The Elm Dance: Healing the World

Regina’s Making Peace Vigil and the Saskatchewan Singers of the Sacred Web invite you to join in the Elm Dance on Thursday, August 4 at noon on Scarth Street at 11th Avenue.

From its Latvian roots this intimate folk song has grown into the Elm Dance and is danced by circles of activists around the world, from Novozybkov, 100 miles downwind from Chernobyl, to the uranium mines of northern Saskatchewan.  

Danced with reverence for human and more than human life, and in solidarity with trees who breathe in what we breathe out, the dance begins always with the dancers saying together this statement of intention: ’We do this dance as a way of strengthening our intention to participate in the healing of this beloved planet,  its humans and all beings.’  

On this anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima we dedicate this dance to all places and beings damaged by uranium mining, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power generation, including most recently Fukushima, Japan. 

join us in the elm dance poster

Nuclear Waste Has No Place to Go

Nuclear Waste Has No Place to Go |

Published on Wednesday, March 11, 2009 by the Chicago Tribune
Nuclear Waste Has No Place to Go
Obama budget kills Nevada storage site for used radioactive fuel rods piling up near power plants

by Michael Hawthorne

In a pool of water just a football field away from Lake Michigan, about 1,000 tons of highly radioactive fuel from the scuttled Zion Nuclear Power Station is waiting for someplace else to spend a few thousand years.

[Zion Nuclear Power Station in Illinois has been shuttered for years, but its waste lives on. The lack of a permanent solution for such waste poses a serious challenge to the industry’s plans to build more reactors. (David Trotman-Wilkins / Chicago Tribune)]Zion Nuclear Power Station in Illinois has been shuttered for years, but its waste lives on. The lack of a permanent solution for such waste poses a serious challenge to the industry’s plans to build more reactors. (David Trotman-Wilkins / Chicago Tribune)
The wait just got longer.

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget all but kills the Yucca Mountain project, the controversial site where the U.S. nuclear industry’s spent fuel rods were supposed to end up in permanent storage deep below the Nevada desert. There are no other plans in the works, meaning the waste for now will remain next to Zion and 104 other reactors scattered across the country.

Obama has said too many questions remain about whether storing waste at Yucca Mountain is safe, and his decision fulfills a campaign promise. But it also renews nagging questions about what to do with the radioactive waste steadily accumulating in 35 states.

With seven nuclear plant sites, Illinois relies more heavily on nuclear power and has a larger stockpile of spent fuel than any other state. Besides Zion near Lake Michigan, plants storing waste are sited along the Illinois, Rock and Mississippi Rivers.

Customers of ComEd and other nuclear utilities have shelled out $10 billion to develop the Yucca Mountain site in spare-change-size charges tacked on to electric bills. Most of that money will have been wasted, and experts forecast that billions more will be spent on damage suits from utilities that counted on the federal government to come up with a burial ground.

Reversing course from previous administrations satisfies critics in Nevada, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but triggers another round of maneuvering and regional bickering in Congress.

“We are drifting toward a permanent policy of keeping extremely toxic waste next to the Great Lakes, and that cannot stand,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

More than 57,000 tons of spent fuel rods already are stored next to reactors, just a few yards away from containment buildings where they once generated nuclear-heated steam to drive massive electrical turbines. More than 7,100 tons are stored in Illinois, including at the Zion facility in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

The lack of a permanent solution poses a serious challenge to the industry’s plans to build more than 30 new reactors. Existing nuclear plants already produce 2,000 tons of the long-lived waste each year, most of which is moved into pools of chilled water that allow the spent-but still highly lethal-uranium-235 to slowly and safely decay.

But containment pools never were intended to store all of the spent fuel that a reactor creates. The idea was that the cool water would stabilize the enriched uranium until it could be sent to a reprocessing plant or stored in a centralized location.

Instead it keeps piling up. And though industry officials insist the waste is safely stored in fenced-off buildings lined with concrete and lead, concerns remain that a leak or a terrorist attack could create an environmental catastrophe.

As power companies run out of space in their containment pools, they increasingly are storing the waste above ground in concrete and metal casks; the Zion plant’s spent fuel rods eventually are to be moved into casks a little farther away from Lake Michigan.

“We continue to ask the federal government to provide a clear solution for what the long-term storage of spent fuel will be,” said Marshall Murphy, spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, which owns Illinois’ plants.

Until now, the solution was Yucca Mountain, a dusty mountain of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas that Congress chose in the late 1980s as a permanent repository. Federal officials spent the last two decades-and billions of dollars-preparing to bury spent fuel in a series of fortified tunnels drilled into the mountain.

Without further funding the project will wind up as a very expensive hole in the ground.

The repository’s apparent demise is part science and part politics. Recent studies have shown that water flows through the mountain much faster than previously thought, raising concerns that radioactive leaks could contaminate drinking water supplies. More than anything else, though, the project is opposed by two powerful politicians: Reid and Obama, who is calling for more study to find a better solution.

Chicago-based Exelon Corp., the parent company of ComEd and Exelon Nuclear, is seeking to extend the life of its reactors, most of which were built in the 1970s. It also wants to build a new reactor at the Clinton Power Station south of Bloomington. Company officials have said that won’t be possible without an alternative to Yucca.
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

Safety research on nuke burial plan lags by decades

My favourite part in the story below is this bit regarding the public outcry about the lack of “adequate scientific backing” for the radioactive-waste facility slated for Ontario.

“The big motivation here is to bury OPG’s biggest public relations problem – which is radioactive waste . . . . They want to move ahead with building new nuclear reactors, and they need to be able to say they’ve solved the radioactive waste problem.”

