Updates

Public trust in nuclear regulator eroded: CNSC grants 10-year licence to operate nuclear reactor on the Bay of Fundy

Temporary concrete storage silos containing deadly radioactive waste at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development – New Brunswick (CRED-NB)

Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA)

For immediate release – June 22, 2022

Public trust in nuclear regulator eroded: CNSC grants 10-year licence to operate nuclear reactor on the Bay of Fundy

ROTHESAY, NB – The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) say trust in Canada’s nuclear regulator is further eroded after news today that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) granted NB Power a 10-year licence to operate its Point Lepreau nuclear reactor.

The current 5-year licence expired at the end of June. During the life of the nuclear plant, the average licence length was less than 3 years. 

CRED-NB and CELA believe that a longer licence period is a blatant attempt to reduce community engagement and involvement, and that shorter licences and more frequent hearings responsive to the nuclear operations would have better served the public interest.

The need for frequent licensing hearings, including a statutory public right to be heard, was at the crux of the oral submission by CELA and CRED-NB in May at the CNSC hearings to hear arguments about NB Power’s licence request.

The CNSC announcement came just one day after National Indigenous Peoples Day. At the May hearings, Indigenous groups in New Brunswick said a longer licence period disrespects the rights of Indigenous people to care for the land in their unceded territory, by extending the nuclear operations and the production of toxic nuclear waste on the site.

The 10-licence renewal period more than triples the average licence length and time between public hearings on Lepreau’s operation. This longer licence period leaves unaddressed many concerns raised by our joint written intervention and our presentation at the May CNSC hearings in Saint John.

The 10-year period is, however, more appropriate than the 25 years requested by NB Power or the 20 years recommended by the initial CNSC staff report. We are aware of one precedent set by the 10-year licence renewal for Pickering nuclear plant in August 2018.

However, the events of the past 25 years – including the recent military attack on a nuclear plant in the Ukraine and the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 – demonstrate that our understanding of the dangers of nuclear power plants and the substantial risk they pose to human health, safety and the environment are continuously evolving. 

The public is also concerned about NB Power’s plans to build two types of experimental “small modular nuclear reactors” (SMRs) on the Lepreau site within the next 10 years.

“This longer license ignores that SMRs could present new risks, and does not commit NB Power to a new public hearing to maintain its license as these new risks are added to the site”, said Gail Wylie, spokesperson for CRED-NB.

CELA counsel Kerrie Blaise said that shorter licence terms and more regular licencing hearings do not remove this risk, but they do allow for the “compulsory re-evaluation of these risks stemming from continued nuclear plant operations.”

The CNSC states it will hold a mid-point meeting no later than 2027, when a comprehensive update will be provided and public comment will be invited. CRED-NB and CELA remain of the view that a meeting is a discretionary process and is not a stand-in for a public hearing. We believe this 2027 meeting should adhere to the same procedural and regulatory requirements as a public hearing licensing process. In this format the CNSC can opine on whether to suspend or amend the licence. 

CRED-NB and CELA continue to uphold the democratic importance of regular licence hearings, as a credible venue for public scrutiny and active public engagement in nuclear oversight.

In turn, this engagement can build public trust in NB Power’s operations at the Lepreau nuclear facility and build commitment of staff and management to honour that public trust.

The comprehensive CRED-NB/CELA written intervention to the Lepreau licence hearing is available HERE.

The CNSC Summary Record of Decision on June 22 is available HERE.

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For further information:

Gail Wylie, spokesperson, CRED-NB

506-454-3181

wylie1@nb.sympatico.ca

Kerrie Blaise, Canadian Environmental Law Association

416-960-2284 ext 7224

kerrie@cela.ca

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick
PO Box 4561 • Rothesay, NB E2E 5X3

Peskotomuhkati Chief denounces Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s public hearing process as a ‘feel good exercise’

Chief Hugh Akagi is interviewed in this new article by Harrison Dressler published by the NB Media Co-op, HERE.

A quote from the Chief about the recent CNSC hearing: “Historically, “they have bought compliance. We almost never hear words like justice in that room because that’s not part of the agenda. It’s so easy for them, with all their money, all their authority, all their manpower, to minimize us and to destroy us. It’s not like the good old days, where if you wanted to solve the Indian problem, you solved the Indian problem. Today, they’ve got to look like they’re actually supporting the Indian while they’re solving the Indian problem.”

Indigenous groups challenge New Brunswick’s costly radioactive waste legacy

The recent re-licencing hearing for New Brunswick’s Point Lepreau nuclear reactor highlighted the difficulty and cost of managing the province’s long-lived legacy of radioactive waste.

During the re-licencing hearing for Point Lepreau, a main focus of the Peskotomuhkati Nation’s intervention reflected their concerns about the lack of adequate planning for the toxic decommissioning waste.

Read the article by Kim Reeder and Susan O’Donnell in the NB Media Co-op, HERE.

Parliamentary committee studies SMRs

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research this week began its study of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). The committee’s study page is HERE.

