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Nuclear Safety Commission investigating alleged dangers in unsigned letter

Anonymous specialists claim safety info withheld


(Canadian OH&S News) — An anonymous letter alleging safety concerns in Canada’s nuclear-energy sector has sparked an investigation by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The letter charged that the Commission and other authorities cannot make informed licencing decisions due to withheld information.

The recent letter, purportedly from “a group of specialists at the CNSC,” was addressed to Commission president Michael Binder; copies were also sent to two CNSC commissioners, as well as Greenpeace Canada senior energy analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil and Canadian Environmental Law Association executive director Theresa McClenaghan.

“We are writing anonymously because our opinions will not be well received by management at the CNSC and we are not confident in whistleblower protection,” read the letter, the text of which is available in online reports.

The group offered five cases in which important information about risk or noncompliance had been overlooked or withheld. For example, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) granted a one-year licence for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station (DNGS), east of Toronto, in 2014 on the condition that the former would update the risk assessment on the station’s refurbishment; the following year, DNGS received a long-term licence even though not all the components of the assessment had been submitted.

In addition, CNSC staff did not inform commissioners that required safety assessments at the Bruce Power plant on Lake Huron had not been completed on time at a licencing hearing, nor that technical experts from Natural Resources Canada had found that OPG had underestimated the seismic hazard at DNGS by a factor of two. And an evaluation of DNGS’ evacuation procedures in the event of a Fukushima-sized crisis has not been provided to CNSC commissioners or to the public.

“CNSC commissioners do not receive sufficient information to make balanced judgements,” the authors stated. “Because insufficient information is made available, other branches of government cannot make informed decisions… Finally, knowledgeable and interested members of the public cannot be involved in the licencing process unless all non-confidential information is released.”

The authors also provided nine suggestions to deal with these issues, involving additional safety reviews and assessments by the CNSC, OPG and plant operators.

In an e-mailed response to COHSN, the CNSC said that it had begun an “analysis” of the letter’s concerns and that senior management would review and discuss the results.

“The CNSC diligently looks into and follows up on any concerns, signed or unsigned, raised by staff, as well as licensees, stakeholders or members of the public in various ways,” the Commission said. “The CNSC… fosters a working environment that encourages staff to communicate their best professional judgements. This sometimes results in differences of professional opinion.”

The CNSC also called it “unfortunate” that the letter authors had chosen to remain anonymous and “did not take advantage of the many mechanisms available to express their concerns.”

On July 19, Ontario NDP Energy, Environment and Climate Change Critic Peter Tabuns issued a press statement demanding that Premier Kathleen Wynne conduct an independent review of the allegations.

“This review should be completed by experts with no connection to Ontario’s nuclear industry,” said Tabuns. “These are major concerns which cannot be ignored. When it comes to Ontario’s nuclear reactors, we can never be too careful.”

“The CNSC’s mandate is to regulate the nuclear sector in order to prevent unreasonable risk to people,” the CNSC stated. “It always takes this responsibility most seriously.”