Sierra Club of Canada Media Release

February 6, 2001

Submission from the Sierra Club of Canada Nuclear Campaign to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regarding the licence renewals for the Pickering Nuclear Generating Stations



1. Introduction

This submission is provided on behalf of the Sierra Club of Canada. Note that Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA) and its parent organization Nuclear Awareness Project have transferred their programs to the Sierra Club. DNA was an intervenor on Pickering Nuclear Station relicensing since 1992 and on the Pickering A restart environmental assessment.

Relevant Commission Member Documents have been reviewed in preparing this submission, including CMD 01-H3, H3.1, H3.1A, H4, as well as the transcripts from the first day of hearings on this matter, held on January 18, 2001. Selected key issues of concern are addressed in this submission. Lack of comment on any given issue should not be interpreted as lack of concern, or as agreement with the CNSC staff or OPG characterization of that issue.


2. Integrated Improvement Program (IIP)

An overview of IIP progress is not provided in the CNSC staff reports on Pickering station relicensing. Rather, a reference is made to the most recent semi-annual report on the IIP to the Commission (CMD 00-61.1, October 2000). This earlier report outlines specific concerns about the change by OPG back to a decentralized improvement program. A prediction is made by CNSC staff in that report that competition for resources will take place between the IIP work and efforts to continue operating and maintaining the stations. The report also notes that the entire program is now two years behind the original schedule.

CNSC staff have indicated that reactor closure may be a potential remedy:

"After the transition, [to site-based IIP implementation] the improvement work will continue to compete for resources with work related to continued operation. If this, in fact, leads to a reduction in resources available for improvements, it may become necessary to require the licensees to temporarily cease operation of reactor units in order to complete the improvements in accordance with schedules." (CMD 00 M61.1 p.1)

Recommendation A: Given the delays in IIP implementation to date, the new Pickering site-specific IIP projects list should be appended to the licence with specific deadlines for completion of projects. Failure to meet the scheduled deadlines should result in closure of the reactors at Pickering B, and/or the continued closure of the Pickering A reactors, until the program is completed. Schedule deadlines should not be subject to further re-negotiation between OPG and CNSC staff.


3. Safety Issues

CNSC staff have ranked 'safety analysis' in general as 'acceptable', without rating the individual 'generic action items' or design issues, some of which are longstanding problems. In addition, it has been reported by CNSC staff (CMD 00-H22, p. 40-41) that the industry's capability to support the research programs necessary to resolve safety issues has been diminished, and that some areas are not receiving adequate funding to conduct the necessary research. Considered in combination with ongoing quality assurance, training and maintenance deficiencies, these outstanding safety issues raise serious doubts about the validity of the reactor safety analysis, and bring into question the assurances of CNSC staff about nuclear station safety.

    3.1 Maintenance

    CNSC staff report that OPG has misrepresented the scale of corrective maintenance backlogs and has prematurely claimed that its IIP project to reduce these backlogs is closed. This was done through redefining the problem, rather than solving it. The CNSC staff report does not estimate the number of person.hours required to catch up with this current backlog. Many assurances were provided by Ontario Hydro and then OPG regarding their ability to eliminate maintenance backlogs. The premature closure of the IIP project on this item raises serious questions about the validity of all reporting being done by OPG.

    3.2 Fire Protection

    Inadequate fire protection measures at nuclear stations is a long standing issue. The IIP program on fire protection at Pickering is now one year late and does not address all aspects of the problem, according to the CNSC staff report. OPG has produced fire hazard assessment reports which were requested under Access to Information legislation in November 2000. The report for Pickering NGS-A was briefly reviewed in early January at the CNSC, and a request for copies of excerpts of the report was made at that time. However, the requested copies have not been received. A supplementary submission may be made to address this issue further, if the materials are received in time.


4. Nuclear Emergency Planning

CNSC staff report that they have reviewed the on-site nuclear emergency plan for the Pickering site, and that emergency preparedness is 'acceptable'. CNSC apparently concerns itself primarily with the on-site nuclear emergency response, while leaving off-site consequences to be dealt with by the Province of Ontario, in the case of the Pickering stations. However, as the licence provider for the facility, the CNSC must also address the status of the implementation of off-site nuclear emergency plans, and the state of its own emergency preparedness program in relation to the effectiveness of the site specific plans.

The provincial nuclear emergency plan for the Pickering site has not been fully implemented. This is reportedly due in part to the lack of sufficient support from the utility, and to disagreements between the province, the utility and the municipalities over proposed changes to the plan. For example, the municipalities have requested that prompt public alerting be mandatory for all areas within a ten kilometre radius, after the province ordered this capability for only a three km. radius from the stations. Apparently this issue has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of the municipalities.