The first day of witness testimony was on June 2. The webcast recording is on the website along with the list of witnesses on that date, which included the VP Nuclear of NB Power.

On June 9, CRED-NB’s Susan O’Donnell will be a witness for the study. The webcast will be live on the link above at 7:30 Atlantic time. Susan is in the first one-hour time slot. CRED-NB friend Gordon Edwards will be presenting in the second hour. The meeting runs for three hours.

Canada  Can Hit 100% Zero-Emission Electricity by 2035 Without Nuclear, CCS, Report Finds

The David Suzuki Foundation released a report demonstrating that net-zero by 2035 is possible without nuclear energy or carbon capture technology. The Energy Mix has the story, HERE.

The report download page is HERE.

Now we need a similar report for New Brunswick but our public utility NB Power is sleepwalking in a nuclear dream and pushing for more, not less, nuclear energy. If you’re interested to engage with CRED-NB on a nuclear-free renewable energy future, contact us: info@crednb.ca

Report: The Point Lepreau Nuclear Reactor Licence Renewal Hearings

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.

May 10:  Canadian Nuclear (nuclearsafety.gc.ca)

May 11:  Transcript of May 11, 2022 Public Hearing (nuclearsafety.gc.ca)

May 12:  Transcript of May 12, 2022 Public Hearing (nuclearsafety.gc.ca)

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). 

Climate Change Concerns Breezed Over on Final Day of Nuclear Licensing Hearing for Lepreau

This is the third in a series of blogs by CELA and CRED-NB live from the hearing room, as we share reflections and reactions from the nuclear licensing hearing. You can find our blog from Day 1 and 2 here,

SAINT JOHN, NB – Climate change concerns have repeatedly been raised by public intervenors since day 1 of the hearing for NB Power’s application for a 25-year renewal to its operating licence for the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy. Several intervenors, including CELA and CRED-NB noted that NB Power has not provided enough information about the impact of climate change on the Lepreau plant.

Yesterday, CELA counsel Kerrie Blaise explained that climate change poses unique dangers to Point Lepreau due to its location on the Bay of Fundy. Today, in an exchange following a presentation by the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick and member of the CRED-NB core group, experts from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Staff (“CNSC Staff”) and NB Power referenced reports and studies suggesting that the danger of tsunamis and sea level rise is a low safety and security risk for the Lepreau plant. 

However, despite NB Power’s assertions that extreme weather events and sea level rise pose little to no risk to the facility, their licence application and associated studies fail to expressly consider climate change and its potential impacts on Point Lepreau. That’s why CELA and CRED-NB have recommended the Commission deny NB Power’s licence application until site-specific climate impacts have been modelled at least 25 years into the future.

After the exchange, Susan O’Donnell, primary investigator of the RAVEN project, noted that just last week, the CNSC issued a tender for a comprehensive study of the impacts of climate change on nuclear plants in Canada. She recommended to the Commission that after the report is completed, NB Power should be tasked with responding to the issues raised in the report and issue its own report. RAVEN is recommending a 5-year licence renewal period.

Intervenor Margaret McDonald, joining virtually from Fredericton, also raised concerns with climate change and the need for more regular licencing hearings at which the climate monitoring reports could be discussed.

Ann McAllister, a member of CRED-NB and a representative for the Council of Canadians Saint John, intervened to recommend a 5-year licence, rather than a 25-year licence.  Such a long licence would significantly limit public input. She recommended better ongoing monitoring of management practices, especially considering the significant debt that the Lepreau plant has incurred, $3.6 billion of NB Power’s $4.9 billion debt.

Ms. McAllister also raised concerns about plans by NB Power to develop the Moltex reprocessing unit on the Point Lepreau site. She cited reports by US nuclear research institutes and a recent letter by US experts that raised concerns about the weapons proliferation risks of the project.

In a discussion of tritium emissions that ensued, both the CNSC and NB Power minimized the health impact of tritium in well water. A CNSC staff person said: “Tritium in the environment is not a concern to CNSC staff,” and NB Power claimed that the lifetime dose from tritium in well water would be less than the amount received by one chest x-ray.

During a presentation by The Brilliant Energy Institute at Ontario Tech University, the only university in Canada that offers an undergraduate program in nuclear engineering, that intervenor said that enrollment in the program had been dropping. CNSC president Velshi expressed concern at this situation. However, in their intervention, the University of New Brunswick’s Center for Nuclear Energy Research said that they are developing a new degree program in nuclear engineering and, given the significant interest in SMR development in New Brunswick, there is considerable interest in the new program.

The Commission will make a final decision on NB Power’s application by June 30, 2022.

Photo: The teams from the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group (Kim Reeder, Chief Hugh Akagi), Leap4wards (Dave Thompson), Council of Canadians Saint John (Ann McAlister), RAVEN (Susan O’Donnell), CRED-NB (Gail Wylie), and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA, Kerrie Blaise). Photo by Mary Milander.

