Darlington Hearing: Weigh in ... & watch!

CNSC Hearing: Nov. 2-5, in Courtice (west of Bowmanville). ** NOTE: You can watch the hearing via Webcast. Go to www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca to find out how. (Allow yourself a few minutes to sort this out. You may have to fiddle a bit & click on several links before you get to the right spot. There should be a link on the upper right side of the main CNSC page.)

*** DNA's written submission to CNSC

What's It About? Why is this Licence a Bad Idea?

OPG (Ontario Power Generation) is asking for a 13-year licence to refurbish (i.e., rebuild) & continue operating 4 reactors at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station (DNGS) -- at huge public expense.

There are many reasons to speak up about this “life extension” project & the 13-year licence:

  • Building these reactors will cost Ontario taxpayers a fortune! At least $10 billion. Probably way more. Heck, the project is already costing us a fortune.
  • Who knows if they will be finished safely & on time? (In 2009, 500 Bruce Power workers were exposed to alpha radiation during refurbishment activities there. Much more could be said about this; feel free to dig around on the topic! Nasty.)
  • OPG’s past licences have never been for more than 2-5 years. Thus, this request is unprecedented.
  • Such a long licence is not necessary; other reactor operators in Canada have neither requested nor been granted such a long term. Bruce Power went through a licensing hearing earlier this year at which they asked for, & were granted, a 5-year licence for similar activities, i.e., refurbishment & continued operation.
  • A licence of this length is a way of reducing public scrutiny over OPG’s operations at Darlington.
  • If DNGS gets a 13-year licence, members of the public would not have the opportunity to oversee what is going on at the plant until 2028. Public hearings allow citizens to review OPG’s operations, and to ask questions. This ensures that OPG remains accountable to its host community.
  • Regular re-licensing hearings allow the public & independent CNSC commissioners to scrutinize both OPG operations & CNSC staff oversight of OPG.
  • Reduced public scrutiny can increase the risk of an accident if OPG & CNSC staff are not regularly – and publicly – held accountable for their actions.
  • Without accountability & transparency, reactor operators & regulators can become complacent, ignoring their responsibilities to ensure public safety. This is often referred to as “regulatory capture.”
  • This is what occurred at Fukushima. Lack of proper scrutiny & oversight (proper regulation) led to the Fukushima accident, assessed to be a “man-made” accident (you can check out this posting for many relevant quotations about the causes of the Fukushima accident).
  • Emergency planning in Durham Region/the Greater Toronto Area is gravely inadequate in the event that a serious accident occurs. The plans have been made under the assumption that only a mild accident with a minor release of radioactivity would take place. All explained more thoroughly here & here. Bottom line? Residents of Durham Region/the GTA are not safe to assume they'll be well protected in the event of a serious nuclear accident.
  • Most citizens of Durham Region & Toronto actually don't have a clue what they would do if an accident did take place. People are not well-informed.
  • We don’t seem to be able to count on Canada’s nuclear “regulator” to tell us the truth about nuclear safety, nuclear studies, & so on. The Harper government has turned a nuclear watchdog into a lapdog.
  • Canada’s nuclear regulator claims its staff has conducted a “severe accident study” that indicates a “serious” accident wouldn’t really cause too much of a problem. Problem is, the study is not what it claims to be … not at all. Best to read the previous post to get the lowdown.
  • Nuclear refurbishments create (literally!) tons of new nuclear wastes. We all know there is nowhere safe for any of that stuff to “go.” Plenty of detailed info on that topic here.
  • It just doesn’t seem that OPG’s plans for Darlington are worth the risk.
  • You know what? I haven't even mentioned Lake Ontario, & what nuke plants do to the bodies of water they are located on. Holy smokes. Major omission. The Lake Ontario Waterkeeper site has some recent info; why not check that out? For sure, Lake Ontario takes a bit hit from this plant. Nor should we be risking the drinking water source for millions of people. Nosirree.

WHY Weigh In?

