Just before Christmas (2017), the Province of Ontario released its long-awaited, very overdue update of the PNERP – Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan. (The Fukushima disaster began nearly 7 years ago now – March 11, 2011 – & the PNERP, which is supposed to be updated every 4 years, had not been updated since 2009. So it was about 4 years overdue when it finally came out.)
The announcement was made without fanfare on December 21, 2017 – when all was growing quiet on the government/bureaucratic/personal front for most people – right before the long Christmas break. No media coverage … by design, perhaps?
The announcement is here & within that item, you can click on a link to download the updated PNERP.
Or find it here.
There was a Toronto Star article published on December 28th. ‘Ontario’s long-awaited new nuclear emergency plan falls short, Greenpeace says’ “While other countries have strengthened public safety since Fukushima, it’s taken the Ontario government six years to maintain the status quo,” said Stensil."
N.B. A very recent article here, also: Are Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans dead in the water? (Feb. 5/18)
Nuke Emergency Planning in Ontario: who (REALLY) runs the show?
Technically, it’s the responsibility of the Office of the Fire Marshal & Emergency Management (OFMEM) within the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services.
Technically, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is only responsible for nuclear emergencies out to the fence line of the plants they run at Pickering & Darlington – in Durham Region, just east of Toronto. (Pickering is right in Toronto’s backyard, pretty much … just over the back fence, you might say, really, while the Darlington plant is only another 30 K down the lake (& highway). A hop, skip and a jump are we in the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA, from 2 gigantic nuclear facilities (6 reactors operating at Pickering, 4 at Darlington). Yes, it’s pretty sobering – but shoot – only if you’re paying attention of course...)
However, anyone who follows nukes in Ontario knows who really runs the show. OPG does. If you take a look at this old item (a presentation made to the Durham Regional Council in June 2014), one thing you’ll observe (on pg. 3) is how very many agencies, both provincial & federal (& regional & municipal as well, in fact) are “at the table” when nuclear emergency plans are made.
Fact is, OPG dominates the whole show.
DNA attended one of these meetings, back in November 2013. Who was around that very big table? A lot of very quiet bureaucrats, with OPG & CNSC sitting like head honchos at the head table. Minutes of the meeting (& all of these NEMCC – Nuclear Emergency Management Coordinating Committee – meetings) can only be obtained through time-consuming Freedom of Information requests.
So it’s all quite a bit less than transparent, shall we just politely say, & gives every appearance of having the provincial government agency (theoretically) in charge of emergency planning in actual fact entirely subservient to OPG.
But listen. I’m making this all sound like a dysfunctional family, with a lot of “He said, she said,” and me sounding all sour grapes. (I do see what I see, mind you, & know what I know.)
However, one need not really “buy into” my take on this.
You can deduce for yourself whether or we are properly prepared for a serious nuclear emergency here in the GTA … or, for that matter, up near the Bruce Nuclear plant on Lake Huron.
Nuts and Bolts
The Province’s “discussion paper” is here. It was released in mid-May 2017, & people were able to provide comments on it until July. My understanding is that around 1500 responses to the plan were sent in to the provincial government.
CELA – the Canadian Environmental Law Association – widely recognized for deep & wide expertise on all matters nuclear emergency in Canada, gave the proposed plan a ‘D.” You can see the CELA report card here.
40+ civil society groups endorsed a Call for Public Safety.
Take a look at that here.
Motions calling for better emergency planning were passed last year by municipal/regional Councils in
- Durham Region
- Essex County
With plenty of attendant media coverage – most of it listed here.
So … Then What Happened?
Well. We all waited. & waited. (We’ve all gotten pretty good at waiting, by now, hmmm?)
And then there was a nuclear emergency “exercise” out in Pickering on December 6 & 7.
And the very day the “exercise” began, Ontario’s Auditor General released a report indicating that Ontario’s nuclear emergency planning is seriously deficient.
“Neither Ontario’s emergency preparedness nor its nuclear response plans has been updated in almost a decade and budget cuts have trimmed staff and programs at its emergency management office, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, the province’s spending watchdog, reported.
