The federal government wants to know so much more about a proposed nuclear waste site near Lake Huron, it seems it will never get the OK

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, April 21, 2017 6:10:27 EDT PM

One could well wonder whether Ontario Power Generation’s proposal to construct an underground nuclear waste site 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron will ever get the go-ahead from the federal government.

Last fall Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna requested information from OPG about alternative sites to the one it is proposing on the Bruce Power site. On April 5, less than a month after the public commentary on that information ended, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has issued a daunting set of difficult questions for OPG to answer.

The agency chastises OPG for its superficial exploration of alternative locations and for using inconsistent terminology to describe adverse environmental effects. It is still unclear why this deep geologic repository (DGR) so close to a Great Lake is preferred by OPG, so it has now been ordered to use more “systematic” approaches to considering alternate sites in terms of weighting, scoring and other “qualitative lines of reasoning.”

OPG needs to answer many more questions about emissions, construction, gas pressure, greenhouse gases, seismic factors, temporary power generation and the use of fossil fuels.

Since underground facilities must be constructed according to the National Building Code’s seismic regulations, OPG’s statement was deemed “ambiguous” and it has been told mitigation measures need explaining now, not later.

The agency said it had difficulty understanding OPG’s claim there would be no changes above-ground, despite clearing and excavation. So now the government wants to know how the construction could affect the land.

It’s unclear whether the baseline radiation from the existing Bruce Power stations was taken into account. But more information is required about the effects on workers and the potential effects of naturally occurring radioactive materials on non-human life.

OPG must also report on disruptive scenarios, including the potential risk of uncharted and abandoned oil and gas wells and the potential environmental effects of accidents and malfunctions during all phases of the project on site and during transportation.

OPG is even taken to task for not considering less-likely scenarios, such as “inadvertent human intrusion,” “undetected major fracture” and “shaft failure” after the DGR is closed.

Somebody will also need to more precisely figure out the cost and environmental effect of transporting the waste by rail and road and clarify why roads are preferred over railway.

OPG has been told it should have taken into account the risks and environmental effects of acid generation and metal leaching in rock beyond those assessed in the previous environmental impact statement so that it can say how those risks could be mitigated.

The agency emphasizes that indigenous peoples’ perspectives will need much better reporting.

OPG will need to take into account the input provided by indigenous groups, including health, socio-economic conditions, physical and cultural heritage, use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, burial sites and “local enjoyment.” Moreover, OPG must answer all the same sorts of questions about any alternative location.

One perhaps unanswerable question involves smaller, incremental effects. The government states the probability of a hazardous event may be low, but the impact on the environment or human health can still be high. Therefore risk assessments must consider many more types of conceivable accidents, malfunctions and malevolent acts.

If that were not enough, the government wants to know from OPG about the potential effects on the environment and human health of a long-term release of other radioactive nuclides via water sources if the DGR and the Bruce reactor both fail. And what would happen if there was no timely remediation or emergency response?

It is notable the government wants to know more about the potential for cumulative effects from radiation and radioactivity on deep groundwater.

“Radionuclide diffusion from the two repositories could eventually reach more active groundwater systems in the Cambrian sandstone and Guelph Formation, which are connected across the region. The consequences of such movement could have potentially adverse effects,” it says.

It further wants a reassessment of geological and hydrogeological factors, the incremental effects to freshwater species caused by warm water effluent discharging into colder water bodies, and the ecological risks to terrestrial species, such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey. It seems the snapping turtle has been observed in the wetlands around the Bruce site, so the government advises it could be possible for the eastern ribbon snake and the eastern milk snake to move in as well.

Taken all together it will be a long time before OPG can come up with compelling answers to so many complex questions — and certainly well after the next couple of federal and provincial elections.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at Western University and the author of NATO and the Bomb.

 Here are the links to some newspapers:

Brantford Expositor:


Stratford Beacon Herald


Sarnia Observer


London Free Press



for previous columns on this issue, go to Erika Simpson’s blog https://erikasimpson.wordpress.com/


A lot more to be answered

A lot more to be answered


Friday, March 24, 2017 5:49:51 EDT PM

Should Ontario Power Generation be allowed to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron? The federal government could soon decide whether to give the go-ahead to the proposal to construct an underground disposal site at the Bruce nuclear complex — just 1.6 kilometres from the lakeshore.

Last fall Environment Minister Catherine McKenna requested more information from OPG, including alternative sites. That report, issued in late December, was available for public input until March 8.

Yet next year’s provincial election and possible federal cabinet changes in the summer mean there could be other opportunities to put nuclear waste back on the public radar.

OPG’s plan is to transport intermediate- and low-level nuclear waste (but not fuel waste) from the 20 commercial reactors in the province by truck to the Bruce site and place it in an underground “deep geologic repository”, or DGR.

The December report estimates 22,000 to 24,000 road shipments over 30 years at a cost between $400 million and $1.4 billion: “There will be incremental radiological and conventional transportation risks which are estimated to be between three and 69 road collisions,” it says.