The federal Auditor identified a number of problems with the federal nuclear emergency plan (Chapter 28, 1998 Auditor's Report), including the lack of national standards for radiation exposure for initiating protective measures during accidents, and the lack of detailed federal nuclear emergency plans. The federal plan was evaluated in April 1999 as part of CANATEX 3. A report on this test (July 16, 1999, final report by AECB CANATEX 3/INEX 2 Evaluation Team) notes several recommendations for improvements by the regulator, including rewriting the regulator's emergency response role, adding new staff, and designating and training more staff. It was recommended that Health Canada, which has overall responsibility for the federal plan, conduct another full scale test within two years (i.e. by April 2001).

Recommendation B: The CNSC should evaluate not only the on-site nuclear emergency plans, but the degree of implementation of the off-site plans administered by the province, as well as the CNSC's current capability to respond under the federal nuclear emergency plan. A licence condition should be instituted in all utility licences to require adequate funding for full implementation of provincial nuclear emergency plans on a site specific basis. A proven capability to promptly alert the public must become a licence condition, to expedite resolution of this long-standing issue.

According to the CNSC draft Regulatory Guide on emergency planning (C-225):

"The regulatory reviews of the adequacy of emergency plans will cover the following:... - basis for emergency planning... Emergency plans for Class I nuclear facilities and uranium mines and mills should encompass all emergency scenarios that could give rise to significant adverse impacts or consequences -- whether on-site or off-site, radiological or non-radiological, severe or relatively minor."

However, to the best of our knowledge, neither CNSC staff nor OPG have published an evaluation of radiation releases that would result from severe reactor accidents involving failure of the containment system. While the CNSC has an accident-related public dose limit of 250 mS, it is impossible to determine whether this limit would be met under severe accident conditions without the analysis noted above. There is also a related question regarding the appropriateness of this dose limit for protection of human health.

Recommendation C: In order to judge the adequacy of the emergency plans, the risk assessments prepared for the Pickering stations should be updated to include the magnitude and characteristics of the radiation releases associated with severe reactor accidents involving failure of the containment system, including immediate, unfiltered releases to the environment. Completion of this update should be required by the end of the upcoming licence term.


5. Nuclear Liability Act

The CNSC is responsible for managing the Nuclear Liability Act, and while the current requirements of the Act have reportedly been met by the utility, it is generally agreed that the amount of coverage required under the Act is insufficient to address the claims that would likely result from a severe accident with off-site consequences. The legislation allows the federal government, through tax-payer's contributions, to fund additional claims that might result for amounts over and above the current $75 million limit on insurance for each station. OPG's insurance for the Pickering site (eight reactors) is $75 million, whereas the same fee applies to each four reactor station at the Bruce Nuclear Power Development (for a total of $150 million) (AECB Annual Report 98/99, p. 58).

Recommendation D: The CNSC should ensure that the Nuclear Liability Act is amended immediately to increase the available compensation funds to a level where millions of potential claims could be paid out without requiring federal tax funds. In addition, the CNSC should ensure that the legislation is amended to remove the 10 year limit on post-accident claims, since health impacts from exposure to radiation may be delayed beyond this current ten year limit. OPG's insurance requirements for the Pickering site should be doubled, so that the limit, whatever it is set at, is consistently applied to each four-reactor station.


6. Decommissioning Plan

CNSC staff note that the detailed preliminary decommissioning plan for Pickering is not yet available for review, and won't be submitted by OPG until the end of February, despite the new requirement for decommissioning plans and financial guarantees under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. CNSC staff propose that they proceed with a licence amendment at a later date, to reference the plan once they have reviewed it, without returning to a full Commission meeting to allow for a public review of the decommissioning plan and budget. The CNSC has an obligation to determine whether the decommissioning plan and associated budget are adequate, prior to accepting and referencing the plan in the facility licence. The public has a right to participate in this review to determine whether the plan and budget are adequate, since the provincial government is providing the guarantee for funding this future liability, and since the CNSC is apparently accepting this as an adequate guarantee.

Recommendation E: Since the taxpayers of Ontario are providing a guarantee for funding future costs of decommissioning the Pickering stations, the CNSC should not reference the decommissioning plan and funding arrangements in the Pickering licences until such a time as there has been a public review of the adequacy of the plan and budget, and an opportunity for the public to address the Commissioners directly regarding this matter.


7. Licence Term

CNSC staff are recommending a licence term of 27 months to June 2003, which is a two year licence plus a few additional months to space out the timing of licence renewals of major facilities for administrative purposes. Previously a two year licence was provided with a condition for a mid-term report, apparently as a way to express the seriousness of the numerous outstanding safety issues. However, despite the fact that the previous mid-term report for the Pickering stations in April 2000 (BMD 00 68) outlined continued problems in a range of areas, as well as new problems, no specific licensing action was taken at that time by the Board. Now, two years later, some of the same longstanding issues, such as training and maintenance, are still not resolved. Evidently tougher action is required on the part of the CNSC. There is also a need to evaluate the effectiveness of the IIP implementation, in relation to regular station operation and maintenance, given the overall two year delay in the program and the shift of the IIP management back to each station.

