Sierra Club of Canada Media Release

Friday, February 16, 2001 - For Immediate Release


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT APPROVED
NUCLEAR COMMISSION WHITEWASHES PICKERING HAZARDS


The Sierra Club of Canada is calling on the federal Minister of Environment, David Anderson, to order a full independent environmental assessment on reopening the Pickering “A” nuclear station, following an announcement by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) that it has approved a screening report on the proposed restart of Canada’s oldest and most accident-prone commercial nuclear station.

Sierra Club research consultant Irene Kock said:

“The Nuclear Commission refused to consider the possibility of a catastrophic nuclear accident at the Pickering plant. That is a wilful disregard of public safety.”

“Failure to deal with the cost and energy alternatives to restarting the four out-dated Pickering reactors makes a mockery of the Environmental Assessment Act.”

“There are safer, cleaner and cheaper energy alternatives to restarting the four old Pickering reactors. An impartial public review would prove it.”

Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA), Pickering citizen groups and the City of Toronto have asked Minister Anderson to order a full impartial Panel Review on the risks of restart and alternatives to restart, but the Minister decided to await completion of the Nuclear Commission review.

The Auditor General’s 2000 report (released February 6, 2001) noted that CNSC does not use an objective rating system to assess reactor safety, but instead uses “an intuitive approach, relying on the judgement and expertise of staff”, many of whom have come to the CNSC from the nuclear industry (see Chapter 27).

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For more information:

Irene Kock, Research Consultant
Sierra Club of Canada Nuclear Campaign
905-852-0571
e-mail: nucaware@web.ca

Note: Durham Nuclear Awareness, DNA, has recently transferred its programs to the Sierra Club of Canada



BACKGROUND: PICKERING “A” RESTART ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT


Ontario Power Generation (OPG - formerly Ontario Hydro) is planning to re-open the Pickering “A” station beginning in mid-2002. The formal decision on whether to allow restart of the four Pickering “A” reactors requires a licence amendment which will be considered by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC, formerly the Atomic Energy Control Board, AECB). The screening review was required under the licence amendment process. The two year licences for the Pickering “A” and “B” stations are up for renewal at a CNSC hearing in Ottawa on March 8.

The screening lacked independence since the CNSC has been historically friendly to the nuclear industry. An impartial Panel Review would be administered by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and would include independent panel members to conduct public hearings. The federal Minister of the Environment has the authority to order a Panel Review at any time, but decided to await the outcome of the CNSC screening.

A review of catastrophic nuclear accidents at Pickering involving failure of the containment system was deliberately excluded from the screening by the CNSC despite the fact that the Environmental Assessment Act requires a review of accidents. Severe accidents could affect the entire Great Lakes region, depending on weather conditions. Safety systems, including containment, are not ‘fail safe’ and have a past record of problems which show that these systems may not operate properly during an accident. The single emergency shutdown system at Pickering “A” is sub-standard, even with the planned upgrades, compared to other nuclear plants in Ontario, which have two totally separated shutdown systems. The limited screening review prevented a fair assessment of the risks of restarting Pickering “A”.

The cost and need for restarting the Pickering “A” reactors, as well as alternative means of generating electricity should also be reviewed. This would determine whether the risk of operating the station for another 10 to 15 years is justified. Life extension for the Pickering “A” reactors is also an obstacle to the introduction of cleaner and safer electricity generating and conservation options.

In 1994, all levels of elected politicians in Pickering, as well as the cities of Oshawa and Toronto asked the Atomic Energy Control Board for an independent review of the risks at the nuclear station, but the AECB turned down these requests. In a 1997 municipal referendum in Pickering, 87% of voters said they supported a full environmental assessment by the province on the future of the Pickering “A” station. The request was supported by all surrounding municipalities, but the Ontario government turned it down.

In 1998 an Environmental Review was conducted by Ontario Hydro to assess the environmental effects of routine operation of the Pickering reactors. The impact of serious nuclear accidents was specifically excluded from the review process. Over 160 issues were identified by community group and municipal representatives.

The screening level review was launched by the AECB in July 1999, and was set up to have the outward appearance of a more rigorous Panel Review. This screening included a public comment period on the scope and on the screening report. OPG initially fought the requirement to do even this limited review, but lost.

The screening review had numerous process problems:


For more information, contact:
Irene Kock, Research Consultant, Sierra Club of Canada Nuclear Campaign
Tel: 905-852-0571
e-mail: nucaware@web.ca


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