Presumably transporting nuclear waste on Ontario’s highways would need to be kept secret due in part to potential terrorism. Would some roads, like Highway 401, have to be shut down entirely so that there would be no chance of a strike against the trucks?

The report does not consider whether roads and the Bruce site can be made invulnerable to attack. Soft targets are called soft for a reason.

But it’s not just terrorists. No mention is made in the report of countries that have encountered strong public opposition to transporting nuclear waste. German television regularly airs scenes of protesters surrounding trains — many Germans are incensed that the use of a mine to store radiological waste backfired when it flooded and the toxic wastes leaked into groundwater.

The OPG report suggests extensive negotiations will be needed with Canada’s Indigenous People about hosting the nuclear waste site, but it does not delve into the legal issues related to land ownership and sovereignty.

And there is no mention of the possibility that earthquakes, fires, tornados or human error could limit access to the underground chambers. The Japanese are using robots and drones to access the Fukishima nuclear facility that was damaged in an earthquake six years ago, but have admitted defeat at trying to clean up the site, which is leaking into the Pacific. The Bruce site is located in an area where there is little seismic activity but not infrequent tornados.

OPG’s report considers a time frame of a million years. To put that in context, it explains the crystalline rock of the Canadian Shield is more than a billion years old, and the sedimentary rock of southern Ontario is 354 million to 543 million years old. But wasn’t it only 10,000 years ago that retreating ice sheets carved the Great Lakes’ water basin?

The report asserts no less than four times that “the proximity of a water body to the DGR is not relevant because the movement of water or gas, even if it was released from the DGR, would not reach the water body until the radioactivity of such water or gas had diminished to the levels generally found naturally occurring throughout Ontario.”

While the radiological depletion rates are fairly certain, how can humans predict what could happen to a shaft hundreds of thousands of years from now — a shaft that OPG plans to abandon 30 years after it’s built?

Furthermore, no containers have been invented that will with certainty last hundreds of thousands of years. Arguably they might be some time in the future, but that would place an unfair burden on future generations to clean up our generation’s mess.

OPG’s report seems to conclude the waste site could, technically, be situated anywhere in the province’s vast crystalline rock or sedimentary rock formations so long as it is accessible by road. The fact that hundreds of local residents around the Bruce site are supportive of the site locating there is heralded as an important deciding factor.

But what about outside the Kincardine area? By last September, 187 municipal resolutions had passed motions opposing OPG’s plans, and hundreds of thousands of people had signed petitions. Twenty-three members of the U.S. Congress wrote Canada’s foreign affairs minister urging Canada to explore options outside of the Great Lakes basin. Twelve U.S. representatives sent a bipartisan letter asking the Trump administration to stop OPG’s proposal.

While OPG’s report focuses on geological and technical matters, it leaves out a lot. It says nothing about the costs of insurance and emergency planning. It doesn’t consider the temptation for the debt-ridden Ontario government to agree to take other countries’ waste. (The U.S. has no long-term nuclear waste repository since giving up on its Yucca Mountain site in 2011.)

Canada needs a neutral agency that helps citizens both in Canada and the U.S., understandably unfamiliar with the language of nuclear power and the concepts of geology, to analyse the OPG plan. The federal government must ensure fairness, transparency and openness in determining the plan’s acceptability. Right now the federal cabinet has too much unilateral power to decide the issue.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at Western University and the author of NATO and the Bomb.

Available online and in hard copy in Postmedia Network:

The Barrie Examiner

The Beacon Herald (Stratford)

The Chatham Daily News

The Daily Observer (Pembroke)

The Daily Press (Timmins)

The Expositor (Brantford)

The Intelligencer (Belleville)

Kenora Daily Miner & News

Kingston Whig-Standard 

The London Free Press

Niagara Falls Review 

North Bay Nugget

Northumberland Today (Cobourg)

Ottawa Sun

Packet & Times (Orillia)

The Observer (Sarnia)

Peterborough Examiner

The Recorder & Times (Brockville)

The Sault Star (Sault Ste. Marie)

Sentinel-Review (Woodstock)

Simcoe Reformer

St. Thomas Times-Journal

Standard Freeholder (Cornwall)

The Standard (St. Catharines)

The Sudbury Star

The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

The Tribune (Welland)

The Windsor Star

Whose finger on the nuclear trigger?

In less than two months Americans will decide whose finger should be on the nuclear trigger, ready to possibly destroy Russia, China or North Korea.

The U.S. relies on a “nuclear first use” strategy and although eliminating nuclear weapons would be the best option for civilization, Americans and Russians are simply not prepared to do that. The next U.S. president must be willing to use nuclear weapons first.