Ted Gruetzner, spokesman for Ontario Power Generation, plays down such talk.

“They’re an anti-nuclear group who have an anti-nuclear bent,” he says. “It’s kind of what you expect them to say.”

Well, DUH!  That’s some response.  Attack the messenger is such a valid argument, eh?  Whadda crock o’shite!

Being the poet, I am interested in the phrase “nuclear sacrifice zone” which indicates that a certain portion of land around Kincardine has already been contaminated and suggests that the industry may as well further contaminate it.  That kind of thinking is not at all good for Mother Earth!

The Canadian Press: Safety research on nuke burial plan lags by decades

Safety research on nuke burial plan lags by decades

OTTAWA — As plans progress for a radioactive-waste site buried deep in Ontario limestone, the federal nuclear watchdog says the related safety research is full of holes.

Ontario Power Generation wants a licence by 2012 to bury low-to intermediate-level radioactive waste at its Bruce nuclear plant near Kincardine, Ont.

It’s the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s job to approve or reject that application.

But environmental critics and geoscientific experts are asking how the federal regulator can credibly assess crucial safety issues – especially when the commission itself says it lacks up-to-date, independent research.

Moreover, specific guidelines to oversee the project have yet to receive final federal approval.

“Compared to the European countries, research in Canada on geological disposal in sedimentary rocks is lagging behind by decades,” the nuclear regulator says in background documents for a contract recently awarded to hydrogeologist Kent Novakowski through Queen’s University.

In the next three years, he will gather the latest research from countries including France and Japan, along with studies commissioned in Kincardine by Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

Novakowski, who has worked as a consultant for OPG, will study the extent to which radioactive contaminants could be diffused through tiny pores in the 680 metres of sedimentary limestone under which they’re to be buried.

“What we want to do is assess realistically what the likelihood or the travel time might be for a contaminant to reach a potential receptor (such as) somebody who’s drinking the water at the surface, or it could be discharged into a stream or something like that,” he said in an interview.

The Bruce station, built between 1970 and 1987, is one of the biggest nuclear facilities in North America. It can power much of Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London and Thunder Bay.

It also produces radioactive waste that until now has been stored in sealed casks onsite.

The subterranean repository for those materials would be split into two wings: one for low-level radioactive garbage in sealed boxes, the other for intermediate-level items such as plastic resins and liners.

OPG is expected to argue before the federal regulator that its own seismic and geochemistry studies suggest the site has been stable for centuries with only prehistoric water migration.

Environmental groups and First Nations in the region aren’t sold.

The Citizens Environmental Alliance last June gave OPG the dubious 2008 Weenie Award for environmental degradation. It blasted the giant utility for planning the repository so close to Lake Huron – a precious freshwater resource.

“Once a facility like this is built it is more than likely going to be the permanent site” for nuclear waste from across Canada, alliance research and policy director Derek Coronado said at the time.

“Any contamination of the Great Lakes and we’re all in serious trouble.”

Environmental activists want more focus on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Shawn Patrick Stensil, energy and climate campaigner for Greenpeace, says the environmental assessment for the underground site is a cart-before-the-horse process that can’t be completed by 2012.

“There’s no way we will have adequate scientific backing for this project by the time OPG would like to complete the environmental assessment.”

The nuclear safety commission knows more about the kind of granite found in the Canadian Shield than the sedimentary rock at the Bruce location, concedes Patsy Thompson, the regulator’s director general for environmental and radiation protection.

But she insists the safety commission isn’t starting from scratch. “Essentially what we’re doing is complementing the expertise that we have,” she said.

“We know what the waste is, we know its characteristics, we know how it behaves, and we have experience in terms of management of waste in similar situations. It’s a huge project but it’s not something that we have no experience with.”

Stensil argues that Kincardine was chosen not because it’s ideal but because it’s already “a nuclear sacrifice zone” hitched to the industry’s wagon.

“The big motivation here is to bury OPG’s biggest public relations problem – which is radioactive waste . . . . They want to move ahead with building new nuclear reactors, and they need to be able to say they’ve solved the radioactive waste problem.”

Ted Gruetzner, spokesman for Ontario Power Generation, plays down such talk.

“They’re an anti-nuclear group who have an anti-nuclear bent,” he says. “It’s kind of what you expect them to say.”

He cites a range of studies being done on a project encouraged by local mayors and residents – thousands of whom rely on jobs linked to the power plant.

“There isn’t the concern in the community that may be expressed by people who don’t live close and haven’t taken the time to really understand what we’re proposing. That being said, we have said from the very start that the reason that you do these scientific studies is that you can then make a rational decision – and based on scientific facts.

“And if it’s not a safe project to proceed, then we won’t proceed.”

Gruetzner confirmed no other sites are being considered for the repository. “The site was chosen because that’s where this material has been stored since the reactors have been operating.”

Novakowski, the Queen’s professor commissioned to work on behalf of the federal nuclear watchdog, concedes his prior work for OPG could raise questions.

The reality is that only a small pool of scientists are trained for such research – and they tend to share their expertise with governments, the nuclear industry and critics alike, he said.

“It could be argued that I might favour OPG because I would be afraid of losing contractual work with them again,” Novakowski said.

“I guess the response would be: this is no different than any of the other research contracts that I have . . . anywhere between 10 to 15 at a time. I work extensively for the Ministry of the Environment, for example. They support about a third of my graduate students.”

He has also been asked to do some work on behalf of concerned First Nations in the Kincardine area.

Copyright © 2008 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.