Intervenors at the Darlington Hearings

As one would expect the quality of the submissions and presentations was mixed. I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of some of the intervenors against the project. On both sides, pro and con, there was a wide variety in the presentations and those giving them: a professional actor and a radio producer, an MP and an MPP, a former Ontario Minister of Energy, feather waving first nations types, academics from at least six universities, and computer experts gave performances with and without props , slide shows some with high quality graphics and above all impassioned speeches.
I thought a few interventions were very entertaining but many more were pure drudgery to listen to. Fortunately I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have had the patience or the cast iron derriere needed to sit through it all. However, I did wade through all the written stuff and watched all the videos.
Certainly, many of the anti-project interventions were merely pleas to stop it professing no doubt sincere concerns for children and grandchildren. If I had been present my reaction would have been that children are a big part of the world’s environmental problems. There are too many of them and the best thing those presenters could do for the environment would be to stop having them. But that just shows my political incorrectness.
Even the generalized anti-nuclear presentations were for the most part were delivered with passion and sincerity. They shouldn’t be ignored. We scientists and engineers tend to discount emotion but humans often make decisions on that basis. It’s like trying to convince someone to love you. No amount of rational argument will work when the other person simply doesn’t like you. It’s an emotional issue as is nuclear power. There is no exaggeration in saying that a significant segment of Canadians, perhaps a quarter to a third, regard the nuclear industry with fear and loathing. At the very least these presentations serve to remind us of this unpleasant truth.
I don’t want to trivialize the arguments against Darlington refurbishment. Some were well researched, argued and presented points that deserve serious attention. I’ll get to the topics raised in subsequent posts in this series.
Relevance was another matter. For example, many strongly preferred green energy sources to nuclear power. This was one reason why some urged a full Panel environmental assessment (EA) rather the Screening EA being done here. Their idea was that a Panel review could be empowered to look at alternatives, that is could we do something other than the Darlington refurbishment that would have less effect on the environment? However, changes to EA regulations in a recent federal act essentially would kick the Panel review back to CNSC and so accomplish nothing especially since the Commission has no mandate or ability to look at anything other than nuclear technology. Decisions on electricity generation are a matter for the provinces, Ontario in this case, and not of the federal government represented by CNSC.
However, revision of the Nuclear Liability Act of 1985 to include a higher payout limit is a federal mandate. The Act has many legal advantages such as shifting absolute liability to the nuclear operator and lets suppliers and contractors off the hook. The present liability limit of $75 million is low but bills (at least four of them) to raise the limit to $650 million (latest bill) have been allowed to lapse without a vote in Parliament. Apparently the higher limit is derived more from the carrying capacity of the domestic insurance market than from any realistic assessment of potential damages. Much was made of this by intervenors but no one argues that $650 million would be even close to the cost of recovery from a catastrophic nuclear accident. All a revised Act would do is to make OPG and other nuclear operators pay higher premiums for the higher coverage which is probably why it hasn’t passed. In my opinion the Act makes no difference one way or the other to the nuclear discussion and thus, is not relevant.

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