Two hundred people will gather at Hope Fellowship Church in Southern Ontario next week to discuss how to rebuild Lake Ontario's largest nuclear power plant. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is holding a three-day hearing to assess the impacts of the plant before issuing an operating licence. CNSC staff, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) staff, and some 93 intervenors will make presentations on December 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Here's what you need to know about the Darlington nuclear refurbishment:
1. Federal regulators are reviewing how the nuclear plant will be rebuilt, but no regulator has ever reviewed if Darlington should be rebuilt.
The licencing hearing puts the proverbial cart before the horse. It's not clear that Ontario should include nuclear power in its future energy strategy. Energy demand is plummeting in Ontario, reports the National Post. There are more affordable, flexible alternatives to nuclear power, energy experts tell the Toronto Star. Energy imports could eliminate Ontario's reliance on nuclear energy, Conservative Opposition Leader Tim Hudak told Windsor-area residents just last week.
"There is no evidence that refurbishing Darlington nuclear is the right choice for Ontario," says Waterkeeper Mark Mattson. "Unfortunately, no one is willing to talk about whether Ontarians really need this project. So on Monday, it is Waterkeeper's job to show up and remind people that the Darlington nuclear plant kills fish. It wastes water. And it doesn't have to be this way."
2. Rebuilding Darlington costs money. Between $6 and $10-billion.
The Ontario Minister of Energy estimates the cost to refurbish the Darlington nuclear plant will be between $6-10 billion. There is no plan to deal with cost overruns, because OPG is "confident" they will not occur. Financial services company Standard and Poor disagrees. S&P revised its outlook on OPG to "negative" this weak, citing amongst other factors the risk of cost overruns at Darlington.
3. Darlington nuclear power plant kills fish. Lots of them.
Internationally-recognized authorities on nuclear power plants agree that the out-dated technology included in the rebuild design is the most environmentally destructive technology on the market. Its impacts include:
- killing endangered fish
- threatening the reproductive efforts of other vulnerable species
- killing increasingly large numbers of the forage fish that sustain Lake Ontario's complex food web
- futher destroying nearshore habitat in an area that's already severely stressed and polluted
4. Darlington nuclear wastes water. Lots of it.
The Darlington nuclear power plant sucks in enormous amounts of water, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, the plant sucks up enough water to drain an Olypmic-sized swimming pool in 15 seconds. The water flows through the plant once and is then dumped, at a higher temperature, back out into Lake Ontario.
5. The federal government agrees that it is possible to save fish and water. They just don't believe it is important enough.
CNSC and Department of Fisheries and Oceans say they agree that using newer, readily-available cooling water technology to "close the loop" of water flowing in and out of the plant would save fish and save water. They just don't think it is important now and, if it ever becomes important in the future, they will "adapt" then.
6. The "hearing" isn't as formal as it sounds.
If you haven't been to a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing, it sounds like a really big deal. We put on our suits. We sit quietly in our seats. We learn to address the chair and spell our names "for the record." Translators repeat our every word in both official languages, broadcast through wireless ear-pieces. Strip away the physical appearance of the hearing, though, and it's a pretty informal affair. Each presenter only gets to speak for 10-minutes. When you consider that just one organization like Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has 11-months worth of research to cover, prepared by four government-funded independent consultants, it is literally impossible to present even a summary of our most important findings to the Commission. Nothing we say is under oath, and no one who speaks needs to have any training or experience on the topic they cover, so the information the Commission does hear is often littered with spin, platitudes, and political talking points.
7. We can do better!
Decision-making isn't rocket science. The standards for when and how to make decisions are fairly well established. (Hint: Actually making a decision is usually an important first step.) If we take our time, do our research, listen to the public, listen to independent experts, and commit to doing a good job, we can save money, save water, save fish, and save time.