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 third of a series of four.
The third day of the Darlington relicensing hearing began with a detailed presentation by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) about shortcomings in emergency planning. CELA recommended that the Commission require wider distribution of KI pills, proper modelling of worst case accident scenarios, and more public input into the development of emergency plans.
KI (potassium iodide) pills are an important preventative measure in the event of a nuclear emergency. In an emergency, taking the pills would provide residents with a large dose of iodine that would prevent radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid gland, where it can lead to cancer. Learn about KI pills.
There was a strange moment after CELA’s presentation when President Binder asked both CELA and the Province to comment on whether the Commission’s responsibility went ‘outside the fence.’ In other words, he was asking whether the Commission had a responsibility when it came to off site emergency planning. Both the Province and CELA assured them that they do.
Later in the day, Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA) presented the results of an independent poll that they commissioned. The poll showed that 86% of Durham residents thought that emergency planning was important. It also revealed a lack of awareness among residents about the location of emergency shelters, evacuation plans or even the meaning of emergency sirens.
Despite the importance the public places on emergency planning, and the expertise of groups like CELA and DNA, we heard today that in Ontario there has been no public consultation about nuclear emergency planning since Fukushima. The Province is in the process of developing a new plan. Representatives from the Office of the Fire Marshal informed the Commission that the Province has worked with OPG, the City of Toronto, Bruce Power and other “stakeholders” to develop this plan. When asked by the Commission why they haven’t included the public in this process the explanation was that they had not yet reached a point where public consultation would be “appropriate.”
It appeared to me as though there was a major difference of opinion between CELA and the Province when it came to the role public consultation plays in emergency planning. CELA saw the public’s role as central to identifying both acceptable levels of risk and weaknesses in the existing framework. The Province appeared to see public input as playing a minor role, one that will take place after all the major decisions have been made.
During their presentation CELA told the Commission that OPG has yet to release their most recent evacuation report, which will predict the time needed to evacuate the area surrounding the plant in case of an emergency. This report seems highly relevant from an emergency planning point of view, but neither the Commission nor public will have access to it until after the hearing. It reminded me of a similar problem I observed yesterday. One intervenor, Dr. Nijhawan, raised some highly technical safety concerns about the design of Darlington’s reactors. OPG stated that CANDU Owners Group (an NGO, with strong links to the industry) would address these concerns in a study that should be published within the next couple months. This was yet another example of highly relevant information that would not be available until after the hearing.
The Commission expressed disappointment that neither the CANDU Owners Group study nor OPG’s evacuation report were available in time for the hearing, but seemed to view this as a venial omission. I found this surprising, particularly because these were not isolated incidents. Over the past couple days I have heard a number intervenors express frustration about not having access to all the information they needed to prepare their submission. If relevant information isn’t available, doesn’t this undermine the public’s ability to assess whether the claims made by OPG or the CNSC staff are accurate? Or whether the project itself is safe?
I think that the Commission should be far more concerned about these informational barriers than they appear to be. Otherwise the role of the public input during relicensing hearings will start looking like it does in Ontario’s nuclear emergency planning: an afterthought.