And there aren’t enough people trained to staff Ontario’s emergency centre for a crisis longer than two weeks, a cabinet committee overseeing emergency management hasn’t met in years and few ministry-level practice tests in the last five years involved simulations.
The weakness in Ontario’s emergency planning and oversight make the province “vulnerable if a large-scale emergency were to occur,” the report said.
“It is essential in a province the size of Ontario that the government be ready to act in the event of an emergency,” Lysyk said in a statement.” London Free Press, December 7/17.
& then, on December 21st, the Province quietly released the revised PNERP.
Greenpeace’s reaction? Here.
TVO Show on Nuclear Emergency Planning
This took place last week. A four-person panel with two pro-nukers (basically) & CELA & Greenpeace spokespersons Theresa McClenaghan & Shawn-Patrick Stensil.
You can watch it for yourself here.
Nobody explained why OPG was on the panel, when their responsibilities (theoretically) only extend out to the fence line at their nuclear plants.
(See what I mean?)
Or why the Province – i.e., the Office of the Fire Marshal & Emergency Management (OFMEM) within the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services – was not on the panel. I’m still scratching my head about that. (One possibility is that OFMEM knows perfectly well they can’t really defend their wishy-washy, about-as-good-as-wet-tissue-paper emergency plans. Especially up against McClenaghan & Stensil, who understand the issue inside out, upside down & backwards. Better than the politicians or the bureaucrats. So many people know this.)
Couple key points brought out by the latter two:
- Other countries have upped their game, nuclear emergency planning-wise, in the post-Fukushima period, for example, in Switzerland (“The tablets are distributed as a precaution to all households, schools, companies etc. within a circumference of 50 km from Swiss nuclear power plants) & Belgium, also expanding the radius for KI pre-distribution there). Ontario? No beefing up of plans, no wider pre-distribution of KI (potassium iodide) pills. Vague commitments to "scale up" their plans for evacuations, say, if a really bad accident happens. Really???
- As Ms. McClenaghan pointed out, we might all ask ourselves (& our governments) what the deal is with regional & provincial governments increasing population density around Durham Region’s 2 gigantic nuke plants (i.e., in the communities of Pickering and Clarington) – when the nuclear industry’s leading rule-maker (the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency) says this is a non-starter? ** Find the IAEA’s guidelines about population here
- & also – that nonsense about how it’s evacuation that causes deaths after a nuclear accident? The reason those deaths occurred was precisely because of poor emergency planning ahead of time! To quote a colleague, “You could say they weren’t pre-prepared, and they’re now using the results to prepare less. Quite the slippery slope!”
It's a slippery slope, alright....
Speaking of Evacuation…
Though the government doesn’t seem to like to…
Some recent items on the subject of evacuation – which one needs to know a bit about, given the possibility (& necessity) of evacuation after a major nuclear accident.
Dr. Ian Fairlie (radiation biologist) released a report just a week ago (January 27/18), about the ins & outs of evacuation.
“This article discusses three related matters –
- The experience of evacuations during the Fukushima nuclear disaster
- Whether lengthy evacuations from large cities are feasible?
- Some emergency plans for evacuations in North America”
“And how long would evacuations need to continue….weeks, months, years, or decades? The time length of evacuations is usually avoided in the evacuation plans seen so far. In reality, the answer would depend on Cs-137 concentrations in surface soils. The time period could be decades, as the half-life of the principal radionuclide, Cs-137, is 30 years. This raises the possibility of large cities becoming uninhabited ‘ghost’ towns like Tomioka, Okuma, Namie, Futaba, etc in Japan and Pripyat in Ukraine.
This bleak reality is hard to accept or even comprehend. However, it is a matter that some Governments need to address after Fukushima.
Wheatley et al (2017) comprehensively examined the historical records of 216 nuclear accidents, mishaps and near-misses since the mid-1950s. They predicted the future frequencies and severities of nuclear accidents and concluded both were “unacceptably high”. Wheatley et al (2016) also concluded that the relative frequency with which nuclear events cascaded into nuclear disasters remained large enough that, when multiplied by their severity, the aggregate risk to society was “very high”. It is unsurprising that, after Fukushima, several major European states including Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase-out their nuclear reactors.”
