by Michael Lehan Tuesday September 28, 2010

You may have read about a plan this fall to ship scrap components from the Bruce Nuclear generating station through the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence seaway and across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden, where they?ll be recycled.�

When the news about the plan first broke earlier this year, it sparked debate and concern from citizens and environmental NGOs across the province. Bruce Power Inc. launched a public relations campaign, especially in Owen Sound, where the generators will be loaded. The federal nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, deemed the marine transportation to be the safest option in a lengthy report that received almost no media coverage.

Most people might be content to accept these decisions at face-value.

But when Port Hope resident, and retired Toronto Star reporter John Miller heard about the plans, he wasn?t certain that Bruce Power or the CNSC were revealing the whole story.

After researching the plans, Miller decided to speak at a hearing being held this week by the Safety Commission to consider the transport application.

I spoke with him about the civic process:������������������

How did you found out about the transportation plans?

I was alerted by email from the Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, which apparently found out about them from a letter that went out to Aboriginal groups. It was a belated attempt at consultation by the federal nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which wanted to keep the shipment of 16 nuclear generators as quiet as possible.

What prompted you to get involved in the issue?

I am a critic of the CNSC, because they seem to fall over backwards to accommodate whatever the nuclear industry wants. In this case, the shipment prompted an unprecedented protest -- from First Nations groups, from more than 70 municipalities along the Great Lakes, and environmental organizations in three countries. I wanted to show my support.

How did you find more information about the plans?

The CNSC released some documentation, but the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility put out other information that disclosed just how many international regulations the CNSC wanted to override. I searched on the internet for some of those regulations, to confirm what they said. That formed part of my submission for the hearings.

How did you learn about the CNSC hearings? Why did you decide to register to be an intervenor?

I'm on the CNSC's regular advisory list, so I heard about it as I hear about all their other hearings. I decided to register as an intervenor to be in solidarity with the other groups that were fighting this. I figured that only a long hearing and many intervenors could stop this, since the CNSC staff had already concluded that the shipment was safe.

Did you persuade other people to act also?

Yes, I happened to be in Owen Sound for a family wedding in August and met some of the local activists and urged them to get organized around this issue. The generators were going to be loaded on a ship at Owen Sound harbour, then it would sail through the Great Lakes to a recycling plant in Sweden. I also mobilized intervenors in Port Hope, since the shipments would pass by us in Lake Ontario.

What research are you doing to prepare for the hearing?

Lots on the Internet. I have also read all the other interventions. Since I am one of the first anti- speakers at the hearings, I wanted to point to strong points people were going to make after me.

Using tools available to any Ontario resident, Miller learned more about the issue than simply reading the newspaper. He engaged and organized his fellow citizens and will use an official venue of discourse to address his concerns and ensure the public is fully informed.

Civic engagement isn't just the responsibility of residents and citizens either. Our governmental organizations and business have a role to play too! CNSC and Bruce Power should get their say also. I've contacted them and will report back with what they have to say.

Ontario receives half of its electricity from three nuclear power stations across Southern Ontario. Safety issues aside, how we receive the power that lights our homes, schools, businesses and hospitals is too important of an issue not to follow. Nobody wants a repeat of the blackout in 2003 that affected almost 75 million people along the east coast of North America.

Right now, the Ontario government is planning its future energy policy. Balancing the needs of population dependent on cheap, plentiful energy, against the rising costs and environmental sustainability of how we get that energy could be the most urgent issue of the coming decades. Ontarians are already feeling the shock in their pocket books as energy prices rise.

Don?t be left in the dark, get involved!