If you were following the Paris Climate Change Conference, you will know that the world’s climate has reached a critical moment in history. The stakes have never been higher, and we are in the position to make some significant and meaningful changes. In particular, there is the irrefutable need to move away from coal as a source of power. You might have noticed that nuclear power has, in the wake of the international conference, often been mentioned in the same breath as wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. In Ontario, the nuclear industry has capitalized on this media attention by touting its virtues; placing itself at the heart of the “clean, green energy” discussion.
Now that’s not to say that nuclear power isn’t a realistic, viable option. But when you’re making a decision that affects millions of people and has potentially irreversible effects on the environment, you need more than a catchy PR slogan. You need all the facts out in the open; you need a complete and transparent assessment process.
This places the EA in the unique position; it limits the scope of the entire discussion. An EA based on limited information, means a licensing decision based on limited information. On December 2nd, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Greenpeace Canada, Northwatch and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (“the Appellants”) brought their concerns about Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s (DNGS) environmental assessment process to the Federal Court of Appeal.
Environmental assessments are important because they are, in of themselves, a public process, without which, a major CNSC operating license cannot be granted. This hearing revolved around two specific concerns not adequately considered by the environmental assessment for DNGS: the assessment of potential accidents, and contingency planning for on-site radioactive waste.
If you read our earlier post, you might recall that a freedom of information request by Greenpeace revealed that the CNSC censored a severe accident study on the grounds that it would be “used malevolent-ly [sic] in a public hearing.” The complete (i.e. uncensored) study still hasn’t been released.
During the hearing, OPG argued that the Court should show deference to the CNSC’s decision to exclude such information from the environmental assessment. OPG highlighted the fact that the CNSC has been set up as an expert, independent decision making body. And this, to a certain extent, is valid. The CNSC is required to make many technical decisions in respect of compliance and licensing. This expertise has been recognized and acknowledged by Courts.
But does making a decision about what information to disclose to the public fit within this specific expertise? The CNSC has no more expertise than any Court in deciding what is fit for public disclosure throughout these processes. As a result, while deference is owed in other circumstances, here the Courts need to recognize their responsibility to ensure a fair and open process.
In the coming decade we will have to make important choices about how to keep the lights on without destroying the planet. We should make these choices with all the information on the table. Information like accident assessments and how nuclear waste will be stored safely. But unless the Court tells the CNSC to start making the nuclear industry share this type of information, the public will be kept in the dark.
Stay tuned as we await the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision on this matter.