Nuclear Emergency Plan? CELA Gives it a ‘D’

 Background

Ontario’s nuclear emergency plan is called the PNERP. Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. It is supposed to be reviewed & revised every four years. Its review was four years behind schedule when finally released last week.

(The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster – a disaster that is very much ongoing – began 6 years ago now, just as a reminder. March 11, 2011.)

Quick note: a tsunami is not required for a nuclear disaster to occur! (Feel free to take a look at these two lists of nuclear disasters over the decades (long list; short list). Not only is a tsunami not required, the Japanese accident is the only one of this long list that did involve a tsunami. Consult the Quotations section on this site to read a list of quotes about how/why this disaster did take place. Hint: It wasn’t about the tsunami & earthquake.)

 Nuclear Emergency Plan Now Out for Review

So, the Province (specifically, the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services & its Office of the Fire Marshal & Emergency Management, or OFMEM) has released a revised PNERP for review.

The public has until July 14th to offer comments. **** (Note: the comment period has been extended to July 28th, at midnight.)

Find the news release about it here.

& the EBR (Environmental Bill of Rights) posting here.

 NGO Lessons Learned

CELA (the Canadian Environmental Law Association) and Greenpeace have been learning about & working on the nuclear emergency planning scene for several years now.

The kind of emergency plan the Province creates, we now know, depends upon the kind of emergency for which it chooses to prepare.

So … if they prepare for a minor accident, they only make plans for a rather low-key response.

If the assumption is made that only a “small” release of radionuclides (i.e., radioactivity) will occur, then you don’t go into the detailed planning for evacuation centres, decontamination sites, what to do with children in schools and daycare centres (how to reunite families, that is to say) … or seniors in retirement and nursing homes … or the kind of widespread evacuation that would be required in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), for example, if a Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi-style accident (& major radioactivity release) were to take place at one of the 10 operating nuclear reactors at Pickering or Darlington (6 operating reactors at Pickering, 4 at Darlington).

It might be a bit like, as a parent, planning to take a First Aid course so you’ll be prepared to deal with emergencies that come up with your children. Off you go to class, where you learn that the instructors have decided to assume your child will only ever encounter a very minor accident. They teach you how to put a band-aid on a very small “boo boo” – & send you home, un-prepared to deal with the more serious emergencies you are all too likely to encounter along the way.

 An Accident Can’t Happen Here?

Well, we covered that. Nuclear accidents can occur anywhere. Major ones are occurring at the rate of about 1 every 10 years.

So … it does seem prudent to be prepared for whatever level of accident could potentially occur, wouldn’t you say?

 Btw, 86% Surveyed Want Plans for Serious Accident

In the lead-up to the 2015 Darlington relicensing hearing, DNA commissioned a survey of residents living near that plant (on Highway 401, just west of the town of Bowmanville, in the municipality of Clarington).

86% of those surveyed said they want to see detailed emergency plans for a serious, Fukushima Daiichi-level disaster.

DNA’s powerpoint presentation about the survey presented at that hearing can be reviewed.  DNA-supplem. (Our full written submission is here DNA)

 Learn More About Nuclear Emergency Plan Review

CELA, Greenpeace and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario held a joint media conference last week, a few days after the Province announced the release of the review.

And, presented at the news conference last week,  A Call for Public Safety endorsed by 40 public interest groups, “calling on the Wynne government to fill gaps and fix flaws in Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans that leave people vulnerable in the event of a nuclear accident on the Great Lakes” (from the news release).

 For the record

Several recent incidents have highlighted the need to be prepared for emergencies (of any kind) ahead of time.

A few months ago there was a major snowstorm in Quebec in which some motorists were stranded in their cars for as long as 12 hours. In the political aftermath of this storm, a deputy-minister was fired and a police staffer put on administrative leave. According to the news article, “’The premier had acknowledged on Wednesday that the province "lacked co-ordination" in its response.’” In other words, the left hand was not too sure what the right hand was doing.

More recently, & closer to home, there was flooding in the town of Bowmanville that led to some confusion and criticism flying among politicians there. (See article Orono May10.)

Bottom line?

Lack of preparation & coordination for emergency situations – ahead of time. Too many “fingers in the pie.” Things “falling between the cracks.”

Inadequate response to emergencies seems to be entirely too common.

 To Conclude?

Well. We know the nuclear industry is fully aware that a serious accident could occur at one of Ontario’s nuclear plants. An industry staff person explained to those attending the Durham Nuclear Health Committee meeting in January 2017 that on-site emergency drills are held at the nuke plants 5 times per year.

It seems almost as though the industry is keen to have its own staff prepared for a serious nuclear emergency – but that the “powers that be” are rather more cavalier about preparations for what occurs “off-site.” To you & me, I mean. The “general public.”

Emergency “exercises” take place – but the public is not involved in these, & continues to be quite ill-informed about what to expect if a nuclear disaster hits. (Several media items attest to this at the time of the big Darlington emergency “exercise” held in Spring 2014, for example this one from the Pickering paper “Pickering, Clarington residents not sure what to do in nuclear emergency.”)

** Note: a good quick assessment of the true usefulness of massive nuclear emergency "exercises" can be found in this item: Emergency exercises-UCS

 Parting Shot

Boxer Mike Tyson once observed, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” A serious nuclear accident is one heck of a punch in the face.

Ontarians need to be sure to pay attention to this nuclear emergency plan review.

Make use of the resources provided here, and weigh in. Speak up!

Deadline = July 28th, so you have time to study up on it all.

 

** more to come...