by Gail Wylie, lead for the CRED-NB intervention to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
So now we wait… Will the Lepreau nuclear reactor licence renewal be for 5 years (same as current), 10 years (one precedent recently), 20 years (recommended by CNSC staff), or 25 years (requested by NB Power?) The current licence ends June 30, so a decision is expected soon.
This is a brief report ‘window’ on my experience attending the CNSC hearings for NB Power’s application for a 25-year renewal of its licence to operate the Point Lepreau nuclear reactor. The hearings were held May 10 to 12 in Saint John.
One aspect highlighted was the faulty process for the hearings – i.e., not adequate provisions to operate as a true ‘Tribunal.’ A key missing element: no provision for the intervenors to cross-examine the proponent (NB Power) or CNSC staff specialists.
An example that highlights this problem was the discussion of the Lepreau reactor’s ‘ingestion planning zone,’ the area where farmers should know that if a serious radiological event occurs at the reactor, they need to shelter their animals, not feed them local fodder exposed to radiation, and not sell produce in the exposed area.
The joint written (60 page) and oral (10 minute) intervention from CRED-NB and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), included the recommendation that the designated ingestion planning zone follow the guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that sets standards for nuclear operations worldwide.
For a reactor with Lepreau’s level of megawatts thermal, the IAEA recommends an ingestion planning zone of 300 km radius around the reactor. This would include half of PEI, two thirds of Nova Scotia, all of New Brunswick and a significant portion of Maine. NB Power, however, has set the ingestion planning zone at only 57 km.
When a Commissioner queried this discrepancy, NB Power stated that the IAEA recommendation was meant for only ‘light water’ reactors, and that operators of other kinds of reactors like the Lepreau CANDU heavy water reactor are to develop their own zone analysis. The Commissioner did not follow up, and our team had no opportunity to ask what methodology was used to determine the 57 km designated zone or to question where this IAEA guidance on variation was suggested.
We later consulted an independent nuclear expert, who confirmed that the IAEA guidance of 300 km was appropriate also for Lepreau, as the amount of radioactivity is based on the megawatts thermal level, not the type of cooling system.
There was an imbalance in the oral versus written interventions. Of all the written interventions, 143 were against the 25-year licence and less than 100 in support. Everyone who submitted a written document had the option of also making an oral presentation. Of those, 31 were in support versus nine against, many supporters being out of province nuclear operators and organizations with the staff, resources and experience to travel to Saint John to make an oral presentation.
Many of the industry-related organizations began their presentations with the myth: ‘there is no path to net zero without nuclear.’ Given the flawed process not allowing cross examination, we or other intervenors could not challenge these statements, and the Commissioners chose not to question them.
Another imbalance existed between comprehensive versus simple oral interventions, all allotted the same 10 minutes speaking time. Our CRED-CELA joint written intervention was professionally researched and reviewed, a 60-page document with 40 recommendations.
Our CELA partner, lawyer Kerrie Blaise, presented her well-prepared script and slide deck highlighting key issues and packing in as much as humanly possible to the 10 minutes! One positive compensation, the Commissioners had obviously read all 60 pages and asked many questions from that content.
The Commissioners came from diverse backgrounds: a lawyer and former Chief of Saugeen First Nation who asked many in-depth questions, a Métis businessman from Thunder Bay asking the more technical and engineering questions, and a medical doctor from Winnipeg who pursued more health issues. The Chair, Rumina Velshi, moved to the CNSC in 2018 from Ontario Power Generation, the public utility that currently has eight nuclear power reactors operating in that province. Her role at OPG involved promoting small modular nuclear reactors.
The video recording of the 3-day hearing is not yet available. The links to the transcripts are below. CRED-CELA presented after lunch on May 11.
The CRED-NB website has a blog from each hearing day co-written by CELA and CRED. The May 12 blog, HERE, includes a photo of CRED members and collaborators taken at the end of an exhausting, very intense three-day event. Somehow, we are still smiling – maybe just with relief. (The youngest one is the CELA lawyer, Kerrie Blaise from North Bay, Ontario).