Briefing Note on "Parallex Project" to Import Weapons Grade Plutonium

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is proposing to bring 50 tons of weapons grade plutonium into Canada from an U.S. nuclear weapons program and another 50 tons from Russia over a period of 25 years. Since using the plutonium as part of the fuel load for a nuclear reactor would make the plutonium less usable for bombs, the proponents portray it as a "swords into ploughshares" initiative. However, other options, such as the "immobilization" alternative (see below) are a much preferred to the MOX option for handling plutonium extracted from bombs by environmental and peace groups in all three countries.

An initial shipment of 120 grams of plutonium from Los Alamos and a similar amount from Russian was announced on September 2, 1999 by the Department of Energy in the U.S. and the Departments of Natural Resources and of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada. The shipment from New Mexico was to enter Canada at Sault Ste. Marie and travel to Chalk River via Highway 17; the shipment from Russia is to arrive at the port in Cornwall, where it will be unloaded and sent by truck to Chalk River. A limited public notice and consultation program was held by Transport Canada in the fall of 1999 on the transportation and emergency response plans for the route from Sault Ste. Marie to Chalk River and Cornwall to Chalk River. Overwhelmingly, the public response was negative, with First Nations, municipalities and community organizations expressing opposition to the proposed import and transport routes, and identifying major deficiencies in the plans.

On January 14, the first shipment of American plutonium was flown by helicopter from Sault Ste. Marie to Chalk River, despite Transport Canada's statements in October that transportation by flight was illegal in Canada, and that an acceptable container had not yet been developed. Several organizations are challenging the legality of that action.

Here are the issues in a nutshell:

February, 2000