|The Sheep Farmer Tells His Side of the Story...
Eugene Bourgeois Just Won't Give Up
INVERHURON, Ontario - December 29, 2002
He is known far and wide as "that sheep farmer". He knows he has the reputation with many locals as being the "radical, anti-nuclear nut case who wants to close the plant and take away our jobs."
Who is Eugene Bourgeois and why has he got such a "bee in his bonnet" about the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station?
In the Beginning...
The Bourgeois family was very aware of the existence of the plant and the plans for expansion when Eugene and his wife Ann bought their farm in August of 1974. Eugene had camped in Inverhuron Park often when he was a child. He says he trusted that the nuclear plant was run safely and that its operators were highly trained professionals. What he hadn't counted on was "having a corporate neighbour with whom relations would be difficult at best and dangerous at worst."
His dispute with the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station began one sunny mid-morning in May of 1985. Eugene was picking rocks from a field of his farm, kitty corner to the road to the south gate of the nuclear plant when he was suddenly overcome by a colourless, odourless gas, one that afterwards left a distinct metallic taste in his mouth, along with "a severe headache, nausea and extreme unsteadiness".
He rested in bed, and though he felt weak, decided to go for a walk and get some fresh air in the provincial park. There, he encountered a second pocket of the gas, with similar results to the first encounter.
Thus began what has so far been an 18 year struggle for Eugene Bourgeois and members of his family. There have been a number of similar incidents and family members have suffered increasingly more complex symptoms.
As well, many hundreds of the Bourgeois flock of sheep and lambs have died, been blinded or born deformed.
Medical and scientific experts have concluded that his complaints are well based, and have supplied a mounting pile of correspondence and documents many feet high.
Bourgeois contends that it is the legal responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment, the regulators of the nuclear industry and the plant operators to take complaints such as his seriously. He wonders at what he calls "the callousness with which I've been treated. If the ministry, the CNSC and the plant management aren't responsible for what goes on with the industry, who is? "
At the time of the first incident, Ontario Hydro, then the operator of the plant, claimed the episode was a mystery to them. Workers were on strike at the time, and management was running the facility, often working 36 hours at a stretch. Local rumours later indicated that someone had miscalculated while transferring hydrogen sulphide, spilling a large amount to the flare stack. Whatever the cause, the result was an escape of the colourless, odourless and dangerous gas, hydrogen sulphide, which the MOE’s (Ontario Ministry of the Environment) monitors measured at 20 parts per billion, a quantity rarely measured, but not great enough to cause damage to a human.
However, Professor John L. Lumley of Cornell University, who Bourgeois enlisted to help delve into the mystery, discovered that while MOE monitors sample the air continuously, they average these samples with others taken before and afterwards. Thus any so-called "instantaneous" reading is a compilation of samples collected over 55 seconds. A passing stream of much greater concentration could have easily been "averaged" by the monitor with periods of no emission, leading to this benign reading of 20 parts per billion.
No one seemed to want to take the lead in acknowledging or dealing with the issue. As Bourgeois put it, "The MOE insisted that the industry was not allowed to cause an effect by its operations and the industry recognized that it could not cause this effect. It nonetheless continued its discretionary flaring throughout and was allowed to do so by the regulators who were charged with the responsibility of insuring the safe operation of this plant."
Meanwhile, sheep and lambs on the Bourgeois farm began to exhibit abnormal patterns of behaviour. New born lambs died at accelerated rates, and mothers showed up afterwards with mastitis or other disorders, generally caused by not having babies to feed.
Before the Heavy Water Plant went into operation, Bourgeois (who had kept his sheep and lambs in confinement) had a new born lamb loss rate of 5.07 per hundred.
In 1985, he changed his management practice to let the sheep and lambs graze. His lamb loss catapulted to 24.3% during the period of operation of the plant, from 1985 to 1997 inclusive.
