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HOW TO DO BATTLE: THE STORY OF PORT HOPE CANADA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#639
09/12/2005
Article

(December 9, 2005) In many ways, Port Hope, an Ontario town of 16,000 residents on the shores of Lake Ontario, is idyllic. Its 19th Century main street is celebrated as an unspoiled architectural gem, its Ganaraska River as a fishing paradise with its rolling hills and rural surroundings still fighting off urban sprawl. On the other hand, this beautiful town suffers from a debilitating stigma, that of being a dumpsite for radioactive nuclear waste.

(639.5736) Tom and Pat Lawson - Sixty years of radioactive and toxic contamination has scared off potential job creation enterprises in Port Hope, and led to a CA$250 million (US$215 million) federal plan to clean up the waste scattered throughout the community. Cameco Corporation's nuclear fuel facility continues to dominate, deface, and pollute the waterfront. A minor employer, THE major polluter, most of its employees living outside town, yet many townspeople are hardly able to imagine the town without it.

This town has a long history of informed grassroots activism. In 1972 it fought off a massive scheme to dump Toronto's garbage just west of town. Ontario's Regional Government initiative ran into Port Hope citizens' stonewall. In 1995 a Federal Task Force spent CA$1 million (around US$ 860,000) on bribery and blackmail to persuade the townspeople to allow a million tons of radioactive and toxic waste to be buried right under the town's shoreline in 19 caverns. Again the townspeople rallied to challenge these "Pirates of Port Hope", and, after an epic struggle, fought off the "Crazy Caverns".

The most recent challenge has been Cameco's proposal to process enriched uranium (SEU) at its Port Hope facility. Once again the people have rallied. A door-to-door blitz by Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE) recruited 1600 members, and a carefully crafted campaign has brought the SEU proposal to a grinding halt.

Simultaneously, two other citizen groups, the Environmental Nuclear Watchdogs and the Community Health Concerns Committee, have made substantial headway in monitoring Cameco's activities, and in demanding a genuine health study of local people; Past studies, all inconclusive by design, have measured contamination levels against "acceptable" levels, which shift with politics.

These campaigns are never easy. The industry has enviable resources, involving about 20 identifiable techniques (see below) to vacuum up key figures and marginalize opposition. Their Regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), trumpets its Mission as the Health and Safety of the People, but every decision it has made shows that its Mission is really the health and safety of the nuclear industry.

Cameco, of course, does whatever will provide maximum profit for its shareholders. Its "charitable" activities in the community must never go beyond what will make it look like a Good Corporate Citizen. As with all corporations, altruistic charity is not an option. The only reason Cameco decided to withdraw its application to process SEU in Port Hope was that FARE's tactics finally made it more profitable to process SEU elsewhere - in the US.

Top Tips
During the 1995 Crazy Caverns crisis, we listed the following techniques through which the "Pirates of Port Hope" attempted to implement their insane scheme.

 

  1. Vacuum up Mayor, Council, Chamber of Commerce, and local media via sophisticated 'palm dusting'.
  2. Promise community participation, ensuring it will be mere window dressing.
  3. Hire, at whatever cost, the best lawyer available as key spokesperson.
  4. Draft (again at whatever cost) a resident "Information Officer" to peddle your lawyer's propaganda.
  5. Promote division within the community.
  6. Set up negotiations for compensation, keeping it fuzzy till success is assured.
  7. Hold Open Houses (NEVER debates) with "experts" and carefully doctored questionnaires.
  8. Use sophisticated bribery and blackmail throughout.
  9. Never attend public meetings organized by citizens ("Prior commitments").
  10. Enlist local press with full-page ads, prewritten articles, and pressure to "balance" Letters to the Editor. Above all, keep publicity local.
  11. Send Councillors abroad "to inspect similar facilities".
  12. Use personal attacks on citizen leaders when unable to handle their arguments.
  13. Release the real facts in drips and drabs, and only when necessary.
  14. If necessary, fabricate and boost a "Yes" Committee even if it has no support.
  15. If failure looms, preplan a way out with dignity (e.g. Inadequate compensation).
  16. NEXT TIME, engineer a binding legal agreement with Council rather than a referendum.

 

Here is a summary of how John Ralston Saul, in his 1992 book Voltaire's Bastards, describes these "Pirates", these technocrat/bureaucrats who have come to wield such powerful influence in government and business circles:

"These people concentrate on structure, accounting, reporting, manoeuvring, and mastery of detail. Precision and hard work are their prime virtues. They are devoted to the service of established power. They are systems men. They operate within and through the systems that make it almost impossible for the Law to judge illegal that which is wrong."

"The whole colossal arms industry that is creating hell throughout the world is an extension of this kind of thinking. The best way to make an arms industry economically viable is to produce larger runs of each weapon, and to sell the surplus abroad, wherever there are buyers, including enemies and potential enemies. Thus we achieve the largest market in the history of the world. Pure reason, yes, but common sense?"

