Intervention in the CNSC Point Lepreau Relicensing Decision

Publication Date: 
November 12, 2011

[To find out more about the Canada Nucelar Safety Commission (CNSC) hearings, please go here.]

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To: CNSC  Interventions

 

From: Sierra Club Canada, Atlantic Canada Chapter

 

Re: Intervention in the CNSC Point Lepreau Relicensing Decision

 

Date: 12 November 2011

 

In the notes below we offer our comments and perspective as an intervenor in CNSC’s hearing regarding the restart (and fuel loading) for the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, for the “Day Two” session of this hearing, to be held in Saint John, NB on 1-2 Dec. 2011.

 

This intervention is focused on the CNSC itself. Our analysis of the transcript of Day One of this hearing, which was held at CNSC’s offices in Ottawa on 6 October 2011, confirms our view that CNSC staff have arrived at conclusions favourable to the restart and refueling of the Point Lepreau reactor before hearing, reading or considering the information that we and other intervenors will present during this second session of the hearing.

 

As is the case in most agencies, opinions and reports from CNSC staff, especially senior staff, tend to be very important, and sometimes decisive factors in the critical decisions that the CNSC and its Board are called upon to make.  

 

Following are several quotes from the “Day One” hearing transcript which, we think, clearly demonstrate that key CNSC staff have already made up their minds that it is safe to restart and operate the refurbished Lepreau reactor before these staff have heard or given due consideration to the information and analysis that intervenors have prepared for this part of the hearing. .

 

From Dr. Greg Rzentkowski, Director of Power Reactor Regulation for CNSC:

 

*  “CNSC staff concludes that an environmental assessment is not required for either the fuel load or licence renewal at this facility. Furthermore, I would like to state that many design improvements were either installed during refurbishment or are considered in the near future to specifically address severe accidents, such as the station blackout scenario experienced at Fukushima..

 

“Also, notable improvements were made to the emergency response plan to assure emergency response organizations will be able of responding effectively in case of a severe accident…CNSC staff recommends that the Commission renew the Point Lepreau operating licence until June 30th, 2017” (p.70 of Day One transcript)

 

* Again from Dr. Rzentkowski: “...CNSC staff recommends that the Commission grants permission to NB Power to proceed with fuel load and restart of the reactor. “ (p. 71)

 

* Also from Dr. Rzentkowski, this time regarding NB Power’s proposal to switch to every-other-year, rather than annual, shutdowns for maintenance and inspections: “We evaluated this proposal and there is no concern for a new plant like Point Lepreau will be restarting (sic) after refurbishment. We believe that there is no compromise to safety and that we can monitor this by simply monitoring the performance indicators...”  (p. 195)

 

Elsewhere in the transcript when CNSC Chairman Dr. Michael Binder asks Dr. Rzentkowski for comments on NB Power’s efforts to upgrade its emergency planning Dr. Rzentkowski tells him  flatly and without hesitation that “the results will change and will change for the better..” (p. 213)

 

Similarly, when Chairman Binder asks Grant Cherkas, (a technical specialist in CNSC’s Engineering Design Assessment Division) to comment on Point Lepreau’s compliance with new emergency coding systems, Mr.Cherkas replies that while Lepreau’s systems will not be fully compliant with these protective codes until “the end of 2014" (p. 189), “we’re satisfied with the plans that NB Power has...and we expect to see them implemented....” (p. 192)

 

A careful reading of the Day One transcript makes it clear that senior CNSC staff are noticeably predisposed to favour and approve the management approach of NB Power in their evaluations of the safety systems for Lepreau that will be in place if a restart of the refurbished  reactor is permitted.

 

In decisions like the one this hearing is dealing with, in which NB Power wants a green light to procede with restarting the reactor and a number of intervenors are trying to show that this action is not advisable, basic principles of justice and fairness require that all points of view be heard and given full consideration before conclusions are reached or recommendations are offered.

 

During this second part of the CNSC relicensing hearing intervenors will present detailed observations about safety defects and related problems with the refurbished reactor that should be given full and detailed consideration and analysis by CNSC staff prior to their making  recommendations to the Board. Once CNSC staff has taken the time required  to perform this necessary study and analysis of the information intervenors have presented, the intervenors should be given an appropriate opportunity to respond to staff comments, to question CNSC staff about their conclusions and recommendations and to address comments and responses about these to the Board. In part because CNSC insisted over many objections on holding its Day One session of this hearing in Ottawa, to date there has been no effective way that intervenors could  present their perspectives or comment on the staff’s conclusions and recommendations on the record. 

 

Our position is that CNSC’s unbalanced and ill-considered procedures have made it impossible for the Board to arrive at fair conclusions about NB Power’s proposal to re-fuel and relicense Point Lepreau. As a result, CNSC’s conclusions and its likely approval of NB Power’s request to re-fuel and restart the reactor will not be based on a balanced understanding of the circumstances under which the reactor, if restarted, would operate. 

