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Allegations that nuclear risk information was withheld from Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

whistleblowerflag-canadaLetter claims info on nuclear risks withheld from safety commissioners GLORIA GALLOWAY OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail, Jul. 18, 2016  The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is investigating allegations contained in an anonymous letter claiming to be written by specialists at the nuclear regulator that says information has been withheld from commissioners while making critical decisions about the licensing of this country’s nuclear plants.

The letter, which was sent several weeks ago to CNSC president Michael Binder, points to five separate cases in which the commission’s staff sat on relevant material about risk or non-compliance that might have called the safety of a plant into question.

The letter says hazards have been underestimated, plant operators have been permitted to skip requirements of the licensing regime and assessments outlining what could happen in the event of a major-scale nuclear disaster – such as the one that occurred in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 – have been withheld from the commissioners and the public…….

The letter was also sent to representatives of two environmental groups, as well as to a current and former CNSC commissioner.

Although it is impossible to verify that the letter was written by CNSC specialists, environmentalists who received copies of the document say the level of detail, the manner of speaking and the amount of complexity suggest it was written by someone with inside knowledge. And, they say, the problems are symptomatic of a culture at the commission in which employees are expected to act as boosters of the nuclear industry rather than watchdogs of nuclear safety.

The letter writers, who say they are remaining anonymous because they are not confident of whistle-blower protection, are asking Dr. Binder to assign an independent expert to review the accuracy of their claims. They make eight additional recommendations for improving the licensing regime, many of them relating to specific issues at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station on Lake Ontario, just east of Toronto, and at the Bruce plant on Lake Huron.

“Our primary concern is that CNSC commissioners do not receive sufficient information to make balanced judgments,” the letter says. And “because insufficient information is made available, other branches of government cannot make informed decisions. For example, the government of Ontario cannot make a good decision about financing the refurbishment of Darlington without knowing all the facts.”

Dr. Binder was appointed by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper after it fired then-CNSC president Linda Keen when she balked at skirting safety rules. Ms. Keen now serves as a corporate director for various organizations and does consulting work.

“We’ve seen the CNSC become a cheerleader for the nuclear industry since the Harper government fired former CNSC president Linda Keen,” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace Canada who was one of the two environmentalists to receive a copy of the letter. “The Trudeau government needs to restore the independence of Canada’s nuclear regulator,” he said.

The letter writers refer to a number of cases in which, they say, the commissioners have made decisions without knowing all of the facts…….

Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, who was the other environmentalist sent a copy of the letter, said actions of this sort – in which whistle-blowers make such specific allegations – are both rare and surprising. But, she said, she has no doubt it was written by someone inside the CNSC.

“We are often very concerned that commissioners are not getting the full story from the proponents or the regulatory staff,” Ms. McClenaghan said. “In the hearings, we really do see a frustrating amount of apologetics for the industry going on by staff.”

Mr. Stensil, of Greenpeace, said the most serious issue raised in the letter is the allegation suggesting that CNSC staff knows about additional risks being posed by reactors, but is ignoring them. That is what happened at Fukushima, he said.

“That’s not a nuts-and-bolts or an engineering issue,” Mr. Stensil said. “That’s a safety culture issue.”


July 20, 2016 - Posted by | Canada, safety

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