Recent tragedies involving fundamental failures by corporations to take public safety and the health of the environment seriously have lead to calls for basic reforms to the structure of corporate dominance. The pursuit of profit and maximum return on investment for private shareholders, even at the expense of the public good, inevitably leads to disasters which are now reaching a scale that is putting everyone’s welfare in jeopardy. Let’s look at three recent examples:


Given the fact that the Fukushima Nuclear reactor is situated in an earthquake zone and is vulnerable to tsunamis, one might assume that its nuclear operator TEPCO would have taken all necessary precautions to ensure the plant was adequately protected from these dangers. However the evidence suggests otherwise:

  • TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear reactors submitted false technical data to authorities on 200 occasions between 1977 and 2002. [Stephanie Cooke,  In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age p.388]
  • TEPCO switched real data with false data to save money on fire suppression systems which failed during the disaster. [Greg Palast, Vultures’ Picnic  p.305]
  • TEPCO employees submitted studies on the effects of tsunami-waves higher than 5.7 metres in 2006 and 2008, but the company failed to act on recommendations to protect the plant. [ JAIF (14 June 2012) Earthquake-report 443 ]
  • On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake with epicentre in the Pacific Ocean about 75 miles from Fukushima – resulted in a maximum shake of 550 galileos at the worst hit reactor site. The reactor was designed to withstand only 436 galileos. Several years earlier Tokyo Electric had promised to raise the plant’s seismic protection to 600. Had the promise been kept the disaster would have been avoided.  [Palast  p.293]
  • The emergency diesel generators should have kicked in to pump sufficient water to prevent the reactors from a meltdown, but the buildings housing them were not made waterproof – so the water from the tsunami disabled them – this in spite of TEPCO being warned of the problem in 1985.  [Palast  p.295-296]
  • In any case the emergency diesel generators at Fukushima and just about every other nuclear facility are not designed to rev up quickly as would be needed in an emergency. This means their crankshafts can snap, leaving them disabled. Installing properly designed back-up generators would simply be too costly for the operators.  [Palast p. 294-297]
  • In order to contain the over 400 tons of groundwater which pours into the plant every day and mixes with the radioactive water cooling the reactors, TEPCO has built over 1000 tank using parts of disassembled old containers brought from defunct factories. Even with an additional 300,000 tons of capacity to be built in the next 3 years, eventually the company will run out of storage space. [ENENews  July 31]
  • TEPCO has belatedly admitted (July 22) that radioactive water has been leaking into the Pacific ocean for some time (about 300 tons a day).  Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, criticized TEPCO, saying that groundwater contamination countermeasures in place by the nuclear operator are not permanent solutions and that the group’s sense of urgency in the crisis is not where it needs to be. [Nature World News Aug 5]
  • High amounts of radiation in local fish have forced the Japanese government to ban fishing in the area. The ban is costing Japanese fishermen billions of dollars a year in lost income. [National Geographic Aug 7]
  • The collapse of the badly damaged reactor building 4 could lead to the release of many times more radiation than has already escaped from Fukushima. This would leave much of Japan uninhabitable and would constitute a global disaster. [Steven Starr – Physicians for Social Responsibility]

Living in the shadow of the Pickering nuclear plant, can we assume Canadian nuclear operators have a superior attitude to safety than that at TEPCO? It takes only one reactor and one sequence of unfortunate events to result in enormously destructive consequences.


Now let’s take a look at how well Enbridge handles safety issues involving their pipelines.

  • The Polaris Institute found that Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, with a total of more than 6.8 million gallons of oil released. That’s not including Enbridge’s disastrous 2010 pipeline rupture that spilled over 1 million gallons of Canadian tar sands bitumen mixed with condensate into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. [Carol Linnett May 2]
  • Enbridge began pumping Tar Sands bitumen through line 6B in 1999. In 2005 an internal report revealed 15,000 defects in their pipeline, including the section that would ultimately rupture. However they chose not to dig that area up for a closer inspection.  [Elizabeth Shogren NPR Jul 10, 2012]
  • The cracks were allowed to grow for 5 years because of Enbridge’s “deficient integrity management programs”.  [NTSB report]
  • The 38 year old Line 9 pipeline running from Sarnia to Montreal via Toronto, and Michigan’s Line 6B share the same design deficiencies. Line 9 is covered in the same outdated protective coating called polyethylene tape or PE-tape that caused the Kalamazoo spill. PE-tape became unglued from Line 6B allowing water to corrode the pipe which is what eventually lead to its rupture. The problems with PE-tape have been known by the pipeline industry for many years. [Derek Leahy Jul 30]
  • As the bitumen mixture escaping the pipeline contacted the water on July 25, 2010, a toxic cloud of condensate consisting of carcinogens such as benzene formed over the area. Residents suffered from headaches, skin rashes, nausea and breathing problems in the immediate aftermath of the spill. Concurrently the thick heavy tar-sands bitumen sunk to the bottom requiring extensive dredging operations still ongoing after more than 3 years. [Leahy]
  • Confused personnel at Enbridge’s control center in Edmonton failed to shut down the line for 17 hours while alarms were sounding. [Charles Rusnell CBC News Jun 22, 2012]
  • Local Law enforcement agencies received 911 calls about the gas smells but had no idea how to contact Enbridge officials. [Fritz Klug Jul 10, 2012]
  • Once Enbridge realized there was oil in the river, the company did not have properly trained personnel on hand to respond to the emergency. The closest Enbridge contractors that could start the cleanup and containment procedures were 10 hours away. The oil ended up flowing over a mile through a tributary and then 35 miles further on down the Kalamazoo River. [Klug]
  • The NTSB also said there was a lack of oversight by federal regulators who allowed the pipeline company to have insufficient response planning for a spill. [Klug]
  • In December 2011, Canada’s Federal Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan released a scathing indictment of regulatory oversight on the transportation of dangerous goods in Canada, including pipeline transport of oil and natural gas. [Joyce Nelson Mar-Apr 2012]
  • Vaughan’s report focused on the National Energy Board (NEB), Transport Canada and Environment Canada. He found that these federal departments are doing a substandard job of enforcing regulations, of ensuring known safety and environmental problems are fixed, and of checking that known violators have changed their ways. [Nelson]
  • A recent article by the Vancouver Media Co-op noted that the NEB “receives about 90 per cent of its funding from industry.” [Nelson]
  • Public hearings before the NEB on Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of Line 9 through Ontario and into Quebec, so as to be able to pump tar sands bitumen to the east coast will likely begin in October and a decision could be made as early as January 2014. [Leahy]