In 1997, following the end of the Heavy Water Plant's period of operation, Bourgeois continued the open grazing practice with his flock. Over the next five years, lamb losses fell dramatically to a 6.25% average, around the same level as prior to the opening of the Heavy Water Plant.
Studies and Tests
Bourgeois' personal condition deteriorated between 1985 and 1997. Formerly an enthusiastic man with boundless energy who had built his own home, sheds and other buildings, he became disoriented, weak and listless after these incidents. He had problems with memory and with his emotions. And his family began to show a variety of troubling physical and emotional symptoms.
Bourgeois underwent a series of medical tests through the Occupational Health Clinic at McMaster University. They confirmed that he had no prior medical condition that could have developed into the symptoms he exhibited (such as petit-mal). Further, the OHC at McMaster determined that his central nervous system defects had to have come from an external source rather than being self inflicted or pre-existent.
Meanwhile, an exhaustive epidemiological study was conducted by the University of Guelph to determine if the farming practices in which Bourgeois engaged, or something else on his farm, could have been responsible for his lamb loss.
The tests indicated that: a) there was indeed a significant lamb loss (in the 99th percentile) and b) there was no observable source or reason for this loss on the farm or in the farming practices. The source had to be external.
There was to be another test which would have compared the operating practices of the plant (when flares occurred, etc.) with the morbidity rate on the farm. According to Bourgeois, the nuclear regulator (at the time, the Atomic Energy Control Board or AECB) did not deem the tests to be worthwhile. Bourgeois says AECB staff told him that the tests were impractical because "they would have required 5 years to provide the incontrovertible evidence."
The Ministry of Environment, meanwhile, allowed that concentrations of hydrogen sulphide of 100 parts per million could have occurred when its monitors recorded only 20 parts per billion (averaged over 55 seconds, as described previously), but that this would be a rare and exclusive event. AECB, on the other hand, claimed that no more than 2 parts per million of hydrogen sulphide could have reached the Bourgeois farm after having travelling the distance from the flare stack, ignoring the MOE finding.
Dr. Rod Reiffenstein, professor of pharmacology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, commented on the data and evidence provided to the Sulphide Research Network regarding the incidents on the Bourgeois farm. He stated that concentrations of at least 50 parts per million would be necessary to cause the damage observed and urged Bourgeois to continue to investigate and demand further diligence from authorities.
The MOE then claimed that there must be something in the Bourgeois pasture causing the effects on his sheep. Says Bourgeois: "I challenged them to conduct a phytotoxicological study of our pasture to demonstrate this and the study demonstrated that our pasture was sound. The MOE then said there was nothing more they would do and allowed the heavy water plant to continue its operations. It claimed that Ontario Hydro had not violated its Certificate of Approval from the MOE."
AECB Staff Attempt to Explain Away Incidents
It seemed to Bourgeois that the nuclear regulator was determined to defend the industry. First AECB claimed that Bourgeois flock contained too many ewes which were too young or too old to be mothers, and that this was the reason his lambs had died, been blinded or born deformed at such a high rate. But analysis of the data by the researcher from the University of Guelph who conducted the epidemiological study proved the opposite; in fact, the older and younger ewes showed fewer effects and fewer incidents of abnormal births than had the "normally" aged, supposedly more healthy ewes.
Next, AECB pointed to the Ontario Shepherd's Study and declared that the Bourgeois data was within the range of the Ontario statistics and therefore there was no anomaly and no problem. Bourgeois was not impressed. "Of course our sheep were within the range of this data," says Bourgeois. "We were part of the study! If AECB had not found statistics like ours in the data, they'd have been blind. They knew all along our data was part of the study."
The Missing Link - Found in Hydro's Own Reports
By now Bourgeois had compiled strong data on himself and his sheep, data which had been tested and held firm against the claims of the industry, the regulator and the ministry. He knew the flare stack was the source of the gas. He had admissions from the MOE that emissions sufficient to cause harm could conceivably have come from the heavy water manufacturing plant. What he did not know was how such levels managed to land on his farm and in the provincial park. The answer was soon provided.
