5 ̶ Getting It There
The nuclear waste will be shipped by road or by rail. And Mike, the NWMO spokesman, said that the public will be protected during the transport ̶ 100% guaranteed.
Experts talk like that. And I believe Mike is 99.99% accurate.
At the nuclear generating plant, the used fuel bundles will be packed into solid stainless steel boxes, 192 bundles per box, weighing 35 tonnes. These boxes, like Superman, are invincible except for . . . well, you know. There’s always that crack in the armour.
My reading of the literature does raise one teeny note of concern. The process is absolutely safe “during normal transportation and accident conditions”. NWMO’s own words.
Tests show that a box can be dropped 9 metres onto steel-reinforced concrete without a dent.
A box can survive an 800-degree Celsius furnace . . . for 30 minutes.
And a box can sit in 200 metres of water. No problem.
But can a box be dropped onto rocks from a bridge 50 metres high? Think: the Steel River Bridge.
And can a box survive a Lac-Mégantic-type inferno . . . for several days? Rail tanker cars now ferry crude oil regularly from west to east across our region. An accident is waiting to happen. And if a train with dirty crude and a train with dirty nuclear waste should happen to meet? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
And if a box is dropped into, say, just 20 metres of water? Say it is dropped from the Nipigon River bridge, and currents and ice nudge it out into Nipigon Bay. Does the Nipigon fire department have the technology to recover this 35-tonne box?
But I’m being silly. These scenarios are not “normal accidents”. And unusual accidents rarely happen. Just ask the residents of Lac-Mégantic. Forty-seven citizens dead. Half the downtown destroyed.
Are these scenarios “credible threats”, to use the terminology of the literature?
As for the radiation threat from a broken container, scientists tell us we can comfortably accept an annual dose limit of 1 milliSievert. That is what we absorb from 10 lung X-rays, or 10 dental X-rays, or 10 flights on Air Canada. (What is the connection between air travel and radiation? I haven’t the faintest. But it’s in the literature.)
Now, just standing around, twiddling our thumbs, we are likely to pick up 1.8 mSV from normal environmental radiation. And a nuclear energy worker can accept an annual dose of 50 mSV. I believe we Northerners are as tough as any Darlington yuppie.
And if pellets from the bundles are scattered during an accident, the person picking them up will be outfitted with protective gear. He will just have to count them accurately.
All that being said, what wrong with shipping nuclear waste to our homeland?
From a public safety point of view, not much.
Yes, there is a teeny-weeny credible threat, but not much.
The question is, should this stuff be shipped long-distance at all for any reason?
You see, concerns about shipping are a red herring.
If you focus on concerns about shipping, you are forgetting the flaws in the concept of deep geological disposal.
We have other fish to fry .