In 2006, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) initiated a proposal to store low and intermediate level nuclear waste in a deep geological repository (the ‘DGR’) in the municipality of Kincardine. The proposed repository would be located 680 meters below ground, within a mile of Lake Huron’s shoreline.
In 2012, then Minister of the Environment Peter Kent and CNSC President Michael Binder appointed a Joint Review Panel to oversee the Environmental Assessment. On May 6th, 2015 the Joint Review Panel released their Environmental Assessment Report on the proposed DGR in Kincardine.
The Panel’s report concluded that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures committed to by OPG.
On February 18th, 2016, current Minister of the Environment, Catherine McKenna rejected the panel’s conclusion and wrote to the proponent, OPG, to request additional information.*
The Minister’s Request
The Minister’s letter requests that OPG take the following three steps:
- Produce a study “that details the environmental effects of technically and economically feasible alternate locations for the project, with specific reference to actual locations the would meet OPG’s criteria for technical and economic feasibility.”
- Produce an updated analysis of the cumulative environmental effects of the project in light of the results from the Phase 1 Preliminary Assessments undertaken by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
- Produce an updated list of mitigation commitments for each identified adverse effect under CEAA 2012.
Significance of the Minister’s Decision
Minister McKenna’s rejection of the Panel report is important for at least two reasons:
i) it highlights the limitations of conducting EAs under CEAA 2012 and ii) it highlights the need for informed decision making.
Limitations in CEAA 2012
One way that CEAA 2012 differs from CEAA 1992 is by reducing the scope of environmental assessments. CEAA 1992 required decision makers to consider “the need for the project and alternatives to the project.” By comparison, CEAA 2012 only requires decision makers to consider “ alternative means of carrying out the designated project.”
This narrower requirement accounts for one gap in the current EA report. During the EA process OPG discussed ‘alternative means’ on the same site (e.g. above ground storage) and also noted that the proposed site was equivalent to a hypothetical repository in high-quality granite. However, despite broad public concern about the site’s proximity to Lake Huron, OPG did not examine a single alternative location. The Minister’s request that OPG study specific alternative locations shows a dissatisfaction with the current approach to EAs.
The Need for Informed Decision Making
By asking for more information about the project the Minister is setting an important precedent. Her request indicates that the current government wants all the information to be on the table before making a decision. Her request indicates that she considers the factual record produced by CNSC’s EA process to be inadequate.
Minister McKenna has set an important precedent by rejecting the Joint Review Panel’s report and requesting additional information. Her letter demonstrates a commitment to evidence based decision making and a frustration with the narrow scope and lack of process in the CNSC’s current approach to Environmental Assessments.
*This request was made pursuant to section 47(2) of CEAA which allows the Minister to “require the proponent of the designated project to collect any information or undertake any studies that, in the opinion of the Minister, are necessary for the Minister to make decisions.”
With research from Tristan Willis