The Darlington Hearings

The December 3-6, 2012 CNSC hearings on the future of the Darlington nuclear station provided an occasion to assess the major issues concerning the nuclear power industry in Ontario.

The public hearings held by the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) were on three applications by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) all mashed together:
-Environmental Assessment on the Proposed Refurbishment of all four Reactors
-Application for renewal of the licences for the Darlington Waste Management Facility
-Renewal of the Nuclear Power Reactor Operating Licence until Refurbishment starts

As a long time nuclear type, I found this material of great interest in terms of the current health and status of the nuclear industry also as a showcase of both on-going issues and the emergence of new ones.

Among others, major issues that came up were evacuation, monitoring, nuclear safety assessment, software integrity, fish destruction, project costs and energy alternatives to Darlington. I intend to discuss these issues and others in separate posts. Novel (at least new to me) arguments were also made in some areas.

There is a very large amount of information and data available on the matters discussed some on the CNSC website, some on OPG websites and some elsewhere. The written submissions for these particular hearings can be obtained directly from the CNSC. I requested and received from the CNSC a complete set of the written submissions for which I’m grateful. Video of the sessions is on the CNSC site. The videos can be found at
http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/commission/webcasts/2012/december-3-4-5-6-2012-commission-public-hearing.cfm

There was lots of repetition in the way particular topics were covered. Some raised issues already covered previously by others prompting questions from the commission such as “Were you here this morning when this was discussed at length?” Invariably the answers were negative and a rehash of past discussions was the result. I thought this would be tedious and irritating but it turned out to be interesting since the repeat answers given by OPG and Commission often varied somewhat from those first put forth. My observation was that CNSC and OPG staff were not often capable of making explanations that the public could understand.

Availability is not the same as accessibility and many of the groups and individuals appearing before the Commission complained that they couldn’t find the information they needed. Answers varied from the unhelpful type “it’s on the shelf above the toilet in the powder room” to “we’ll send you the link”. It is clear that there should be some sort of master index available to the public to facilitate participation in CNSC processes. This needs to be corrected.

At the beginning of this series I should declare that my own bias is that the Darlington refurbishment is important to the survival of Canada’s nuclear industry. There has to be a meaningful level of nuclear activity to preserve individual skills and industrial capability until new reactors are built. The latter may be a long time in the future and Darlington refurbishment should last for at least ten years and so to some extent bridge the gap. Without it there is a real danger the capability we now have will dissipate and the nuclear option will close for Canada.

I’m also willing to admit that as green technology evolves and the experiences of countries such as Germany now trying to get out of nuclear are tallied it may turn out that the nuclear option is not as necessary as it is now. Until that time, perhaps a decade or two from now, I would strongly argue that we need to keep it.

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