As commander-in-chief, the president is constantly shadowed by an aide carrying the nuclear codes in a suitcase, and the president’s order to launch must be obeyed, even if the secretary of defence, the secretary of state and the nation’s top advisers disagree. As Bruce Blair, a Princeton scholar and former Minuteman missile operator, points out, the president is at the apex of the nuclear chain of command and the arsenal’s operators must respond dutifully to his or her orders, even orders that come out of nowhere. “Everything revolves around this one individual,” he says.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump claim they are temperamentally inclined to make rational decisions during world crises. Because the flight time for a missile fired from a Russian submarine at the U.S. can be less than 12 minutes, she or he has to decide whether to order the launch of land-based U.S. missiles before incoming warheads take them out. Nobody can call back the president’s order to launch based on a false warning or a lack of faith in the president’s power to make such a momentous decision.

In the higher echelons of U.S. decision-making, the time available to weigh in on planned drone strikes varies from 20 minutes to several days, but the time to deliberate during a civilization-ending nuclear crisis is less than the time it takes to make a meal.

Faced with ambiguous information, the president might assume the computer technology is fallible and decide to refrain from using nuclear weapons first. But then he or she risks appearing weak and unsuitable as commander in chief.

The hard lessons of nuclear deterrence were reinforced through the Cuban missile crisis (the closest the world got to nuclear war) and they have come to mean every U.S. president must appear ready and resolved to possibly go to the brink of the nuclear abyss. In his memoirs, Bill Clinton describes a very sobering top-secret briefing on the nuclear codes when he became president.

Hillary Clinton is already under fire for her laxity and disregard for the use of secret lethal force by U.S. drones in Pakistan. The investigation of her emails raised questions about her disregard for U.S. laws that bar officials from discussing drone strikes either publicly or privately outside of secure communication systems. Criticisms have surfaced about her appreciation of classified and security issues, despite her unparallelled understanding of international issues gained as secretary of state.

Debates about whether Trump would behave angrily or with a level head as the U.S. commander-in-chief tend to focus on his vengeful nature and basic understanding of nuclear deterrence. During the primaries, radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump an easy question about the nuclear triad (strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles): “What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” Trump veered off-topic: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”

Hewitt pressed him further: “Of the three legs of the triad, though, do you have a priority?” Instead of demonstrating an understanding of how deterrence works, Trump answered: “I think, I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

The history of U.S.-Russian crisis decision-making includes incidents of computer glitches, human error, misunderstandings and miscalculations; all these may be compounded by temperamental unsuitability or a blasé attitude toward secrecy.

The world need not end in nuclear cataclysm. Apart from urging Americans to show up on voting day — since only half of Americans are expected to vote in November — we should urge bystanders to take a stronger stand in favour of nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The Hiroshima-based Mayors for Peace, which includes more than 7,000 mayors in 161 countries and regions, has called for major inroads on nuclear disarmament by 2020. As the representative of 1.4 million Roman Catholics, the Pope has strongly denounced these evil weapons of mass destruction, as have Protestant leaders from the World Council of Churches. The worldwide Pugwash movement, the Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament, and Physicians for Global Survival are calling for nuclear abolition.

Asked in April about the possibility of a nuclear-free world, Trump said he would love to see such a world, but “chances are extremely small that will happen, so I think that’s something that in an ideal world is wonderful, but I think it’s not going to happen very easily.”

In October, Canada will vote at the UN on whether to take urgent action to deal with the threat to humanity posed by the existence of nuclear weapons and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any detonation. Canada could still put its weight behind the resolution mandating negotiations on a legally binding nuclear weapons convention. We could also press for less consensus-based, hamstrung decision-making at the UN’s Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

As a NATO ally and a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Canada could call for emergency meetings on conflicts that could trigger nuclear war.

At the same time there are moves on a northeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone, we could take steps to establish an Arctic nuclear-weapon-free zone.

While Canadians can’t cast votes in the American election, we can push for a nuclear-weapon-free world along with many other middle powers, more than 800 members of the Order of Canada, and 44 prominent Canadian non-governmental organizations.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University active in nuclear non-proliferation work.

Longtime peace activist Murray Thomson is spearheading nearly 900 of his peers in the Order of Canada who endorse a nuclear weapons convention.


By Erika Simpson and Murray Thomson, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, September 16, 2016 5:08:37 EDT PM

How To Melt A Cold War


The stormy relationship between Russia and the West raises questions about whether we are heading into a renewed Cold War.

Russia deployed nuclear-capable missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea last month, and NATO officials are seeking commitments to send 4,000 new troops to the Baltic states and eastern Poland in early 2017.

Angry about Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO plans to station four battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Recently Canada, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. committed to lead, and NATO is asking for more support from its 28 allies along with assistance to defend against cyber attacks in Ukraine.

At the same time, worries are that NATO’s nuclear weapons deployed in Turkey’s Black Sea region are threatened by the terrorist organization ISIL as well as Russia’s military presence. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are expected to shore up air and naval patrols while the newer NATO allies, like Poland, are demanding NATO allies honour their Article 5 commitment, outlined in the 1949 Washington Treaty, promising that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently suspended the Global Partnership Program, which was designed to ensure the safety of Russia’s weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. Canada and the United States were paying billions to inspect Russian facilities and pay Russian scientists stipends so they would not sell their knowledge on the black market to terrorists.