"The technocrat's bizarre management method consists of attempting at all costs to initiate any dialogue, using massive quantities of information, enormous briefing books, a sea of facts, to create confusion and exhaust critics. Facts and figures parade as signs of honesty, charts and graphs as indicators of inevitability. All are chosen arbitrarily to produce a given solution. This is the technocrat's rhetoric: a replacement of elegance by suffocating bafflegab."

"Imagination, creativity, knowledge, a social conscience - all these wither. With no room for any real link between reason, common sense, and morality, is it any wonder that an educated public responds with growing distrust, resentment, and finally outrage?"

How do concerned citizens protect their communities against such pressure? Here are some guidelines the citizens of Port Hope used to win the Crazy Caverns battle:

 

  1. Expect to be outspent and misrepresented as ill informed, emotional, negative.
  2. Avoid careless errors; do your homework; have alternatives.
  3. Demand real participation. On your terms.
  4. Do not attack the media. Educate it. Use it.
  5. Reject Workshops, Open Houses, Kitchen Committees. Demand formal, structured debate.
  6. Find legal mechanisms to make new standards apply to old facilities.
  7. Avoid mud slinging and the Orwellian bafflegab of the proponent.
  8. Persevere! They depend on wearing you down.
  9. Always visualize success. Say their scheme "would be", never "will be".
  10. Never prejudge what will tip the scales in your favour. Expect surprises.
  11. Expect them to use compensation (fuzzy or real) to kill debate.
  12. Get people to bring something to meetings. They'll turn up!
  13. Use humorous ridicule (never nasty) as a prime weapon. Get a cartoonist!
  14. Campaign without ego. Laugh at yourselves. Forget who takes credit.
  15. Devise powerful slogans (e.g. "Ignorance is toxic")
  16. Involve all kinds of people. Share power.
  17. Keep asking questions. It's win-win. Just publicize any refusal to answer.
  18. Be ambitious in fundraising.
  19. Be intensely local, but large in vision.
  20. Lure a respected celebrity to town. (Handwrite your appeal for help).
  21. Letters to the Editor, and to political reps. Flood them! Get into major media.
  22. LAWN SIGNS, CAR STICKERS, FLYERS, a FILM

 

During the SEU battle, FARE has been fortunate in having among its members a key municipal Councillor, a brilliant researcher, several experienced lawyers with substantial understanding of government processes, and a considerable body of informed, passionately committed citizens.

A key element in its strategy has been to inundate the nuclear industry and its regulator with a sea of questions that must be answered before plans can be implemented. When 20 citizens travelled to Ottawa, at their own expense, to express their concerns to the Regulator, the session lasted from 8.30 am to 1 am, with no break for supper! But during that 16-hour marathon, it became clear that the nuclear staff, on whom the Commissioners depend, had simply not informed the Commissioners on at least one key issue.

Then, when the Regulator agreed to come to Port Hope, it was faced with the prospect, not of 20, but of over 100 "Interventions". These included an extraordinary body of highly informed scientific material, all requiring response, and much of it seriously damaging to the reputation of the Regulator. The visit was cancelled, and Cameco removed its application to process SEU in Port Hope. It was a classic case of ordinary citizens in one small town bringing a powerful corporation to its knees on a key issue. A memorable FARE party followed!

Of course, winning a battle and winning a war are two different things. For example, Cameco, moving elsewhere to process SEU "more profitably", intends to bring it back into Port Hope to be encased in fuel rods.

And, having learned nothing from the Crazy Caverns fiasco of 1995 other than how to avoid the tactics that failed in Port Hope, they have launched a similar project twice as big at Kincardine on the Bruce Peninsula. They have changed their rhetoric from "Out-of-sight, Out-of-mind Disposal" to "Monitored and Retrievable Storage", but the project remains much the same, engineered by the same dedicated "Pirates".

Perhaps most disturbing, the same Port Hope individuals who spearheaded the Crazy Caverns are in charge of selling a CA$250 million government scheme to concentrate all Port Hope's known radioactive and toxic wastes in a questionable proposed dump just west of town. The proponents, like foxes in charge of the chicken coop, control the environmental assessment. They have even sent the co-opted mayor abroad to trumpet Port Hope's "solution" in Europe without a shovel having gone into the ground. The citizens are demanding an independent Panel Review.

So the war goes on! No farewell to arms. No free lunch. No time even for a respite. But no boredom! And Port Hope's concerned citizens are not going to disappear. When you love your community, and it is in trouble, running away is no option.

Contact: Tom and Pat Lawson, lawson@eagle.ca

 

Tom and Pat are local residents who have campaigned on environmental issues for over four decades between them. Pat, an activist for over 30 years, is running for the Green Party in the upcoming elections having been passed the baton by Tom who stood during the last three elections. Her commitment and involvement in community issues has earned Pat numerous honours from local, provincial and federal bodies. She also researched Penny Sager's Blind Faith (a history of Port Hope's nuclear industry up to 1975). Tom began his activism during the Crazy Caverns campaign and initiated the Citizens' Coalition that finally defeated the scheme. The couple celebrate 50 years of marriage in the next few months - many congratulations to you both!