In 1989, Bourgeois received standing at the Demand Supply Plan Environmental Assessment, and with it, intervener funding. He was able to hire expertise to assess his claims.
Meteorologist, Prof. John Lumley of Cornell University (who discovered that the MOE monitors took their readings at wide intervals), went about examining weather and geophysical data from the area. The data included descriptions of a meteorological phenomena called a Thermal Internal Boundary Layer (TIBL). This phenomena was in existence over the Bourgeois farm, between the cliff behind the farm and the lake. Prof. Lumley found that when the plume from the flare stack came into contact with the TIBL, the gasses descended to the ground, where they remained until caught by other air currents to move them.
The industry and the regulators said they were unaware of this phenomena. But in fact, an Ontario Hydro consultant's report referred in a footnote to a 1984 Ontario Hydro study at the Bruce site, which clearly demonstrated that it knew of the TIBL here. The documentation also indicated that this weather phenomena occurred 46.9% of the time during April/May, the period Hydro chose for discretionary flaring and the time of year that Bourgeois had suffered the first attacks of hydrogen sulphide.
Further, the Hydro study at the Bruce site concludes that dangerous concentrations of flare stack gases could be found in a well defined measure of land that includes the Bourgeois farm and the park. Finally, the Hydro report refers to a 1970's "siting study" that suggested a heavy water plant should not be built at the Bruce site because of the potential for fumigation of the surrounding area.
In 1997, Ontario Hydro closed the heavy water plant, indicating that it had produced $1.2 billion more heavy water than it needed for its nuclear program, and that there was no other market for the product.
Since that time, the Bourgeois lamb loss rates steadily declined by some 400%, from the peak to where they were before fumigation from the heavy water plant. And Bourgeois family symptoms have abated considerably.
Another Source of Fumigation
On a regular basis, the nuclear plant conducts fire drill exercises, necessary to keep men and equipment ready in the event of an accident. These drills create plumes of gasses. But these plumes are different from the flare stack emissions in two respects.
1. They are visible clouds of black smoke;
2. These burns do not use extra propane, which was used in the flare stack burns to try to propel toxic gasses to a level above the TIBL, where they would hopefully disperse over a wide area in the atmosphere.
Hydro never gave advanced notice directly to its near neighbours when it intended to conduct fire drills. But it was pretty obvious when the drills occurred. Bourgeois says they were "observable simply as a black cloud that travelled under the TIBL with occasional streamers breaking off and travelling downwards to the ground." He recounts one particular incident June 11, 1992.
"An employee and I witnessed one such event as we were digging a post hole near the northeast corner of our barn. As this black cloud passed over the trees in the northwest corner of our farm, it travelled to ground and rolled along the ground towards our barn, enveloping it. We ran out of the plume, being caught only in its outer edge and suffered a choking smoke that burned our lungs and throats."
The employee, Watson Morris, then a student and bagpiper, now works in the Toronto school system. Morris wrote a letter describing the incident in July 2 of 1992 and had it notarized. "Copies were then sent to the AECB, the MOE, Ontario Hydro and my consultant, Prof. Lumley," says Bourgeois.
But the fire drills continued up until the late 90's. "Once the heavy water plant was shut," says Bourgeois, "the fire drill exercises also seemed to end, or were not as noticeable."
New Management, Same Staff, Same TIBL
When British Energy and its partners took over the operations lease at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in 2001, public relations officers touted a new era of listening to and cooperating with community concerns. Eugene Bourgeois was cautiously optimistic.
Then, on August 29, 2002, a fire drill at the plant sent plumes of gas onto the Bourgeois farm. "Customers in our store experienced sore throats and left. Our staff, family and friends visiting also had the same experiences," says Bourgeois.