ISIL is now the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization, and about US$10 million of its stolen cache might purchase a grapefruit-sized amount of nuclear materials ladened with conventional explosives. An explosive like that could be set off in New York City or Washington, causing millions of Americans, fearing more so-called dirty bombs, to panic and flee the inner cities into the countryside.

Meanwhile the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air, land and sea triad of nuclear weapons, including 160 to 200 short-range B-61 warheads deployed in Europe.

And Putin vows to develop new arms systems to neutralize the U.S.’s ballistic missile defence project, which the Russians and the Chinese see as a breach of the now-defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

In the face of nuclear threats and renewed spending on nuclear arms, 50 nations from Austria to Brazil to Ireland — not including Canada — proposed a UN resolution calling for a global conference in 2017 to establish a legally binding process to ban the manufacture, possession, stockpiling and use of these weapons. The draft resolution, known as L41, was put forward on Oct. 28 and won an overwhelming majority of 123 votes in the 193-member General Assembly, paving the way for historic negotiations to begin.

But nuclear-armed states exerted intense diplomatic pressure on their allies to vote against it. The U.S. voted no and is refusing to participate in negotiations. Among its NATO allies, the Netherlands was the only one to abstain, while Canada voted no.

Among the eight other nuclear-armed states, North Korea voted in favour and India and Pakistan abstained.

Canada’s vote against L41 puts us on the wrong side of history. Peggy Mason, former Canadian ambassador for disarmament to the UN, says, “Canada was one of only a handful of countries to vote no. In so doing, we joined with most other NATO member states, in blatant contradiction of our legal obligation under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Article VI to enter into good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament.”

The diplomatic negotiations during the NPT’s review conferences in 2010 and 2015 ended last spring in debacle and deadlock. Parallel negotiations in the UN’s Conference on Disarmament are stalled. In fact, they have not been able to agree on even an agenda for discussion over the last 20 years, so diplomats from all over the world wine and dine themselves at the public’s expense in Geneva, New York and Vienna, while negotiations go nowhere.

But the plucky disarmament movement drew public attention to the humanitarian impact of use of nuclear weapons. Scientific predictions say even a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan using about 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons would lead to a drop in the world’s temperature of 1.25 Celsius degrees; a war fought with U.S. and Russian high-alert nuclear weapons would lead to a drop of four Celsius degrees and the detonation of 4,400 strategic nuclear weapons out of the world’s remaining stockpile of 15,500 would lead to a drop of eight Celsius degrees. Such a nuclear winter would endure for decades, effectively decimating the globe’s economic production and killing billions of people.

Growing worries about whose finger could be on the nuclear trigger after Tuesday’s U.S. election also incited renewed calls for the nuclear-armed states to step down from their first-use nuclear postures.

Canada must somehow join the UN negotiations beginning in 2017 in order to prevent a disaster of unimaginable and unprecedented proportions.

Nestling under the United States’ nuclear umbrella should still allow the Trudeau government to spearhead a review of NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence during the runup to NATO’s 70th anniversary celebrations in 2019.

Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian minister of foreign affairs, wisely called for questioning the untested assumptions of nuclear deterrence by threatening first-use. Similarly the new Liberal government should question American policy that advocates first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional, biological or chemical threats.

Despite opposing the UN resolution, Canada could still participate in the talks. There is no UN dictum preventing abstainers and nay-sayers from participating in negotiations that will assuredly go ahead.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations at Western University and was a speaker at the Building Momentum for Nuclear Disarmament conference in Ottawa on Oct. 24

Keeping the Peace: Canada should jump-start a UN Emergency Peace Service and Canadian peacekeeping training centre

1297859571551_ORIGINALThe Canadian peacekeeping monument in Ottawa is a reminder of Canada’s legacy, one that should be continued with a government-run peacekeeping training centre in Kingston, says columnist Erika Simpson. (Postmedia file photo)

The Global Peace Index reports that violence is costing the world 13.4 per cent of GDP, and there are now only 10 countries in the world free from conflict. According to the UN’s annual Global Trends Report, one in every 122 humans now either is a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Defence requirements trump social spending. Climate change, militarization, nationalism, poverty and the global war on terrorism mean defence industries are ever-expanding and arms sales are increasing instead of decreasing. Our country’s arms exports to the Middle East are the world’s second-largest, after the United States. Canada leapfrogged Britain, France, Germany and Russia into second place this month, with $3.44 billion in annual sales. While Canadian government officials talk about respect for human rights, Canada is ranked as the world’s sixth largest weapons exporter overall and that ranking does not count our unreported arms trade with the U.S. under the Defence Production Sharing Agreement.

Civil society organizations — such as the Canadian Peace Research Association, the Rideau Institute, Project Ploughshares, Pugwash Canada, the UN Association, and the World Federalist Movement — are being decimated by cutbacks and staffed mainly by volunteers. What remains of any protest movement tends to focus on opposing particular weapon systems, like the purchase of new F-35s and the sale of London-built light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns, “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.”

Pope Francis speaks to the problem’s crux: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade.”

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hailed around the world for his commitment to LGBTQ rights, it is worth remembering U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and pledged to abolish nuclear weapons. Instead the U.S. is modernizing its nuclear weapons, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates nuclear forces will cost US$348 billion between 2015-2024.

While Americans invest in ballistic missile defence, pledge new B-61 bombers in Europe and send more troops to defend NATO along a new central front in Europe, our Prime Minister refused to renege on the sale of LAVs to Saudi Arabia and promised last week to contribute 1,000 troops to NATO’s symbolic trip-wire force in Latvia to deter the growing threat from Russia. The U.S.-led arms race virtually ensures the great powers, Russia and China, will respond with equivalent spending. At the same time, middle powers are planning to cut the UN’s annual peacekeeping budget of $10.58 billion (Cdn), in order to reduce the burden of long, costly peacekeeping operations.

But a Canadian proposal for a standing United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) might help jump-start a better deal for humanity. Developed in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it was part of a failed initial proposal to improve the UN’s rapid deployment capacity.

A new UNEPS would be inexpensive and small but could help prevent armed conflict, stem atrocities from happening, protect desperate civilians, and deliver prompt startup of demanding peace operations.

It would be an emergency ‘UN 911’ force that could be relied upon when other nations seek to avoid involvement in offshore conflicts and avoid burgeoning costs.

A Canadian initiative to set up a UNEPS would complement existing arrangements and ensure rapid and reliable first responders. Combined with the possible ­re-establishment of Canada’s former Lester B. Pearson Multinational Peacekeeping Training Centre (which was closed by the government of Stephen Harper), Canada could help train young interns, employ retired Canadian Forces’ personnel, and help train peacekeepers from around the world.

The Department of National Defence is holding a public consultation as part of the defence policy review that is scheduled to end later this month. The mandate letter Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan received from the Prime Minister highlighted a number of themes that could underpin the review, such as renewing Canada’s commitment to UN peace operations.

The government should commit to kick-starting a UN emergency service, and it should re-establish a government-run Canadian peacekeeping training centre in Kingston so DND and the Canadian Forces have what they need to confront new threats and challenges in the years ahead.


The London Free Press

Brexit vote could allow for nuclear weapons rethink

If the U.K. votes to leave the EU and Scotland ends up separating, it could leave the U.K.’s nuclear-armed subs high and dry.

A Trident submarine heads out from its base in Scotland in August 2007. Britain’s nuclear-armed subs are in need of replacement, which could cost 167 billion pounds. Flickr photograph by JohnED76

If Britons vote on June 23 in favour of Brexit, it is expected that Scotland will hold another referendum that could lead to its re-establishment as an independent nation. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports an independent and non-nuclear Scotland, wants Scotland to be a member of NATO and the European Union but rejects nuclear weapons, including nuclear-armed United Kingdom submarines, all of which are now based in Scotland.

The SNP pledges it will negotiate the removal of the U.K.’s Trident nuclear weapon system from the Faslane naval base, 40 kilometres from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest population centre. The U.K.’s four Vanguard nuclear-armed submarines are stationed on the Firth of Clyde, a series of rivers, estuaries, and sea lochs.

A No vote would mean Britain’s estimated 167-billion-pound replacement of the four Trident submarines during the next decade could still go ahead, due in part due to Prime Minister David Cameron’s majority hold on U.K. politics. But a weak No vote also could mean the U.K.’s commitment to nuclear weapons would need to be rethought. Further, if Scotland votes to remain in the EU whilst the overall U.K. vote is to leave, this may precipitate a second independence referendum over the following three-to-four-year period.

The U.K. government has assumed since 1968 that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gives it some kind of right to possess nuclear weapons.

If the British Labour Party, along with an aligned or independent Scotland fulfilled their policies to remove the submarine-based Trident nuclear weapons system from their shared territory, the U.K. would need to find another location for all its sea-based nuclear warheads, since it costs too much to deploy them at sea for months at a time.

This would be difficult—almost as tough as it would be for Vladimir Putin to find another home for Russia’s Black Sea fleet stationed in the Crimean Peninsula. If the U.K. wants to maintain its nuclear-armed submarines, it would need to find another deep-water port, preferably on British turf and not on another colony’s territory.

(Canada loans the U.S. navy’s nuclear-weapons-capable subs its deep-water torpedo-testing grounds at Nanoose Bay, north of Nanaimo, B.C.)

If the U.K. government does decide to relocate its nuclear subs, cost estimates vary enormously, but could hit billions of pounds.

An independent Britain that is free of the EU and a potentially independent Scotland could follow the example of other NATO states such as Canada, Norway, and Lithuania, which do not allow nuclear weapons on their soil. Furthermore, if more British and Scottish MPs spearheaded initiatives to establish more international treaties to prohibit nuclear weapons, their approach could have a major impact on other NATO members, despite the inclination to erect a new central front in Europe to protect the Baltic states from Russia.

No matter whether Britons vote yes or no to remaining in the EU, their voting patterns could provide an opportunity to rethink approaches to nuclear weapons. The very high costs of replacing the submarines, coupled with the logistical challenges of relocating the weapons, means there is a strong opportunity to reject the nuclear option, should more Westminster political parties adopt such a policy.

For their part, Labour along with representatives of the SNP should prepare to participate actively in the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and support negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. Such a treaty would make the possession of nuclear weapons unambiguously illegal for all, putting them on the same footing as biological and chemical weapons.

In the face of opposition from the Labour Party—and in the wake of Scotland’s narrow yes vote—it will remain difficult for the U.K. government to continue its absurd and costly pursuit of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system against the backdrop of international negotiations to ban nuclear weapons. The Brexit vote this week could go either way, but it is already pushing Mother England to overcome her Cold War thinking about security by undermining traditional arguments in favour of maintaining these weapons of mass destruction.

Bill Kidd is the member of the Scottish parliament for Glasgow Anniesland and chief whip of the SNP Scottish government. Erika Simpson is the vice president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, a board member and past vice-chair of Pugwash Canada, and an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at Western University.


The Hill Times

Sustainable development goals worth sharing


The human species is good at setting goals and achieving them. We have walked on the moon, sent a rover to roam Mars—and 15 years ago the United Nations General Assembly agreed to pursue an ambitious set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [1]. Good progress on the goals since 2000 [2] has meant the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved from 15 years ago, more than two billion people have gained access to improved sources of drinking water, and remarkable gains have been made in the fights against malaria and tuberculosis. As well, the UN’s target for reducing hunger is within reach and the proportion of slum dwellers in the metropolises of the developing world is declining [3]. On the other hand, though there were some notable successes, the MDGs failed to bring about a substantial shift toward tackling global poverty [4]. Another downside was they oversold what foreign aid could achieve—and thus added to pessimism over aid, which was precisely the opposite of their original intention [5].

Now the international community has agreed upon a new set of goals for the next 15 years. On January 1 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit—officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years the SDGs hope to build on the success of the MDGs. On the table are no less than 17 Goals and 169 objectives [6]. The goals summarily range from Goal 1 “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere” to Goal 5 tackling “gender inequality” to Goal 17, strengthening “the global partnership for sustainable development” [7].

This paper overviews the new SDGs as North Americans need to be informed about humankind’s shared aspirations. It considers the merits and demerits of elaborating more precisely on the Goals’ concepts and measurements including the lack of country-specific deadlines and targets. It asks whether foreign aid—as one of the ‘instruments’ of North American foreign policy—should be ‘tied’ to the purchase of Canadian and American goods and services. And it suggests more and newer approaches to global governance will be imperative if the SDGs are to be achieved by 2030.

The new Sustainable Development Goals:
What are the new Sustainable Development Goals? There is a rich academic literature that debates the overarching concept of ‘sustainable development’ [8]. The term sustainable development was popularized in Our Common Future, a report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. Also known as the Brundtland report, Our Common Future included the classic definition of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of the present whilst safeguarding Earth’s life-support system upon which the welfare of current and future generations depends” [9].

Sustainable development has been explained and debated by a great number of nongovernmental and international institutions [10]. A large academic and governmental literature tackles the theoretical concepts [11] and methodological issues [12] issues surrounding what sustainable development means and implies. That said, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are short and succinctly worded—indeed, all 17 far-reaching and ambitious goals have already been summarized into a few paragraphs [13], a UN poster [14] and a one-page summary [15] although their original diplomatic written language is quite lengthy [16].

Goal 1 seeks, by 2030, to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day. Goal 2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Goal 3 seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. Goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Goal 6 will ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Goal 7 seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable andmodern energy for all. Goal 8 promises to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. Goal 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation. Goal 10 will reduce inequality within and among countries. Goal 11 promises to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Goal 12 seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Goal 13 promises to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Goal 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Goal 15 seeks to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably  manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss. Goal 16 strives to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. And Goal 17 promises to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

Many of the 17 SDGs have sub-goals as well so for example, Goal 5 promises to end gender inequality and would ensure many sub-goals including women’s full participation at all levels of decision making and universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights. Goal 17 is similarly ambitious and spells out a host of sub-goals on finance, technology, capacity building and trade. Overall the Goals are more like a lengthy wish list than a legally binding framework with country-specific deadlines and targets.

Findings: Some merits and demerits of the SDGs
There are no established national frameworks and logical sets of steps to take toward the 17 Goals. Individual governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for the achievement of the 17 Goals. Countries will have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review of the progress made in implementing the Goals. According to the UN, implementing the Goals will require high-quality, accessible and timely data collection. Since the SDGs are not legally binding, individual countries will have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review at the national, regional and global levels [17].

Notably the new Goals are universal and apply to all countries, whereas the MDGs were intended for action in developing countries only. The new SDGs cover more issues with aspirations to address global inequalities in terms of economic growth, ecosystems, industrialization and climate change. The goals cover many dimensions of sustainable development including social inclusion, environmental protection, sustainable consumption and peace and justice.

A 2015 report by the International Council for Science in partnership with the International Social Science Council briefly reviewed the targets from a science perspective and pointed out that many of the targets may also contribute to several goals, and some goals and targets may conflict. “Action to meet one target could have unintended consequences on others if they are pursued separately” and “Research suggests that most goal areas are interlinked, that many targets might contribute to several goals, and that there are important trade-offs among several goals and targets.” For example, progress on ending poverty (SDG 1) cannot be achieved without progress on the food security target (SDG 2). The targets of full and productive employment and decent work under SDG 8 and the reduction of inequality under SDG 10 would need to be met without enhancing resilience to climate change under SDG 13. Success in these will lead to better health and wellbeing, thus contributing to the achievement of SDG 3. But there could be important trade-offs among targets: For example, an increase in agricultural land-use to help end hunger can result in biodiversity loss, as well as in over use and/ or pollution of water resources and downstream (and likely negative) effects on marine resources, which in turn could exacerbate food security concerns [19].

Some of the targets are confusing and potentially contradictory. For example, the concept of basic income requires further elaboration to understand what is meant by the elimination of extreme poverty and undernutriti on, as well as effective and equitable processes of wealth creation and distribution.

Country-specific baselines and targets are deliberately missing along with country-specific assessments to identify the most urgent priorities. Should individual countries tackle infectious diseases and malnutrition and/or a rapid rise in non-communicable diseases and obesity? What could be the consequences of demographic shifts in nations where either the youth or the elderly predominate? To measure the SDGs using an empirical and positivist framework with a view to testing whether they are achievable would be a challenging, if not impossible exercise. What might be the roles and good practices for subnational governments with respect to the SDGs at the subnational level? Many of the goals are so lofty and immeasurable that they could be missed. If targets are immeasurable and not met, who is to blame? The Goals are unlikely to be realized if the world community neglects to focus on implementation measures from the outset. In short, the SDGs are ambitious commitments but spending plans and country-specific targets for achieving the goals have been left for future negotiations.

Trillions of dollars and more negotiations necessary to achieve Goals

While estimates vary, the hefty budget to achieve all 17 goals is estimated by the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations at more than than $4.5 trillion per year [20]—although to put this enormous figure in perspective that is less than the $1.7 trillion spent annually on militarism. According to the December 2014 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates’ Declaration [21]: “Militarism has cost the world over $1.7 trillion dollars this past year.

It deprives the poor of urgently needed resources for development and adds to the likelihood of war with all its attendant suffering.” It is unclear how enormous figures like $4.5 trillion US a year to $7 trillion annually are arrived at and more importantly, where hundreds of billions in aid will be sought to help pay for the attainment of these goals. Many rounds of future negotiations can be expected to try to come up with unknown amounts of money that must be somehow apportioned to achieve each lofty goal.

North Americans tend to be good global citizens in these sorts of diplomatic negotiations. Back in 1992, Canada played a positive role when heads of states met in Brazil under the strong chairmanship of a Canadian Maurice Strong, who served as UN Secretary-General [22] of the Conference on Environment and Development. They agreed on 21 global priorities. “Agenda 21,” [23] as it was called, was based on lessons learned about poverty and conflict during the Cold War and on an emerging awareness about the environment and limits to growth. Since then, many treaties have been ratified extolling widely-admired goals such as biodiversity [24], disarmament [25], sustainable development [26] and people’s equality [27].

North America’s Development Aid: factors such as tied aid affect aid distribution

Until 2013, the Canadian International Development Agency was the federal government organization that administered the budget for Canada’s official devel opment assistance. Then it was merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development [28]. Renamed the Department of Global Affairs by the newly-elected Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it is now a complicated hydra with four cabinet ministers—the ministers of global affairs, the minister of international trade, the minister of international development, and the minister of state (foreign affairs and consular)—at its head.

In 2010, President Obama signed the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development [29], which called for the elevation of development as a core pillar of American power in accordance with diplomacy and defense. The directive sought an integrated approach and the U.S. manages foreign assistance programs in more than 100 countries around the world through the efforts of over 20 different U.S. government agencies [30].

Although foreign aid is one of the instruments of North American foreign policy, voters seldom contemplate foreign aid priorities when they decide how to vote. But for those who do take an interest, questions are swirling about whether foreign aid should be ‘tied’ to the purchase of North American goods and services. This practice requires aid funds provided by governments to developing countries—some of the world’s poorest countries—be used to procure only North American goods and services.

The OECD and various UN studies estimate that donor money with these kind of strings attached cuts the value of aid to recipient countries by 30 to 40 per cent [31] because they cannot search the international market for the best price. Usually only four countries [32]—Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom—are singled out as donors breaking away from the concept of tied aid. The Canadian government announced in 2008 [33] it would untie all its aid by 2012, but it is unclear whether it succeeded. Critics saw larger objectives of neoliberalization [34], private sector development [35], and mining [36] in both the Obama and Harper governments’approaches to aid.

The 0.7-per-cent target: the U.S. and Canada are not alone in falling short:
As well, the United Nations’ Millennium Project [37] urged each donor country to contribute 0.7 per cent of its gross national income to official development assistance. According to the OECD in 2015, the United States continues to be the largest donor [38] by volume with net Official Development Assistance (ODA) flows amounting to $32.7 billion in 2014, an increase of 2.3 percent in real terms compared to 2013. But US ODA as a share of Gross National Income (GNI) remains at 0.19 percent of GNI, despite the promises of different federal governments—Republican and Democrat.

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 Similarly in Canada, successive federal governments—Liberal and Conservative—have consistently eroded the official development aid budget until today it is a paltry 0.24 per cent [39] and still declining. The 0.7-per-cent target [40] was originally set by Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson in the 1960s. Famously, U2 lead singer and global poverty activist Bono reminded Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Prime Minister Stephen Harper [41] of that pledge, to no avail.

The United States and Canada are not alone in falling short. Only five countries have achieved the goal: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The sixth, the United Kingdom, met it for the first time last year. A historic debate [42] and vote in Britain’s parliament committed its current and future governments to spend at least 0.7 per cent of its national wealth on development aid, currently around $23 billion Cdn. It joins Belgium, Finland, France and Spain in making a commitment to a timetable to reach the target.

Policy imperatives to reach the proposed sustainable development goals:
As wealthy, resource-rich countries, with the world’s longest coast lines and the world’s most fresh water, Canada and the United States could afford to give much more. Civil society leaders [43] are calling on the United States and Canada to align their development agendas [44] with the proposed sustainable development goals,tackle inequality, integrate environmental concerns into decision-making and take a more holistic approach to development. Thismeans tackling these issues not only abroad but also at home, where we will one day have to answer for child poverty among minority populations in the United States [45] and the poverty endured among First Nationscommunities [46].

To reach the next 15-year goals by 2030, we will need politicians and policy-makers with the courage to keep their promises and we will need to keep watch on whether those promises are delivered. Academics and policy-makers will also need to help develop the post-2015 Development Agenda. The SDGs need to be formulated at multiple levels, from global to local levels. Governments, supported by business and civil society will need to agree on new intergovernmental processes that could undergird the new SDGs.

Global governance in order to achieve global Goals
Concepts that go beyond national boundaries and interests, like global governance, transnationalism and the latest new term ‘metagovernance’ [47] will continue to be useful in terms of develop ing coordinated approaches to designing and managing the SDGs. Traditional hierarchical styles of governance are insufficient because complexproblems require new styles of communication, different contracts, new covenants, open dialogue, trans-boundary marketing and heightened trust. More ethics, pluralism and tolerance in consensus-style democracies must be developed along with decentralized networks and improved policy coherence. People at all levels of government should think beyond their own national traditions and cultures at the same time as they add more layers of complexity to governance. Everyone will need to design more and better solutions that take a global governance perspective. The human species is inexperienced and sometimes fails at designing multilevel institutions. The European Union can be characterized as ‘a supranational instance of multilevel meta-governance governing a wide range of complex and interrelated problems’ that is evidently not flawless [49]. Fundamental issues that have impeded the EU are the slow dissipation of the political will to stay together combined with the threat of a British exit along with the possibility of financial meltdowns stemming from problems with EU-members, like Greece, Italy and Portugal. The EU’s ongoing struggle to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis is more evidence of enormous problems made more severe by lack of momentum and less-than-unified determination. Yet without the EU, all Europeans would struggle much more today with truly insurmountable problems that stem from the global financial meltdown and worldwide refugee crisis. The same is true of the UN—for without the UN, we would have to struggle to reinvent it. Rather than jettison newly-emerging global institutions and methods of global governance, like the EU and the UN, we must develop newer styles of consultation and decision-making [49] that improve global governance outcomes.

This study indicates the SDGs are more aspirational philosophies of development that stem from many different and rather competing objectives than inclusive goals rooted in unified political will and momentum. Nevertheless, the new SDGs represent the world’s aspirations and are global goals worth sharing.

Simpson / OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development 09:03 (2016)

About the author
Dr. Erika Simpson is a director and past vice-chair of the Canadian Pugwash Group on Science and World Affairs, vice-president of the Canadian Peace Research Association, and an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at the University of Western Ontario. In 2015 she was awarded the Shirley Farlinger Award for Peace Writings by Canadian Voice of Women.