CANSO: The proposed spaceport project for Guysborough County won’t be blasting off and breaking ground anytime soon.
Nova Scotia’s environment minister said she can’t make a decision whether to approve the rocket launch site in Canso, because Maritime Launch Services (MLS), the company behind the project, has not provided sufficient information.
The environmental assessment, prepared by Strum Consulting, had been described by a number of its reviewers as to be lacking analysis, information and evidence.
In a letter addressed to the president of MLS on August 23, Margaret Miller said to better understand the potential for adverse effects or significant environmental effects, a focus report is required.
“The focus report shall examine potential impacts of the project on: water resources, soil, air quality, noise, flora and fauna, fish and fish habitat, protected areas and parks, dangerous good management, waste management, human health and contingency planning.”
MLS will have up to one year to prepare the report once it receives terms of reference for the preparation of the focus report from the department. In addition, the company will be required to conduct seasonal studies.
“These seasonal baseline studies related to wildlife and fish and fish habitat will not be required as part of the focus report, but will be required before commencement of the project.”
Miller’s letter to company advised concerns were raised during the environmental assessment review through members of the public, Mi’kmaq submissions, along with Nova Scotia’s Environment Department, Department of Lands and Forestry, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, as well as Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Department of National Defense.
The Native Council of Nova Scotia submitted a five-page letter to the Environment Department concerning the potential of adverse environmental effects of the project on the environment and established Aboriginal and Treaty Rights.
They question multiple aspects of the project, including transportation of hazardous goods, air quality, and the structural integrity of nearby wind turbines.
The council also mentions the lack of data in the MLS environmental assessment document.
“How were the effects of air quality determined without modeling being completed?” the council asked in their letter.
Neil Morehouse, a manager in the province’s environment department said there is little in the proposal addressing how an explosion, crash or fuel leak would affect the nearby Canso Coastal Barrens Wilderness Area.
“A spill would destroy the impacted ecosystems with no chance of recovery within the next several hundred years.”
According to the MLS proposal, the rockets would use unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) for the second stage of their launch sequence.
Michael Byers, a political science professor at UBC said there is a danger associated with the propellant, which he said is known in Russia as “Devil’s Breath.”
“If something goes wrong on launch, if the rocket were to tip over and explode, or if there were some kind of spill during transportation or assembly, you’d still have a serious health and environmental concern.”
Byers has examined scientific literature on the effects of UDMH and found rates of unusual cancers doubled in some areas of Kazakhstan and Russia where people were exposed as a result of spills or ruptures in the atmosphere and dispersed propellant particles in the air.
“It’s intensely dangerous stuff. You know, one way to describe it is that one drop of hydrazine in an Olympic-sized swimming pool would kill anything in that pool,” he said.
Byers’ concern with the proposal for Canso is the potential for failure at launch or a spill before the launch because the combination of the propellants are new and new rockets have a fairly high failure rate during their first launches.
“So I wouldn’t want to be anywhere on the east coast of Nova Scotia the first time that they launched one of these.”
Vernon Pitts, warden of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough wrote a letter voicing his support in the spaceport project.
“This project has the potential to provide significant benefits to a region that has been greatly impacted by the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990s,” he said. “We place our trust in the Nova Scotia regulatory to complete its work in a timely fashion. We look forward to the development of this project and encourage its expeditious review and approval.”