Inverhuron and District Ratepayers Association
On 8 May 1985, the life of the Canadian sheep farmer Eugene Bourgeois took a dramatic turn. He was picking rock in a field he was preparing to plant when he walked into a pocket of hydrogen sulfide, part of the chemical tort sent into the air by a flare stack emission at the nearby Bruce Nuclear Power Development (BNPD), the largest nuclear complex in the world. Two heavy water chemical plants at the development, which belongs to Ontario Hydro, use the Girder-sulfide method to distill heavy water from the waters of Lake Huron. Eugene was nearly knocked off his feet, experienced instantaneous nausea and visual impairment, and, when lambing season began, his ewes experienced a myriad of disorders. BNPD officials told him that the nuclear power facility had nothing to do with the incident. With nowhere else to turn, Eugene dismissed the incident as an abnormality in plant operations. Then in 1988 he walked into a second hydrogen sulfide pocket, this time with personal implications much more severe: for a period of time he was unable to string words together in a coherent manner. His lambs were temporarily blinded. Eugene commissioned scientists to conduct independent studies into what had happened at his farm. But, despite the overwhelming evidence he accumulated, he was denied judicial review.
Two miles south of the Bruce Nuclear Power Development, on the shores of Lake Huron – part of the largest international body of freshwater lakes in the world – lies the port community of Inverhuron. The region is prized for its beauty and pristine nature. Alarmed by repeated radioactive leakages into Lake Huron and radioactive emissions into the atmosphere, the Inverhuron and District Ratepayers Association (IDRA), a volunteer community organization, began performing its own investigations of the BNPD complex. When Eugene learned of the association’s pursuits, he teamed up with two of the leading figures at IDRA, Normand de la Chevrotiere and Robert MacKenzie, to try and debunk Ontario Hydro’s czarist-style, arrogant public posturing.
“Operations at the Bruce facility are the best kept secrets in the world.”
Robert MacKenzie, who heads a consultancy firm, performed the group’s press communications and strategy planning – his office was the team’s communication hub. He quickly learned the importance of working together with other organizations familiar with the health and safety concerns. Normand de la Chevrotiere, an insurance actuary and president of the IDRA, helped interpret research data and carried out the team’s correspondence with the federal Atomic Energy Control Board. He was only able to devote such a large measure of his time to BNPD issues because Sheila Orf and other IDRA directors carried out the organization’s many other tasks.
The team organized critical public debates and brought in scientific experts to shed some light on the operations at the Bruce facility, what Normand refers to as, “the best kept secrets in the world.” The IDRA is suing to subject a proposed used fuel dry storage nuclear waste facility to a panel review and an independent environmental assessment. The facility would store approximately 750,000 used fuel bundles in up to 2000 above ground silos for a term of at least 90 years, making the BNPD Canada’s de facto nuclear garbage dump. IDRA researches have revealed that two radioactive waste storage sites at BNPD have leaked radioactive contaminants (e.g. tritium) into the groundwater. Local fruit has 900 times natural background radiation levels, local fish 25 times, and local drinking water 50 times. Prostate and colorectal cancer rates in Bruce county are, respectively, 34 percent and 40 percent above expected; and the childhood leukemia death rate is 40 percent above expected. Two rare cases of progeria (advance aging disease in children) have occurred within a 25 kilometer radius of BNPD.
The IDRA’s accomplishment has been to heighten public awareness of the dangers of the byproducts of the atom’s so-called “peaceful use,” to destroy the integrity of Ontario Hydro numbers, to reveal the conflict of interest of regulatory bodies, and to help force accountability of nuclear waste and emissions from BNPD’s reactors and Heavy Water Plant. The IDRA is energetically pressing for full transparency regarding all aspects of radioactive waste storage at the development.
– Craig Reishus