Can we expect anything more from Enbridge should Line 9 rupture and pour its contents into the Don or Rouge waterways? Of course we will get the same promises about ‘instant response’ as the people of Kalamazoo got, but if Enbridge’s shareholders expect cost reductions, who will its management listen to?  For a STOP Line 9 lawn sign contact 

Lac Mégantic

The events surrounding the tragedy at Lac Mégantic were still being investigated at the time this article was submitted, and many questions were still unanswered. However here are some things we do know.

  • Oil companies are putting increasing pressure on rail carriers to transport more and more crude oil. The Railway Association of Canada estimates that there will be 140,000 carloads of crude oil shipped by rail in Canada this year compared with only 500 in 2009.
  • In 2009, a freight train carrying more than 2 million gallons of ethanol derailed and sparked a massive fire in Cherry Valley, Ill., killing a woman waiting at a nearby railroad crossing. Thirteen of the train’s 15 derailed tank cars were ripped open when the train ran off its tracks. They were DOT-111 cars. [Gerry Harrington – UPI Aug 1]
  • The National Transportation and Safety Board in the U.S. found that the DOT-111 car’s steel shell is too thin to resist puncture in accidents and the ends of the car are vulnerable to ruptures. The cars have been breached in at least 40 serious accidents since 2000. Yet these tank cars continue hauling hazardous loads on rail lines throughout Canada and the U.S. ·  [Harrington ]
  • The rail industry estimates it would cost at least $1 billion US to retrofit the cars, not including lost service time, a price they are not willing to pay· . · [Mathew Daly AP Jul 29]
  • Rail World Inc. took over the former CPR line that runs through Lac Mégantic in 2003 and through its subsidiary MMA engaged in aggressive cost cutting in freight operations and continued to defer maintenance on the tracks to the point where much of it is in marginal condition.  [Wikipedia / Julian Sher Toronto Star Jul 11]
  • In 2012 Transport Canada granted MMA approval to cut the number of crew members on each train from two down to just one person, so it could save 50% of the labour component. This in spite of the company’s poor safety record of 36.1 accidents and incidents per million miles compared to the U.S. national average of 14.6 in 2012, as reported by the Wall Street journal. [Chris Sorensen and Kate Lunau MacLean’s Jul 12]
  • On Friday night July 5, a lone MMA engineer left his train parked on the main line outside Nantes Quebec unattended, with the locomotive’s cab unlocked while think clouds of diesel smoke spewed from its exhaust, then proceeded by taxi to a hotel for the night. [Wikipedia]
  • A fire on the locomotive was put out just after midnight and two MMA workers assured police the train was safe. [Adam Kovac Montreal Gazette July 8]
  • Somehow, within the hour, the train began rolling along the track and continued 11 kilometres where 63 tank-cars derailed in downtown Lac Mégantic, sparking a series of explosions that levelled much of the downtown, killing 47 people and spilling an estimated 5.7 million litres of Bakken crude oil into the local environment. [CBC News Aug 13]
  • The soil, the lake and the river were contaminated with extremely high concentrations of carcinogens such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as well as arsenic. [Melanie Marquis Canadian Press Aug 13]
  • Bakken crude is known to hold considerable amounts of flammable hydrogen sulphide gas. Enbridge refuses to carry Bakken oil with high levels of hydrogen sulfide in its lines due to the serious risk to its workers. [Andy Blatchford Canadian Press Aug 2]
  • As clean-up costs mount, MMA filed for bankruptcy protection on August 7. MMA’s liability insurance coverage is nowhere near the expected cost of the clean-up. [Blatchford Aug 14] 

People deserve to know what type of hazardous freight is being hauled through their neighbourhoods, next to their homes, schools and community centres, what emergency procedures are in place and if the carriers have adequate liability insurance to cover any eventuality. Are the safety hazards acceptable and how can we know if we are not given all the facts? And how can we expect nuclear and carbon fuel based industries to have a culture where safety is paramount when we don’t insist they bear the full cost of liabilities caused by their unsafe practices?

(Originally written in August of 2013. Check the following links for updated information.)

ENENews  Japan Gov’t Expert: Nuclear fuel continued melting long after injecting sea water into Fukushima reactors  Jan 30, 2015

East End Against Line 9  NEB’s Green Light for Line 9 sacrifices Waterways, Public Health and the Climate  Feb 8, 2015

 Desmog Canada  Dangerous Oil Trains to Return to Lac Megantic while Town still Recovers  Jan 1, 2015


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