During the Day 2 Darlington nuclear relicensing hearing, Tristan Willis and Hannah Gladstone will post daily updates providing a look inside a CSNC hearing. This is the second of a series of four.
The second day of the Darlington relicensing hearing began at 8:30 Tuesday morning, with a presentation by Shawn-Patrick Stensil on behalf of Greenpeace. Before getting into the meat of his presentation, Mr. Stensil had a message for the Commission: if there was ever a time to question your own process, or the adequacy of the evidence before you, it is now. During his 10 minute presentation he focused on the inadequacy of the CNSC’s emergency disaster modelling and the CNSC staff’s ‘culture of secrecy.’
Greenpeace’s presentation was followed by a lengthy exchange between the CNSC staff, the Commission and Mr. Stensil. The exchange illustrated one of the fundamental problems with the hearing process - the lack of cross examination.
Currently, the hearing functions like this: there is a large room with 4 groups of people in it: the Commission members, the CNSC staff, OPG staff and intervenors/members of the public. After an intervenor presents, the Commission members have discretion to pose questions to the intervenor, OPG or the CNSC staff.
One problem with the current process is that it is difficult to obtain direct answers. Often, when the Commission refer a question to the CNSC staff or OPG, five or six representatives will take a shot at answering the question (or they will comment on different aspects of the question). Intervenors do not have the power to jump in or interject without permission from the Commission, so OPG and the CNSC staff can introduce large amounts of information into the record without being directly challenged.
For example, Mr. Stensil expressed concern about comments in an email (received through freedom of information request) sent by CNSC director, Francois Rinfret, after reviewing an initial draft the CNSC’s severe accident study. In the email, Mr. Rinfret wrote:
“I have taken a quick look at the draft submitted; indeed, this will become a focal point of any licence renewal, and despite brilliant attempts to caution readers, this document would be used malevolent-ly [sic] in a public hearing. It’s a no-win proposition whatever whatever (sic) we think the Commission requested.”
When questioned by the Commission about the tone in this communication the CNSC staff suggested that Mr. Stensil had used the statement in a misleading manner. Mr. Rinfret himself went on to state that his aim in the email “was all about giving sufficient information so the public could put the work in context.” It would have been helpful if Mr. Stensil was able to challenge Mr. Rinfret to explain what he meant by this. Perhaps Mr. Rinfret would have had a good explanation, perhaps he wouldn’t have. The problem is – there was no opportunity for this to happen. By the time Mr. Stensil was given a chance to speak, several CNSC staff members had already commented on various aspects of the severe accident study. The moment had passed and Mr. Stensil had several other points to follow up on.
Later in the day, the Commission heard from Dr. Nijhawan, who previously worked for OPG and helped write some of the code used to model how the Darlington reactors function. Dr. Nijhawan has serious concerns about the design of the CANDU reactors that OPG plans to continue using. He is worried about the CNSC staff’s neutrality and willingness to examine his concerns with an open mind. In his submission, Dr. Nijhawan noted that the Commission “must rely upon the staff's honesty and expertise because they are not experts and only have a partial understanding of the technical issues.” After the presentation, debate between Dr. Nijhawan and the CNSC staff prompted President Binder to echo this observation when he noted “there is a disagreement between the smart engineers, and not being a smart engineer I don’t know what side to take.”
President Binder’s comment highlighted the inability of the current process to resolve disagreements or test conflicting points of view. Listening to the exchanges that took place today I was left with a sense that for many of the issues covered the takeaway, unless you are an expert, will ultimately depend on who you trust. Since the Commission members are admittedly not experts on some of the topics covered, this seems worrying to me. The Commission works with CNSC staff on a daily basis, but might only see intervenors once every few years. It seems reasonable to assume that the Commissioners will be more apt to place their trust with the CNSC staff. And yet one of the recurring themes in many of the interventions has been: the CNSC staff are not transparent and shouldn’t be trusted.