unit facilities most utility applicants favor. Under this recommended program, a successful nuclear loan guarantee applicant could do little more than fund one or two projects.

Although the report’s loan guarantee language appears to favor nuclear power and fossil fuels over clean renewable energy sources, the nuclear industry got less than it asked for — and more than it deserves.

Might it have something to do with the financial losses MDS-Nordion would have incurred had the reactor been shut down?

Nordion had initially pegged the loss in operating income at between US$8 million and $9 million in the first quarter of 2008, as North American hospitals scramble to find isotopes crucial to life-saving medical diagnostics until production resumes in January.
But in a conference call Thursday, the company said it now expects to be able to ship products to customers earlier than previously stated, which will have less of an impact on MDS Nordion’s first-quarter results.

Might it have had something to do with deflecting criticisms for Canada’s poor showing at the Bali climate change conference?

The EU and developing countries want industrialised nations to start talks on a further set of emissions targets.

But this is being resisted by a number of parties led by Canada.

Or, might it have had something to with creating a smokescreen for the Mulroney/Schrieber scandal which could be disastrous, according to one observer.

Unless the Conservatives can find a way to avoid an inquiry, the probe assures that the Mulroney issue will dog the government well into 2008 and perhaps beyond. Mr. Harper will become the hostage of events and of testimony that will threaten to tarnish his party’s brand.

All of the above? A full and public inquiry into this debacle might give us the answers.

UPDATE: The Harper Index has more. So does Impolitical.  This story has legs.

9 thoughts on “Manufactured Nuclear Crisis and Harperian Lies

  1. My two-bit theory :
    Back in July, news broke that Gary Lunn was negotiating to sell a big chunk of the Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to General Electric and GE announced it was practically a done deal, however it still needs cabinet approval.
    This won’t be popular because people fear that a corporate owner would not put safety first, but now after this week’s press that the AEC is not only incompetant but also bad for business, the Cons will have an easier job selling us the dismantlement of AEC.

  2. My two-bit theory :
    Back in July, news broke that Gary Lunn was negotiating to sell a big chunk of the Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to General Electric and GE announced it was practically a done deal, however it still needs cabinet approval.
    This won’t be popular because people fear that a corporate owner would not put safety first, but now after this week’s press that the AEC is not only incompetant but also bad for business, the Cons will have an easier job selling us on the dismantlement of AEC.

  3. Good boogin’, Berlynn. I’m inclined to agree with Alison wrt the sale of AECL playing into this whole affair. Discrediting a pesky regulator removes one possible roadblock from the sale. Convincing the current owners of AECL (that’s you and me)that we’d be better without this troublesome crown corporation.

    Latest news says Carr was offered the top job at AECL on November 27 — two days before Burns “quit”.


  4. Pingback: Pro-Nuke Propaganda Machine & Other Radioactive Tidbits « Politics’n'Poetry

  5. Actually, Harris took that page out of Devine’s handbook, except Devine called it the “Coalition for Common Sense.” Devine created a financial crisis then insisted on “belt-tightening” measures that eventually brought about the largest demonstration in Saskatchewan’s history. On June 7, 1989, the People’s coalition, the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice, organized 10,000 to march up Albert Street to the Legislature for a rally. I was part of organizing the women’s and the students’ sectors. Oh, what times those were!

  6. What I find interesting is the fact that the CNC stood up to the nuclear industry in the first place. Over the past several decades, nuclear regulators in Canada have not been known for their independence or their willingness to challenge the nuclear industry. Whether fairly or unfairly, the CNSC and its predecessor, the AECB, have often been perceived as rubber stamps for the industry. I am glad that the CNSC demanded some accountability from AECL, and I hope we will see more of such alertness from the CNSC. I can’t help wondering, however, whether the CNSC has been standing firm with AECL on this point, because they know that, down the road, they will be expected to rubber stamp a number of new nuclear facilities as they come on stream.

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