Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine (July, 2016)
An anonymous letter alleging safety concerns in Canada’s nuclear-energy sector has sparked an investigation by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The letter charges that the Commission and other authorities cannot make informed licensing decisions due to withheld information.
The letter, purportedly, from “a group of specialists at the CSNC,” is addressed to Commission president Michael Binder. Copies were also sent to two CNSC commissioners, as well as Greenpeace Canada senior energy analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil and Canadian Environmental Law Association executive director Theresa McClenaghan.
“We are writing anonymously because our opinions will not be well received by management at the CNSC and we are not confident in whistleblowing protection,” reads the letter.
The group offered five cases in which important information about risk or non-compliance was overlooked or withheld. For example, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) granted a one-year license, for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, (DNGS), east of Toronto, in 2014, on the condition that the former would update the risk assessment on the station’s refurbishment. The following year, DNGS received a long-term license even though not all the components of the assessment had not been submitted.
In addition, CNSC staff did not inform commissioners that required safety assessments of the Bruce Power Plant on Lake Huron had not been completed on time at a licensing hearing, nor that technical experts from Natural Resources Canada had found that OPG had underestimated the seismic hazard at DNSC by a factor of two. And an evaluation of DNSC’s evacuation procedures in the event of a Fukushima-sized crisis has not been provided to CSNC commissioners or to the public.
“CNSC commissioners do not receive sufficient information to make balanced judgements,” says the authors, who offer nine suggestions to address these issues, involving safety reviews and assessments by the CNSC, OPG, and plant operators.
The CNSC says that bit has begun an “Analysis” of the letter’s concerns and that senior management will review and discuss the results.” The CNSC diligently investigates and follows up on any concerns, signed or unsigned, raised by staff, as well as licensees, stakeholders, or members of the public in various ways,” the Commission says, adding that the organization fosters a working environment that encourages staff to communicate their best professional judgements. “This sometimes results in differences of professional opinion.”
The CNSC also calls it “unfortunate” that the letter authors chose to remain anonymous and “did not take advantage of the many mechanisms available to express their concerns.”
On July 19, 2016, Ontario NDP Energy, Environment and Climate Change Critic Peter Tabuns issued a statement demanding that Premier Kathleen Wynn conduct an independent review, which “should be completed by experts with no connection to Ontario’s nuclear industry, Tabuns says. “These are major concerns which cannot be ignored. When it comes to Ontario’s nuclear reactors, we can never be too careful.
I have never been a big fan of our nuclear oversight. Please read blog post #33, #51, #639 and #1131 for previous OPG concerns. I think #33 will scare a few people. #51 is not as large but just goes to show the mentality of “Essential Services.”
The CNSC does not have many clients so one would believe that due diligence on behalf of the CNSC would the rule not the exception.
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