Recommendation F: A shorter licence term of one year should be provided at this time since the previous two year licence coupled with the midterm report did not result in resolution of problems in specific areas, despite assurances by OPG that problems would be solved and by CNSC staff that problems would be closely tracked. The decentralization of the IIP implementation could have a negative effect on the routine operation and maintenance of the stations and must be fully evaluated by the Commissioners in a shorter time period, with an allowance for public participation through a Commission hearing.


8. Pickering NGS-A Restart Licence Amendment

It is assumed that the licence amendment requested by OPG to allow restart of the Pickering A station will be considered by the Commission at public meetings. However, this process and the schedule for these Commission meetings has not been announced.

Recommendation G: The CNSC should confirm that the consideration of a licence amendment to allow restart of the Pickering A nuclear station will be considered at public meetings, and should announce a schedule for the meetings as soon as the dates are determined.


9. Process Issues

Participation in this relicensing process should not be interpreted as endorsement of the CNSC Rules of Procedure. The public consultation and hearing process places an unfair burden on public interest intervenors due to the lack of intervenor funding for experts or any provisions for funding intervenor's expenses associated with preparation of submissions or participation in Commission hearings and meetings. Similarly, the limits placed on intervenors at hearings, including a ten minute time limit on presentations to the Commissioners, with no opportunity to directly question evidence provided by the CNSC staff or the licensee, contributes to the lack of fairness.


10. Summary of Recommendations

    A: Given the delays in IIP implementation to date, the new Pickering site-specific IIP projects list should be appended to the licence with specific deadlines for completion of projects. Failure to meet the scheduled deadlines should result in closure of the reactors at Pickering B, and/or the continued closure of the Pickering A reactors, until the program is completed. Schedule deadlines should not be subject to further re negotiation between OPG and CNSC staff.

    B: The CNSC should evaluate not only the on-site nuclear emergency plans, but the degree of implementation of the off-site plans administered by the province, as well as the CNSC's current capability to respond under the federal nuclear emergency plan. A licence condition should be instituted in all utility licences to require adequate funding for full implementation of provincial nuclear emergency plans on a site specific basis. A proven capability to promptly alert the public must become a licence condition, to expedite resolution of this long-standing issue.

    C: In order to judge the adequacy of the emergency plans, the risk assessments prepared for the Pickering stations should be updated to include the magnitude and characteristics of the radiation releases associated with severe reactor accidents involving failure of the containment system, including immediate, unfiltered releases to the environment. Completion of this update should be required by the end of the upcoming licence term.

    D: The CNSC should ensure that the Nuclear Liability Act is amended immediately to increase the available compensation funds to a level where millions of potential claims could be paid out without requiring federal tax funds. In addition, the CNSC should ensure that the legislation is amended to remove the 10 year limit on post accident claims, since health impacts from exposure to radiation may be delayed beyond this current ten year limit. OPG's insurance requirements for the Pickering site should be doubled, so that the limit, whatever it is set at, is consistently applied to each four-reactor station.

    E: Since the taxpayers of Ontario are providing a guarantee for funding future costs of decommissioning the Pickering stations, the CNSC should not reference the decommissioning plan and funding arrangements in the Pickering licences until such a time as there has been a public review of the adequacy of the plan and budget, and an opportunity for the public to address the Commissioners directly regarding this matter.

    F: A shorter licence term of one year should be provided at this time since the previous two year licence coupled with the midterm report did not result in resolution of problems in specific areas, despite assurances by OPG that problems would be solved and by CNSC staff that problems would be closely tracked. The decentralization of the IIP implementation could have a negative effect on the routine operation and maintenance of the stations and must be fully evaluated by the Commissioners in a shorter time period, with an allowance for public participation through a Commission hearing.

    G: The CNSC should confirm that the consideration of a licence amendment to allow restart of the Pickering A nuclear station will be considered at public meetings, and should announce a schedule for the meetings as soon as the dates are determined.


11. Conclusion

A common theme in this submission is the need for non-negotiable licence conditions to address outstanding issues, since it is obvious that the reliance on voluntary compliance as well as the constant adjustment and renegotiation of deadlines is allowing important nuclear safety-related work to remain unfinished.

There are considerable weaknesses in the off-site nuclear emergency plans, both provincial and federal, which should be systematically addressed by the CNSC as part of the licence renewal process. The risk assessment documents need to be updated to include the results of severe accident analysis where containment fails and immediate radiation releases result. The Nuclear Liability Act requires updating, including a much larger liability limit, and consistent application of the legislation.

The decommissioning plan and budget for the Pickering stations has not yet been made available for public review as part of the licence renewal process. The public must have an opportunity to review and comment on the adequacy of the plan and budget, since, in the case of Pickering, the Province of Ontario is guaranteeing the funding for eventual decommissioning and waste management.

The credibility of the CNSC staff position regarding station safety is severely strained by the huge number of unresolved safety issues, combined with ongoing deficiencies in staff training, maintenance and equipment. In addition, the Integrated Improvement Program is two years behind schedule, and implementation of the program is in direct competition with ongoing operations of the reactors. OPG should not be allowed to continue operating the Pickering "B" reactors until many of these issues are resolved.