Another item I ran across recently, regarding evacuation:
MIT No-Evacuations Study Debunked (you really have to watch this, believe me!)
My take is this: What our governments are up to (as they listen over-much to the nuclear "authorities")
.... is letting the nuke plants keep running, even in the face of a multiplicity of overarching reasons why they should be shut down … pretending they actually have nuclear emergency plans worthy of the name … & simply raising the amount of radioactivity to which it is “acceptable” to be exposed (“acceptable:” a favourite weasel word in the industry; along with “robust,” of course) – & letting us all rot in our houses, sucking up the fallout, should a serious accident occur.
I only wish I were making this all up… But, as previously referenced, I see what I see, & I know what I know.
A friend of mine used to have a funny saying: “Porch light’s on, but nobody’s home.”
We could paraphrase this, vis-à-vis nuclear emergency planning in Ontario, to
“The porch light is OFF, & NOBODY’s minding the store.” Nobody.
Keep those fingers crossed, everyone!
And hope the proverbial you-know-what does NOT hit the proverbial fan here in the GTA.
(or on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, where there are several nuke plants … or up in Bruce Nuclear territory. If you go to this page, you'll see a map of nuclear sites around the Great Lakes.)
It sure wouldn’t be pretty….
But after all,
“It can’t happen here” … eh?
A Few Resources
& YouTube MIT No-Evacuations Study Debunked
Bottom line? Ever since the Fukushima disaster began in March 2011, the nuclear industry has been working to increase the levels of radioactivity considered "acceptable" for people to be exposed to. Looks as though the real plan behind the scenes is, if there is a big nuke accident, "the authorities" will just tell everyone "Nah, no worries! Just stay home. The levels of radioactivity are nothing to worry about. Sit tight."
That idea is explained, and debunked, in the 17-minute video.
Fukushima: the story of a nuclear disaster (fabulous book!) This very detailed, very helpful book outlines the progression of the Fukushima nuclear disaster thoroughly – and also lays out very carefully how U.S. nuclear regulators have carefully promulgated the “It can’t happen here” myth – ever since the Three Mile Island meltdown in March 1979.
Gundersen’s 4 Critical Lessons from 5 Meltdowns (Powerpoint presentation)
Linda Keen (former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) quoted in this article in March 2011: “I still believe (evacuation planning) is one of the most unplanned things,” Keen lamented.”
A Few Relevant Quotes
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair
“Evacuation zones/planning are inadequate all over the world.” – 2013 comment by Dr. Maureen McCue (M.D., Ph.D.), Physicians for Social Responsibility
“In 1979 the NRC admits the Rasmussen Report ‘greatly understated’ the range of chances for a nuclear accident. The proper translation is what nuclear critics have been saying all along, before and after the Rasmussen Report: no one has the foggiest notion what the probability is of major nuclear power accidents.” – Dr. John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. in “Irrevy” – An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power
“I have examined the arguments of the promoters of nuclear energy, and they always boil down to the same absurdity: If everything goes perfectly, then everything will go perfectly.” Or, “Trust us! Even though we have come close, we still have our first major city to knock over.” – Dr. John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. in “Irrevy” – An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power
“I still believe (evacuation planning) is one of the most unplanned things,” Keen lamented.” – Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, quoted in this article 'Is Ontario ready for a nuclear disaster?' in March 2011, a week into the Fukushima disaster.
“What Dr. Gerstein shows is that reasonable people, who are not malicious, and whose intent is not to kill or injure other people, will nonetheless risk killing vast numbers of people. And they will do it predictably, with awareness … They knew the risks from the beginning, at every stage … the leaders chose, in the face of serious warnings, to consciously take chances that risked disaster … Men in power are willing to risk any number of human lives to avoid an otherwise certain loss to themselves, a sure reversal of their own prospects in the short run.” – Daniel Ellsberg, quoted in the Marc Gerstein book Flirting with Disaster – Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." — Nobel physicist Richard Feynman after 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion
"Chernobyl has once more demonstrated, as did Three Mile Island, that a nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere." — Alvin Weinberg
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson