Simpson: As the world tries to defuse the confrontation between North Korea and the U.S., it’s time to look at the larger picture

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, August 18, 2017 4:57:23 EDT PM

President Donald Trump’s threats to pre-emptively strike North Korea continue to alarm citizens as well as international diplomats and military personnel around the world. His tweets indicate the U.S. commander-in-chief could behave angrily or vengefully without using a level head. Now that he has proclaimed that his finger is on the nuclear trigger, ready to destroy North Korea, what can ordinary citizens and diplomats do to calm the situation?

There is not enough time and the technology is underdeveloped to erect space-based lasers and reliable ballistic missile defence systems to protect ourselves against a nuclear attack from North Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump’s latest threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” has led experts to talk more urgently about the effects of a limited nuclear war on the global environment and climate.

The most-studied scenario has been a hypothetical, limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, involving 100 Hiroshima-sized warheads. Fires would throw millions of tons of soot into the atmosphere, blocking the sun and causing a worldwide temperature drop of at least 1.25 Celsius degrees. An estimated 20 million people would die within a week from the direct effects, while an estimated two billion would be at risk of dying by famine over the next decade due to a huge drop in the production of grain.

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is much smaller than Pakistan’s. The CIA estimates there could be about 60 nuclear weapons cached around the country in underground, hardened silos.

Despite Trump’s threats, any U.S.-led decapitation of the leadership surrounding North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, even with the utter destruction of his country’s capital Pyongyang, could not assuredly destroy the North’s hidden nuclear arsenal.

Experts also worry a large-scale conventional war would destroy Seoul, South Korea’s capital, and send millions of refugees out of the Korean peninsula throughout Asia.

Rather than shrug our shoulders and accept the reality of the 33-year-old Supreme Leader ruling a nuclear-armed state, we should urge diplomats around the world to shore up the nuclear non-proliferation regime, revive the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament, jump-start negotiations toward a treaty banning fissile material production, and sign the newly-negotiated UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But reviving diplomatic negotiations will not be enough.

We need to speak more urgently about the dangers of placing our faith in nuclear deterrence, about mistakenly believing our sides’ nuclear weapons will deter conventional warfare and about our faulty perception that brandishing nuclear weapons means nuclear war will never be fought. Limited nuclear war is a burgeoning possibility, although even limited use would threaten the entire globe’s environment and Earth’s survival.

Trump’s comments, while playing on a golf course, about possibly raining death and destruction on North Korea, are yet another indication that he perceives his power to unleash nuclear devastation as very important to him. But many world leaders share that kind of perception. To continue to allow the preservation — indeed, the expensive modernization — of the strategic nuclear weapons of China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. could encourage states without nuclear weapons to seek them for their own deterrent purposes, leading to further nuclear proliferation and a growing possibility of accidental or even calculated use.

The non-nuclear countries — including those like Canada that are in military alliances with countries that have nukes — must press for more stigmatization of the nuclear-have states’ reliance on nuclear deterrence.

Diplomats and high-level UN representatives and state parties from all over Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America might join forces to press Chinese officials to rein in Kim.

We must also criticize countries, including Canada, that voted against the UN’s new ban treaty. (So far 122 have voted in favour).

We should harshly condemn world leaders like Trump and Kim who dare to taunt each other with possible nuclear use. After only eight months in office, Trump has already threatened to use nuclear weapons long before all options have been put on the table. Forebodingly, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea may be necessary if its threat reaches a level that “requires action.”

In other comments, Tillerson said, “All options are on the table.” If that’s the case, one peaceful option would be to work harder toward the total denuclearization and demilitarization of the Korean peninsula. A few middle powers like Canada could offer to deploy peacekeeping troops, perhaps as part of a larger UN rapid reaction capability.

Clearly a nuanced, comprehensive deal laden with economic incentives and disincentives, including long-term security guarantees, is needed along with face-saving measures for all sides. Perhaps Kim might grudgingly accept onto his soil Chinese officials who temporarily take on the UN’s atomic inspection role. Perhaps British, Cuban or Irish diplomats might deal with the U.S. administration’s threats to go to the brink.

Experienced diplomats have known since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis about how to wield carrots and sticks, how to avoid climbing the ladder of nuclear escalation and how to refrain from overtly threatening to use the nuclear option. Rather than watch in incredulous disbelief as Trump and Kim rush headlong toward limited nuclear war based on their ignorance, misunderstandings and misperceptions, it’s time for all world leaders to promise to refrain from threatening nuclear first-use.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University. This is excerpted from her commentary prepared for working groups at the 62nd Pugwash Conference on Science & World Affairs on “Confronting New Nuclear Dangers” on Aug. 25-29 in Astana, Kazakhstan.


Where is Canada: Our country was missing when more than 100 nations drew up and voted for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

In a historic move at the United Nations last week, a large majority of the world’s nations voted to adopt a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Affirming that any use of nuclear weapons would be abhorrent, 122 countries voted for the treaty.

But none of the countries that actually possess nuclear weapons agreed to participate.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the final product of three international conferences hosted by the Austria, Norway and Mexico since 2013. Participants wanted to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons and the grave implications they pose for human survival, transcending national borders.

The first conference attracted 127 states — but not Canada — and more states attended each followup conference. They drew worldwide attention to the horrors that await humanity in the event of accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons, including the consequences of a limited nuclear war between the United States and North Korea, or against Israel or Iran.

High-level diplomats decided to write a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Impelled by the urgency of achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world, and in the interest of serving collective security, the 10-page treaty is a result of the fear of “nuclear have-nots” have of “nuclear haves.”

It is the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in more than 20 years.

Early on, the United States decided not to participate, and nearly all its allies followed suit. Austria tried to cajole countries such as Canada to join the negotiations, but the Netherlands was the only NATO member to participate. In the end, it voted against it.

American and Russian diplomats argued such a treaty would be worthless, and that countries should continue the step-by-step approach toward disarmament under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But the NPT’s deep-seated problem is that it has made very poor progress over the nearly half-century of its existence in reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Despite the end of the Cold War, there are still 15,500 nuclear weapons around the world, of which 95 per cent are owned by the United States and Russia.

While the two superpowers continue to emphasize the merits of the NPT, the nuclear have-nots have become increasingly disenchanted, especially in the wake of the 2015 NPT Review Conference when the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom reneged on any chance of a final consensus document.

The countries that chose to negotiate last week’s treaty argued any agreement that helps further stigmatize nuclear weapons was worth pursuing.

At the same time, everybody is worried that countries pursuing nuclear weapons, such as North Korea and possibly Iran, could impel other countries to develop their own weapons of mass destruction, leading to arms races around the world.

By choosing to side with the U.S. hegemon on this issue, Canada is criticized by the other non-nuclear-weapon states for its non-participation. It is unusual for Canada not to seek a seat at the table. Moreover, last week’s voting record indicates Canada could have taken part and voted against the treaty, as the Netherlands did. As well, Singapore abstained and other nations chose not to show up to vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States and North Korea skipped voting on the treaty banning nuclear weapons. A few days earlier, Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile rocket — a weapon designed to carry nuclear weapons. Neither the U.S nor North Korea are expected to sign a treaty in which signatories promise never to develop, test or produce nuclear weapons, nor to use or threaten to use them.

American officials and media pundits who worry about deterring North Korea are fastening on its threatening behaviour. So it does seem unrealistic that this treaty will help to get rid of nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, all this means we must work harder to persuade the United States and Russia to sit together at the UN’s bargaining table.

After all, the U.S. plans to spend a trillion dollars to modernize its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. Russia has withdrawn from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and remains angry about NATO expansion into its former allies in the Warsaw Pact. At NATO headquarters, the NATO-Russia bargaining forum is on indefinite hold. U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for his actions in seizing Crimea from Ukraine, and while NATO deploys more soldiers in Latvia and Poland, Russia has deployed tactical nukes in Kaliningrad, its nearby enclave. Canada has contributed 300 human trip-wire troops to Latvia’s defence.

It is a pity Canada, the only country that unilaterally rid itself its own nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, has not taken stronger action. The conviction among diplomats around the world — as evidenced by the treaty — is that the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear war, whether accidental or deliberate, means all states share responsibility to prevent their use.

Canadians can no longer side with Americans in outmoded thinking that declares nuclear weapons to be essential and core capabilities in the West’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international politics at Western University who has long advocated for a nuclear weapons ban. This is an excerpt from her speech at Dalhousie University to be delivered on July 24 to an international audience.

Money better spent – Investing in sustainable development and environment may do more for North American security than military increases

By Erika Simpson, Special to Postmedia Network

President Donald Trump is proposing to increase U.S. defence spending to $603 billion annually. The U.S. already spends twice as much as China and Russia put together — $215 billion and $69.2 billion respectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors worldwide defence spending based on open sources.

SIPRI estimates the world’s entire military expenditure at US$1.7 trillion last year, equivalent to 2.2 per cent of global GDP or $227 per person.

If Trump’s budget passes, his proposed hike would push the U.S. military budget up by 10 per cent. Last year China, the world’s second-largest military spender, increased its defence budget by 5.4 per cent.

To cover increases to military spending, Trump plans to drastically cut domestic aid programs, foreign aid, medicare and environmental regulations. His budget cuts are already adversely affecting many international organizations.

Americans are more willing to spend government money on defence compared to other priorities,. The U.S. military’s share of government spending hovers around 9.4 per cent, while Canada, Finland, France, Germany, and Hungary earmark 2.4 per cent of government spending for defence.

It’s a classic guns-or-butter debate that tells us a lot about priorities and the kind of society people want to live in.

Now Trump is blasting NATO allies for not spending enough on defence. On his first foreign trip, he pressured many NATO leaders to double their defence spending to two per cent of their country’s GDP.

Canada’s defence spending had been around 1.1 per cent of GDP since 2011 but under the Trudeau government it has fallen to one per cent. During the Cold War, it was at its highest at 7.4 per cent in 1953, but since 1991, has hovered between 1.1 to 1.8 per cent of GDP.

When spending is expressed as a percentage of GDP, we look like laggards, but if we look at per capita defence spending, Canada ranks higher because of our small population. Last year Canadians spent about US$417 per person. Still, Americans spent $1,886 — a four-to-one differential that has stayed fairly constant since 1990.

Canada’s defence budget in 2016-17 is $18 billion, but with the defence review have been made public by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan Wednesday, the Liberals are promising is it will go much higher. Spending would double over the next decade, including new investments to better look after the wellness of armed forces personnel, reduce sexual harassment and modestly increase the number of reservists, intelligence and cyberwarfare specialists.

On his first foreign trip, the U.S. president weakened a long-held commitment to Article 5 of NATO’s 1949 Washington Treaty — which declares an attack against one member-country is considered an attack against all. By seeming not to endorse the alliance’s fundamental premise, he incited widespread confusion and despair.

Europe’s aging population — many of whom suffered through the Second World War and are now pressured by history’s worst humanitarian refugee crisis — do not want to increase defence budgets, purchase more conventional weapons, and modernize NATO’s tactical nuclear weapons.

But the U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air, land and sea triad of nuclear weapons.

Taken together with Trump’s shocking disavowal of the Paris climate agreement, Trump is acting more like a unilateralist — an isolationist — and a bully.

Countries like Germany, France and Canada must continue to pursue multilateral and co-operative agendas.

Chrystia Freeland, the minister of global affairs, is thinking strategically about how to honour Canada’s multilateral commitments without directly criticizing Trump. As a member of more international organizations than any other country in the world, Canada needs to continue to have a seat at the table during NATO negotiations as well as in other important European forums.

The corridors of NATO and the G-7 are full of diplomats from all over the world who are committed to multilateralism. These international institutions are not obsolete, although NATO’s out-of-area wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya have been expensive and problematic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pull-out from the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction was a serious setback.

On the same inaugural foreign trip, Trump sealed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth US$350 billion over 10 years. The Saudis are the largest per capita spenders in the world at a rate of $1,978 per person. Canada is also profiting from Saudi profligacy through a C$15-billion deal to build light armoured vehicles for the Saudi government, a deal that negotiated under the Harper regime and was endorsed by the Trudeau government.

Isn’t it time for the U.S. and Canada to consider devoting 0.7 per cent of GDP to development and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? The noble goal recommended by former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson is being honoured by the Scandinavian countries and the UK. If we were to spend more on development and the environment on an annual basis, North America’s security might be better enhanced and terrorism more effectively fought.

Erika Simpson teaches international politics in the department of political science at Western University and is the author of NATO and the Bomb. These comments are based on her contribution to a panel on Trump and NATO that was featured on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin on June 1, 2017.


Brantford Expositor, “A better use for the money”, available at

Digital and print readership: 12,202


Chatham Daily News

Digital and print readership: 4,932


Kingston-Whig Standard, Money better spent (Monday June 12, 2017

Digital and print readership: 17,085

-see hard copy, page A5, above the fold with large picture


London Free Press

Digital and print readership: 63,348

-see hard copy, Page A5, below the fold without large picture


Pembroke Daily Observer (around Ottawa)

Digital and print readership: 2,784

-above the fold with large picture


Sarnia Observer

Digital and print readership: 8,781

hard copy page A5, above the fold with large picture


Standard (St. Catharine’s)

Digital and print readership: 13,184

Saturday hard copy, below the fold with large picture


Stratford Beacon-Herald

Digital and print readership: 5,899

digital version on Saturday but not hard copy,


St. Thomas Times Journal,

Digital and print readership: 2,930

not in hard copy, in digital Saturday paper


The Sun Times (Owen Sound), “Money better spent”

Digital and print readership: 9,082

Monday, above the fold with large picture


Total readership of this column: 140,227 This is the average in 2015 according to Daily Newspaper Circulation Data, available at this website:

The Agenda with Steve Paikin on NATO, featuring Erika Simpson


Last week, President Trump blasted NATO leaders in Brussels for not paying their fair share and failed to commit to the fundamental pillar of the alliance: Article 5, which states that “an attack against one ally is considered to be an attack against all.” The Agenda examines Trump’s stance on the nearly 70-year-old alliance and what it means for its future. Western University Associate Professor Erika Simpson was a guest on the show.

Lest we forget….Afghanistan

A mission to Mali is already a lost opportunity, so let’s refocus on Afghanistan’s ‘forgotten war’

Erika Simpson and Sakhi Naimpoor, Special to Postmedia Network

Friday, May 12, 2017 6:39:46 EDT PM

The last Canadians involved in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan board an American Chinook helicopter, on March 12, 2014, as they leave the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. (MCpl Patrick

Canada’s chastened defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, should refocus peacekeeping missions on Afghanistan, rather than Mali.

Instead of sending soldiers under the United Nations to destroy ISIS in Mali, he should send professional, combat-capable forces and reservists to help train Afghan soldiers and police forces so that humanitarian and security operations in that war-torn nation successfully continue.

Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 went to Afghanistan in 2001, followed by other Canadian soldiers based in Kandahar. They joined American and British troops already fighting to topple the Taliban regime, eliminate terrorist operations and establish schools and institutions bent on creating lasting peace in the troubled country.

The UN authorized the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003 and Canada initially contributed more than 700 Canadian Forces members stationed in Kabul and the surrounding area. In 2005, Canada went back to the Kandahar region, coinciding with a resurgence in Taliban activity, and the number of Canadian soldiers increased to approximately 2,300 taking part in large-scale offensives against Taliban forces.

Sajjan has apologized for glorifying his role in one of those offensives. By all accounts, he performed admirably in Afghanistan, and although he was not the “architect” of Operation Medusa, as he claimed, among Trudeau’s choices for cabinet he remains the one with the most impressive wartime, boots-on-the-ground experience.

As the war in Afghanistan became increasingly unpopular, Canada’s combat role ended in 2011 and the focus shifted to training Afghanistan’s army and police force. But Canada’s participation in the UN peacekeeping operation was abruptly abandoned in 2014, under Stephen Harper’s government, due to domestic pressures and political expediency. The last of our service members left the country in March 2014.

For more than 13 years, the Canadian Forces operated in and were well-equipped for a theatre of war in Afghanistan. Now Canada should re-engage with that war-torn country, rather than join another UN operation on a different continent in a primarily French-speaking milieu.

In Mali,Canadian forces would be expected to join with France, which has a permanent 3,000-strong anti-insurgent operation in Africa’s Sahel region. Pockets of extremist militants do exist in the desert and northern provinces of Mali, but these groups have neither targeted nor threatened specific Canadian interests.

Canada’s goal these days should be to attain a seat on the UN’s Security Council, therefore we need to commit UN peacekeeping troops somewhere, and soon.

UN diplomats expected Sajjan to commit to Mali. Instead the Department of National Defence sought to delay the decision until it had a chance to consult the new Trump administration. “We will ensure that our troops have the right mission, mandate, training and equipment in order to mitigate risk and maximize our impact,” said spokesperson Jordan Owens.

Despite reports that the UN is disappointed by the Trudeau government’s decision to postpone a decision on Mali, Canada can still take the initiative on UN peacekeeping.

The UN put out requests to a handful of top-tier countries in mid-December as the term of the Mali mission’s previous commander, Danish Maj.-Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, came to an end. Sajjan said he wanted to talk to his American counterpart, Defence Secretary James Mattis, before Canada sent peacekeepers to Africa because co-ordination with the U.S. was essential. According to reports from the Canadian Press, it now looks like Canada may have missed a chance to provide the commanding officer for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali because Canada wanted to talk first to the Trump administration.

Rather than belabour the missed Mali opportunity, Sajjan should refocus on finishing the UN’s job in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s resiliency and the emergence of ISIS are resulting in significant territorial losses and casualties among Afghan National Security Forces. Since the Canadian withdrawal from Kandahar province, the Taliban and affiliated groups have overrun the districts and villages that our forces secured and rebuilt. Nowadays, it is a common scene to witness Canadian taxpayer-funded school projects in Panjwaii district operate as madrasas — colleges for Islamic instruction — administered by the Taliban.

While Afghanistan has been dubbed “the Forgotten War” by academics and journalists, Sajjan surely has not forgotten the situation will only get worse so long as the Taliban and ISIS are allowed to operate with nearly complete impunity. The withdrawal of NATO coalition forces from Afghanistan has further deteriorated the security situation over the last three years so that the current administration of President Ashraf Ghani only controls 57 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory.

The Canadian government has not completely abandoned Afghanistan from a humanitarian perspective. But given the dire security situation and declining morale of Afghan National Security Forces, providing the Afghan government with a mere $165 million for economic development and reinvigoration of the education sector is a misplaced use of meagre funds.

Sajjan’s approach to Mali should waive the option of military intervention and take a more humanitarian and advisory approach.

But returning to Afghanistan in order to ensure long-term stability will require more direct involvement using Canadian personnel, and possibly increased numbers of reservists, to help train Afghan soldiers and police.

If the defence minister takes the initiative and recommits to Afghanistan, Canada won’t have dissipated 13 years of taxpayers’ money. In the name of the lives of 158 members of the Canadian Forces who were killed serving in the Afghan war, Canada should retake the lead in protecting Afghanistan’s nascent schools and institutions.

Erika Simpson is an associate professor of international relations in the department of political science at Western University in London. Sakhi Naimpoor is a PhD candidate in the department and a business executive member of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.

Here are some links in Postmedia chain


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


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