 

For this reason we are asking that any decision about the relicensing and re-fueling of the Point Lepreau reactor be delayed for a reasonable period of time so that CNSC staff will have sufficient time to study and respond to the information from intervenors that is being discussed during this Day Two session of the hearing and so that intervenors will have the opportunity to question and comment on CNSC staff responses and recommendations on the record.

 

Without dwelling on the details and specific arguments that intervenors will present today and tomorrow, we hope you will agree that the information they have brought to these procedings deserves full consideration. Brief summary versions of some of this intervenor information will be presented verbally today. But from our perspective the range and complexity of these carefully prepared submissions should certainly merit more than the cursory discussion that the strict time limits on today’s session of the hearing will impose. .

 

Documented testimony from seismic experts, well-researched questions about the adequacy of security precautions and protections, about the effects of “normal” and accidental radiation releases on plant personnel and area communities, and efforts to show that Point Lepreau does not and cannot meet new, post-Fukushima international standards for reactor safety–none of these seem to have been considered by CNSC staff. Yet clearly at least some influential senior staff have already made up their minds that NB Power is fully qualified and prepared to safely run the refurbished Lepreau reactor.

 

To cite one important example of critical safety-related questions and issues that CNSC staff has not raised and, presumably, has not considered in drawing their conclusions and making recommendations, we want to note the following for the hearing record:

 

NB Power has never included the publicin Point Lepreau emergency drills or exercises, and  none of the occasional interagency drills that have been held have occurred at night. Real world emergency and disaster experience demonstrates without any doubt that whenever people are suddenly catapulted into emergency actions of which they have no experience, panic, rumours and mass confusion inevitably result. This is the reason that participation by the supposed beneficiaries of drills–school children for example–is the norm in most fire drills and other safety exercises.  This concern about lack of public participation in Point Lepreau emergency drills is amplified for us because we think that, since many emergencies occur in the evening or at night, emergency planning without night drills (including public participation) cannot effectively protect people and communities. But CNSC apparently has never required, or even suggested, that NB Power hold night drills or include the  public in emergency exercises. We have a copy of the current Point Lepreau emergency plan, and it contains no mention or suggestion of including the public in drills or of holding surprise, or night time  emergency exercises. The transcript of  Day One of this hearing also contains no mention of these concerns by CNSC or NB Power, and no suggestion that such steps should be considered. 

  

Another glaring omission that stands out among the CNSC staff’s colleagial and congratulatory comments about NB Power in the transcript of Day One of this hearing is their failure to explore the abysmal track record of primary Lepreau refurbishment contractor AECL over the past decade, when it has failed to satisfactorily accomplish any of the major goals with which it was tasked by the federal government. Raising further questions and reflecting at least in part AECL’s history of failure, earlier this year AECL’s reactor division was sold to SNC/Lavalin for the bargain basement price of just $15 million.

 

This history of plummeting value and repeated failure at AECL apparently has not attracted the interest or attention of CNSC staff (although these factors were almost certainly related to Ontario’s 2010 decision not to undertake the proposed refurbishment of the Pickering B reactors). A major problem with the re-installation of calandria tubes in the Point Lepreau reactor during the refurbishment was one of AECL’s more recent high-profile failures. Although mention is made in the Day One hearing record of an effort to perform a “root cause analysis”of the errors that led AECL and NB Power to first install and subsequently remove, repair and re-install all 380 of the reactor’s calandria tubes after finding that many of these tubes had not been adequately prepared for installation–a decision that caused many months of delay and hundreds of millions of dollars–no CNSC staff person mentioned anything about this major fiasco during Day One of this hearing.   

 

The discouraging context of mismanagement and bad decisions by AECL–and NB Power’s failure to consider these problems with its primary refurbishment contractor--seem to have gone unnoticed by CNSC staff, none of whom raised the question of AECL competency as NB Power’s  refurbishment contractor during Day One of this hearing. Instead, in keeping with its  ambiguous role as simultaneous promoter and regulator of nuclear power in Canada, CNSC continues to confidently proclaim, as on the cover of its 2009-10 Annual Report, that “Nuclear in Canada is Safe”.

 

The disturbing indicators of bias that we have observed in CNSC’s mode of operating has convinced us that this agency is not sufficiently neutral or impartial to carry out the critically important work with which it has been entrusted by our government–work on which the security our communities and ecosystems depend.  

 

Accordingly, we  request that any decision about relicensing or re-fueling the Point Lepreau reactor be delayed until CNSC staff can direct due attention to the information presented by intervenors for today’s second session, respond on the record to our concerns and those of other intervenors, and allow intervenors the opportunity to discuss the CNSC staff’s responses on the record. In our view, unless such a delay is arranged, the Board will not have a full, unbiased suite of information on which to base a fair decision on NB Power’s application to re-fuel and relicense the Point Lepreau reactor..

 

Thank you very much for this opportunity to present our views on this matter.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Larry Lack and Lee Ann Ward

St. Andrews, NB

for the Sierra Club Canada (Atlantic Canada Chapter)

12 November 2011

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