Trust, safety and public engagement central to day two of nuclear licensing hearing for Lepreau nuclear plant

Gail Wylie (CRED-NB) and Kerrie Blaise (CELA) outside the hearing room in Saint John on May 11, 2022

This is the second in a series of blogs by CELA and CRED-NB live from the hearing room, as we share reflections and reactions from the nuclear licensing hearing. You can find our blog from Day 1 here.

SAINT JOHN, NB – Today marks the second day of the hearing for NB Power’s application for a 25-year renewal to its operating licence for the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy.  The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission heard from sixteen public intervenors, asking questions related to access to information, public engagement, environmental impact, and cyber security risks.

Industry groups and nuclear proponents have been vocal in calling for a 25-year licence, going so far as calling for ‘decoupling’ of public engagement from the licensing process, according to Canadian Nuclear Association President John Gorman. 

“The process to license a nuclear reactor is the primary opportunity for the public to challenge many of the claims by the proponent. How could public engagement be decoupled from that process? Public engagement without any meaningful outcome would be a meaningless waste of time,” said Susan O’Donnell, core representative of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB).

The need for frequent licensing hearings, which include a statutory public right to be heard, was at the crux of the oral submission by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and CRED-NB, who appeared before the Commission today and asked them to deny the 25-year licence request. 

CELA and CRED-NB explained that the events of the past 25 years – including the events of September 11 2001 and the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 – should demonstrate that our understanding of the dangers of nuclear power plants and the substantial risk they pose to human health, safety and the environment, is continuously evolving. CELA counsel, Kerrie Blaise, explained that while shorter licence terms and more regular licencing hearings do not remove this risk, “they do allow for the compulsory re-evaluation of these risks stemming from continued nuclear plant operations.” 

In response to comments by CNSC Staff made yesterday, that annual status reports, regulatory oversight reports, periodic safety reviews and environmental risk assessments are sufficient stand-ins for public hearings under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, CELA informed the Commission that all of these mechanisms are discretionary forms of public engagement, and that they often exclude the public from making oral interventions. 

The topic of cybersecurity was also raised in the afternoon session, with CNSC Staff sharing that a proposed regulation on cybersecurity threats to nuclear power plants would likely be published to the Canada Gazette in the Summer of 2022. Independent expert Dr. M.V. Ramana – who joined the hearing with CELA and CRED-NB – underscored that we are currently living through a cyber war in Ukraine and Russia, and that over the last decade we have seen cyber attacks on nuclear facilities in Japan, South Korea, and India. Dr. Ramana went on to note that “it is more a question of when, not if there will be an attack on a Canadian facility” and that “we should be much more guarded against the idea of a longer licence” for that reason.

CELA and CRED-NB concluded their intervention before the Commission, noting “a request for a 25 year licence is, quite simply, a blatant attempt to reduce community engagement and involvement” and that “shorter licences and more frequent hearings, which are responsive to the operations being undertaken by licensees, would better serve the public interest.” 

Tomorrow, the hearing will continue and you can tune in live online

CRED-NB supports Indigenous requests for a shorter licence for New Brunswick’s Lepreau nuclear plant

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development – New Brunswick (CRED-NB)

For immediate release – May 10, 2022

Today, two Indigenous organizations intervened in the hearing to renew the licence for the nuclear plant on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group and Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. both asked for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to recognize their rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group represents the Peskotomuhkati Nation whose traditional territory includes Point Lepreau where the nuclear reactor is sited. They asked the Commissioners to respect the ongoing development of nation-to-nation relations being undertaken by the government of Canada, and to enable their vital need to enact their law, therefore fulfilling their role as caretakers of their territory.

They also underline that the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station was established in their territory without consultation or consent of the Peskotomuhkati, contrary to the terms of the treaties of Peace and Friendship that cover New Brunswick.

The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group requested a 3-year licence period for the Lepreau reactor. Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. requested a 5-to-10-year licence period.

The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development (CRED-NB) is participating in the public hearings of the CNSC to review the request for a 25-year extension of the licence to operate the nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy.

We urge the CNSC to respect Indigenous rights and desires and grant a shorter licence period than the 25-year licence extension NB Power applied for.

The CNSC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources, whose mandate letter from the Prime Minister includes a clear direction to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to advance their rights.

CRED-NB and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) submitted a joint intervention that we will present to the Commissioners on May 11.  

Our recommendations against the requested licence period highlight significant concerns about reduced public participation, emergency zone designation below International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards, dated climate and environmental modelling, failure to consider imminent plans for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) on the Lepreau site, and inadequacy of Cyber security measures given the current threat environment.  

The CRED-NB/CELA intervention is available on the CRED-NB website, HERE.

The proceedings will be Live Streamed HERE.

CRED-NB is comprised of 10 public interest groups in the core coalition, supported by an additional 10 groups and businesses, and more than 100 individuals from across New Brunswick who have signed a public statement in support of CRED-NB’s core objectives.

Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick
PO Box 4561 • Rothesay, NB E2E 5X3