Darlington: CNSC Independence?

Several intervenors at the Darlington hearings expressed views that the CNSC was biased toward the nuclear industry. On the few occasions when he elected to acknowledge these claims the President, Michael Binder, countered by harrumphing “prove it”. With all the cards stacked in its favour I feel the onus should be on the CNSC to prove its independence rather than the other way round since its credibility is its most precious possession.
Any regulatory system always faces the difficult problem of the close relationship of the regulated and the regulators. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome comes into play which some called “regulatory capture” (There was a guy from Greenpeace who seemed so much a part of the current and past proceedings that he may be evidence of “intervenor capture” ) This perception is compounded by the federal government’s cost recovery program whereby OPG pays CNSC to be regulated. It seems that about 70% of the CNSC budget is obtained from the regulated. Similarly the location of many CNSC staff at OPG sites including Darlington increases the perception of a too close relationship. It was admitted that there was no personnel rotation system to prevent CNSC staff from being “captured” by OPG. Some of the high paying jobs at Darlington referred to by boosters are in fact CNSC jobs.
Speaking of jobs the CNSC now seems to have a staff numbering about 850; this is double the 1999 staffing level of 425. It’s difficult to see how the CNSC can justify doubling its staff in a decade of declining nuclear activity or is it just a symptom of empire building?
Even the format of the hearings leads to an impression of bias. The CNSC members sit at a long table as a tribunal with the applicants, in this case OPG, on one side before them with Commission staff on the other. Those who come to give their views to the Commission, the intervenors, are placed in a position between OPG and CNSC staff. It’s almost as if the intervenor is the “accused” in a trial. Several intervenors admitted to being nervous and feeling intimidated by this arrangement. On the plus side, there was often applause from the audience in support of their presentations.
The nature of the hearings is such that CNSC staff and OPG almost always tag teamed to reply to the comments of the intervenors because both sides have agreed on the issues raised in various documents negotiated beforehand. Similarly, what can be discussed and what can’t be (i.e. the scope of the hearings) was predetermined by OPG and the CNSC and often as Inspector Clouseau would say “the old beyond the scope ploy” was used to prevent certain subjects being raised. It was no wonder that Intervenors got the feeling they were being ganged up on by Commission staff taking the side of OPG.
At one point an intervenor directly challenged the CNSC’s distribution of literature promoting the nuclear industry. The President claimed that section 9b of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act of 1997 permitted the CNSC to do so. It’s worth quoting the section:
“[an object of the CNSC is] to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public concerning the activities of the Commission and the effects, on the environment and on the health and safety of persons..”The crux of argument is not whether the CNSC can legally disseminate information but rather whether the promotional material is “objective” and “scientific”. No useful discussion of this point took place because the President simply deflected the issue via a legalistic argument based on 9b.
Another independence issue raised was that according to the biographies on the CNSC website it appears one Commissioner worked for OPG as recently as 2011. The perception of a potential conflict of interest was possible and in fact this was raised by at least two intervenors. Once again this was sidestepped by the President. While I’m not impugning the integrity of this particular individual, I would say that the “optics” was poor and in my opinion recusal would have been more appropriate for an OPG application.
Speaking of optics perhaps the CNSC should report to Parliament through the Minister of the Environment rather than the present arrangement of via the Minister of Natural Resources. That might help position the Commission as more independent in some minds particularly when under new legislation it can conduct full Environmental Assessments.
The cynical might say that the current President might be more disturbed by accusations of being perfectly objective rather than of being biased. The fate of his predecessor, Linda Keen, who apparently was too objective for the government, must always be on his mind. My impression is that the present incumbent doesn’t realize the Commission’s serious credibility problem and it’s a pity he doesn’t seem willing to do obvious things to fix it.

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