A case of the nuclear nerves

Fears over Japan's nuclear crisis have reached Whitehorse, where pharmacists are receiving frequent requests for potassium iodine tablets. The Medicine Chest Pharmacy has received approximately 10 such requests each day since Japan was rocked by a 9.

Fears over Japan’s nuclear crisis have reached Whitehorse, where pharmacists are receiving frequent requests for potassium iodine tablets.

The Medicine Chest Pharmacy has received approximately 10 such requests each day since Japan was rocked by a 9.0-point earthquake last week, say staff. The pills are issued to survivors of nuclear disasters to help ward off radiation poisoning.

But the Medicine Chest doesn’t carry the pills, and health authorities in British Columbia, who have seen a huge run on the pills since the earthquake, warn that improperly consuming the pills could cause serious side-effects.

Health authorities in Canada and the United States currently don’t expect radiation from Japan to reach North America.

The fear is that radiation would be blown by trade winds across the Pacific Ocean. But, after travelling thousands of kilometres, any remaining radiation is expected to be too widely dispersed to pose a health risk.

Alaska has nuclear monitors in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks, according to a report by the Anchorage Daily News. The state is considering adding further monitors that could detect radiation in rural Alaska.

In the Yukon, the territory depends on the federal government and Alaska for radiation monitoring, said Community Services Minister Archie Lang on Tuesday, in response to a question by the Liberals’ Darius Elias.

“I don’t think we have the wherewithal to do that inside the territory,” said Lang.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson called on the Yukon Party government to rule out the use of nuclear power in the territory. Recent public meetings held by Yukon Energy touted many alternatives to new hydroelectric projects – including nuclear power.

Hanson also wants a ban on uranium mining in the territory. And she threw her support behind Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s private members bill to ban nuclear weapons in the Arctic.

Premier Dennis Fentie said he shared Hanson’s concerns for Japan. “We’re not proceeding with the development of nuclear power generation in the Yukon,” he said. “We see no reason to be concerned about nuclear weapons in the Yukon.”

Ambulance base over budget: Elias

The new emergency services base being built on Two Mile Hill will cost far more than originally budgeted, warns the Liberal opposition.

The building, which will house ambulance attendants and other emergency services staff, is expected to cost $8.7 million over the next two years, according to the government’s multi-year capital plan.

But new estimates put the base’s cost at $13 million, according to the Liberals’ Darius Elias.

“The project is long overdue. The costs are escalating. The budget allocation is too small to finish the job, and the government won’t reveal the true costs,” said Elias on March 9.

But, beyond off-the-record grumbling by government staff, the Liberals don’t have hard proof that costs have grown for the project. So Elias has spent the past week asking Archie Lang, the Public Works minister, to state the project’s current total cost.

Elias’s figures are “not correct,” replied Lang. The cost of building the footprint remains within budget, he said.

But Lang dodged Elias’ key question, which is what the whole project is now expected to cost. “We are building an EMS building at the top of Two Mile Hill, whether the Liberal party likes it or not,” said Lang. “The resources are in the budget. There’s a two-year plan. Property management is going to oversee the construction and the building will be built.”

Public Works officials did not respond to a query by the News about the project’s current cost, before deadline.

The Yukon Party government originally promised to build a base that would also house the city of Whitehorse’s firefighters, but talks with the city fell apart. So the city built its own public safety building, which opened in January, for $10.4 million.

Lang conceded the government’s initial plans “did not pan out,” but insisted that the current project, rather than being wasteful, offers “the best bang for the buck for the taxpayers of the Yukon.”

Hanson hammers helicopters

NDP Leader Liz Hanson doesn’t like helicopter training at Whitehorse’s airport.

She took aim at the whirly-birds last week, after receiving complaints from downtown constituents who fear a chopper may fall out of the sky and hit their homes during training, between April and June.

Besides posing a safety threat, helicopters “cause considerable noise and air pollution” and “have a negative impact on the quality of life of the people of downtown Whitehorse who live near the clay cliffs directly under the flight path,” Hanson said on Monday.

She asked Archie Lang, minister of Highways and Public Works, whether he would commit to moving helicopter training to an “alternative and safer location.”

Instead, Hanson received an earful of scorn.

“The alternative is to shut down Erik Nielsen International Airport,” said Lang. Helicopter companies and airport officials assure Lang that training occurs over the airport, rather than over the downtown, he said.

Air traffic comes with living near an airport, said Lang. “I live under a flight path that has five jets a day that blank out the sun,” said Lang. “I understand the need to have air transportation in our community.”

Hanson persisted and asked again for Lang to find a new spot for helicopter training.

“Maybe Abbotsford,” Lang sarcastically replied. “That would be a good alternative to our helicopter industry.”

Housing petition garners 500 names

Approximately 500 Yukoners have signed a petition that calls on the territory to support a plan to help house hardcore alcoholics.

The signatures were collected by the Northern City Supportive Housing Coalition, a group of nonprofits that aim to build 20 units of supportive housing. NDP Leader Liz Hanson tabled the petition in the legislature on Monday.

It’s been seven months since the coalition of non-profits announced their plans. They already have a proposed site, design plans and a building team lined up.

Both the Yukon Liberals and NDP have expressed support for the project. So has Whitehorse’s city council.

What’s missing is Yukon government support.

Later on Monday, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell asked Jim Kenyon, minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, to support the proposal.

Kenyon demurred. The housing corporation’s board of directors hasn’t yet made any decision on the project, and Kenyon said it would be inappropriate for him to intervene.

“This is not a political decision,” he said.

That’s not entirely true. The housing corporation may offer a federal grant to help the coalition build their facility.

But, for this money to flow, the coalition needs to show it can pay for staff at their project. That would require an operating grant from the Health Department.

Health officials have worked with the coalition to bolster the project’s business plan. Officials are expected to pass a proposal up to the cabinet table soon.

Then it will be a political decision.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.