Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chalk River: The "Holy F!@#$ing S$#@t!" Edition

This story is starting to take on almost Watergate-like dimensions. Except, you know, on that way smaller, 1/10th Canadian scale.

Yesterday, the Washington Post Globe & Mail ran a story illustrating just how much better and more profitable the world has become for AECL since Linda Keen was replaced by a more... cooperative regulator.

Today the Globe & Mail ran two more stories that pretty much blow the government's spin on Chalk River out of the water, as well as exposing Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn as a lousy, stinking liar.

You really need to read them both.

The first article dispels any remaining notion that any of this ever had anything to do with isotopes or public safety. Even after following this story rather closely over the past few months, this particular section caused my jaw to drop to the floor (emphasis mine):

Ms. Keen's suggestion that her overstretched commission would no longer prioritize prelicensing was seen as obstructionist.

AECL's private-sector partners, including SNC-Lavalin, GE Canada and Hitachi Canada, hired some of the best-connected lobbyists in Ottawa to carry that message forward; other industry members complained directly to the Prime Minister's Office, sources said.

"We've tried to communicate however we could to whomever we could, to make this point," said Patrick Lamarre, president of SNC-Lavalin's nuclear division.

Michael Burns, the B.C.-based wind power executive who Mr. Lunn appointed as chairman of AECL, began to lobby the minister, whom he said he spoke with once a week during his chairmanship, about addressing the problems with Ms. Keen and her commission.

"I told [Mr. Lunn] then the dysfunctional relationship was going to cause serious trouble for commercial operations at the company. I told him we were going to have a train wreck. And I gave him a plan to fix it," Mr. Burns said.

The goal, he said, was to induce the government to legislate an overhaul at the CNSC, including Ms. Keen's position.

Mr. Lunn refused to discuss whether he attempted to push that reform in Ottawa, saying he is "not at liberty to talk about … discussions with cabinet colleagues."

No. Of course he isn't. But since the guy he appointed as chairman claims that Lunn was making a serious effort to bring this suggested overhaul to pass, I think it's pretty safe to assume that such discussions did, in fact, take place. Which means that even then, a government minister was attempting to interfere with the operation of a quasi-judicial tribunal at the behest of a Crown corporation for purely commercial reasons.

Another jaw-dropper is the revelation that the reactor would probably have been allowed to re-start anyway on December 18th, just two days after it actually did. Seems the AECL had screwed up some paperwork justifying a re-start with just one back-up powered pump, which was all the CNSC had asked for to give its approval. If they hadn't screwed up the paperwork (known as a 'safety case'), the reactor could have been re-started as much as a week earlier.

The second article reveals the existence of emails and at least one witness who can prove that Gary Lunn lied to a parliamentary committee when he claimed that he knew nothing about anything until Dec 3rd:

"I sent an e-mail on Nov. 29 or 30 ... which said this is serious, we need to get on this," the source said.

Mr. Lunn took a break from skiing in British Columbia on Dec. 1 to respond to the e-mail, the source said, adding that Mr. Lunn confirmed he "knew it was a situation he needed to work on."

"He certainly knew there was a situation and he was going to get on it Monday morning," the source said. "I assumed in my conversation he had ingested all the data in the [e-mail]. My assumption may be wrong, but when he said to me he'd received my message and acted on it, as far as I could tell he knew everything there was to know."

When confronted with this evidence, Mr. Lunn sputtered, looked around nervously, repeated his claims of ignorance, then suddenly tore off all his clothes and ran screaming into the snow.

And then he exploded.

H/T to Dave, Lord Kitchener's Own, Impolitical, and all you other bastards who found time to blog on this today while I was at work. Hmph.


  1. An excellent expose. So far I have not heard much commentary on this on TV or in newspapers. Most articles on the issue never mention Nordion or the profit factor in starting up the plant before it was declared safe.
    The press pushed the health issue. The opposition obediently fell in line, unaminously supporting the Conservative motion to re-start.
    No one ever asks why AECL does not market the isotopes itself and reap the profits. Profits it needs to replace its aged reactors. Private for profit corporations come first and the taxpayer is suppposed to subsidise the losing part of the operation.

  2. The pace of privatization and exploitation of this publicly funded Corporation leaves you breathless.

    Here is an amazing new report that has been posted to the Shun Lunn website coverage of Isotope Insanity - Gary Lunn's escapade in privatization.


    Lessons From Canada on Storing Spent Nuclear Fuel & High-Level Radioactive Waste

    The United States has spent more than $6 billion on the Yucca Mountain repository, and debate still rages over when — or whether — it will open. In contrast, Canada is close to settling on a course for burying its nuclear waste that promises none of the divisiveness that the Yucca Mountain project has spawned.

    What can we learn from our neighbors to the north?

    This exclusive report compares and contrasts Canada’s central waste depository plan with that of the United States. How Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization,for example, has built incentives and flexibility into its plan, and how it plans to overcome political resistance to a central nuclear waste depository, which has plagued the Yucca Mountain project for so long.

    And don't forget this nugget:

    "We have absolutely, explicitly stated that under no uncertain circumstances will Canada ever be taking back spent nuclear fuel at any time from any country," Lunn told the Commons in response to a friendly question from a Conservative backbencher.
    Tories take heat for announcing nuclear stand without public notice, debate
    November 30, 2007 Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press

  3. "We have absolutely, explicitly stated that under no uncertain circumstances will Canada ever be taking back spent nuclear fuel at any time from any country,"

    Yeah, well, maybe her should have thought of that before he signed onto the GNEP. Ya think?

    I always find it amusing that all this GNEP crap was going on mere days before the Chalk River story broke.

    Gary Lunn, Nov. 29th: "It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate to the changing marketplace."

    Gee, that statement wouldn't have anything to do with the email you received that day, would it, Gary?

    As a matter of fact, thanks - I hadn't made that connection before. Hmm...