Bruce Power and the MOE were notified. In considerable correspondence, phone calls and face to face meetings over the following months, both organizations claimed to be unaware of either the past history of fumigation on the farm or of the role the TIBL was determined to have played to bring these toxic fumes to ground. As in the past, both expressed deep concern about the event, but have refused to accept that events at the plant could have contributed to the latest episode.
"In fact," says Bourgeois, "one public relations officer told me that the gas might have come from work road crews were doing on Highway 21. That would have been a significant incident," says Bourgeois, shaking his head slowly. "The wind comes from the west, so it would have had to have blown the asphalt gas around the world and back to land on my farm. Wow!"
Bruce Power says it is going to send out men with undisclosed instruments to test the air the next time it conducts a test burn. What these men are going to do is unclear to Bourgeois, who says that there has been "no mention of how they plan to be in the right places at the right times to capture a descending plume."
While previous burns have been conducted with materials which produced thick black smoke, the latest fire drills have produced much less visually detectable plumes, causing conjecture that Bruce Power is using a different but possibly no less toxic burning agent.
This could be a step forward, but Bourgeois is not hopeful. "As in the past, the industry will be permitted to engage in its practices, provided it finds no corroborating evidence, which is almost a certainty given the vagueness of their proposed survey. Also, as in the past, it will be left to the victim to provide proof beyond a shadow of doubt of the damages received."
Why Does He Stay?
Given the history of the relationship between himself and the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, Eugene Bourgeois considers it somewhat reasonable to ask why he and his family are staying at their farm in Inverhuron. "My wife and I have spent close to 3 decades of our lives building our house, buildings, farm and wool business by hand. Why would I want to just up and walk away from that?"
As well, Bourgeois thinks agencies need to be made to follow through on their publicly stated promises and guarantees. "The operators of the plant claim their motto is 'Safety First'. The regulator claims to guarantee the safe operation of the nuclear facility. The ministry claims to be there to guard the public interest. Whose interest do they really protect ? They don't seem to include me or my family or customers. Or my animals. Where do they draw the line? Who is responsible?"
Bourgeois acknowledges Ontario's need for power and the value of the plant to the local economy. But he fears the real cost of nuclear energy is being drastically underestimated, and the safety and security factors glossed over. "Ontario Hydro is $38 billion dollars in debt, 95% of that from nuclear power facilities. They have no permanent solution to nuclear waste storage though they've said a solution is 'just around the corner' since the 1950's. Yucca mountain is going to cost at very least $100 billion Canadian dollars to store 77,000 tons of high level U-S nuclear waste, and we're going to have half as much high level waste as that here at the Bruce site by 2020. There is close to 20,000 tons in the cooling pools now, and that will double by 2020 with six reactors at Bruce A and B on line. Where are they going to store that waste for the next 200,000 years and how much will it cost? I have to wonder just how good a deal all of this is turning out to be.
"OPG told us that repairing Pickering was going to cost a couple of hundred million dollars. The bill is presently $2.4 billion and still not finished. Now we hear Darlington needs work. And how much will it cost to bring the Bruce A back on line? Most of these costs aren't factored into the cost of producing a kilowatt hour. They're just overruns which are thrown on the debt pile. And who will pay for all of this? Taxpayers! When all of this started, we were told they could produce 'Power Too Cheap To Metre."
As to the charge that he is "a radical, anti-nuclear nut case who wants to close the plant and take away our jobs", Eugene just shakes his head. "Even if the plant closed down tomorrow, that radioactive waste and the buildings would still be here for the next two hundred thousand years or more. Pro- or anti-nuclear doesn't matter any more. The place is a fact. The question is, who is going to take responsibility for it?
"It looks to me like we're leaving that, and the debt, to our kids. It seems to me that they are callous about my safety and that of my family, and untruthful about the real cost of nuclear energy. And if the plant and the regulator and the Ministry are not willing to take responsibility for what happens here, then who is in charge?"