Those of us experienced with nuclear hearings & nuclear industry dealings find the CNSC doesn’t pay much attention even when a very large number of people tell them their licensees & licensees' plans can't be trusted. I say this advisedly, having taken part now in 10 hearings over the past 9 years.

Why do we keep showing up at CNSC hearings when the CNSC doesn’t really seem to be listening?

Because we need to get other people to listen!

Municipal / regional / provincial politicians – who can exert pressure on the Premier of Ontario.

It is up to Ontario’s Premier to sign off on this refurbishment project.

Politicians at the Durham (& Toronto) municipal / regional / provincial levels should speak up on our behalf (& their own!) because

  1. They live here too, so they're just as much at risk as you & I.
  2. It’s their job & responsibility to protect the citizens who put them there (& who, also, btw, pay their salaries!)
  3. It’s dangerous that so few people & so few politicians are paying attention to serious nuclear risks & seriously deficient nuclear emergency planning.

Nuclear accidents are happening around the world at the rate of one every 10 years. There is no way under these circumstances that OPG should be permitted to operate behind closed doors for 13 years.

Emergency Planning Deficiencies

Current provincial emergency plans are built around the assumption of a minor accident in which no large release of radioactivity takes place immediately. Unsafe, unreasonable assumptions.

Plans for a serious accident, then, are not robust.

In Durham Region, what this means is that DEMO (Durham Emergency Management Office) is only really prepared for the evacuation of people in the immediate vicinity of the plants (Pickering or Darlington).

Not for a big accident – a Level 7 on the INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) – like the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. Where tens of thousands of people needed to be evacuated … quickly.

DNA has been working to inform local politicians about these gaps & deficiencies, & it seems to have sunk in (with some, anyway) that most people really actually have no idea what to do if a serious accident happens.

We Canadians are so polite, though, aren’t we? Polite to a fault. So polite we do not safeguard our own … safety.

We need Durham Region’s politicians to come right out & say very clearly to the Province: “Dudes. We’re right here at Ground Zero if a serious accident should happen. Doesn’t look to us like emergency plans here are very … robust. You gotta do something about this!”

Heck, even nuke agencies IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which exists to both promote and regulate nuclear energy; yes … & ICRP (the International Commission on Radiological Protection) have clearly stated that emergency plans need to be clearly communicated to members of the public before any emergency takes place, or they will not be of much use! (Previous post goes into detail on all this.)


You need not be a rocket scientist, nor possess a Ph.D., to speak clearly & concisely to the CNSC & express your lack of support for this refurbishment/life extension/13 year licence.

Short & sweet (well, no need to actually be sweet) will do nicely. From the heart is always best!

Just note down the things that irk or concern you the most, & fire it off by midnight on Monday, September 28th. Once again, details on making a submission are right here.

Recent postings:

Please take a look through recent postings on this site for relevant, related information. Each posting lists many additional resources at the end, should you be keen to learn more.

Direction sign to Nukes
Direction sign to Nukes

<these distances from downtown Toronto>

Nuclear Refurbishment: Did You Know?

What you may not know about nuclear refurbishment: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is requesting an unprecedented 13-year license for the continued operation and “refurbishment” of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. In the past, licenses OPG has received have always been for 2-5 years, maximum. This request will come before a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing in early November of this year.

Unfortunately, it seems most people know very little about the nuclear industry & how it actually operates. The technology involved is complex, to be sure. However, one requires neither a detailed understanding of nuclear reactor technology, nor a degree in rocket science, to understand these basics:

  • Nuclear energy is fraught with potential dangers, & accidents are possible at any nuclear facility
  • Accidents result in catastrophic widespread, long-lived consequences to human beings & everything else that constitute what we've come to call “the environment”
  • Nuclear waste is unimaginably toxic & so extraordinarily long-lived we cannot even properly get our minds around the time frames involved.

This posting will provide readers with a few facts about refurbishments that they simply might not otherwise hear about.

Refurbishment is a nice, innocuous-sounding word ... but what it actually means is, re-build. The 4 Darlington reactors have reached the end of their intended shelf life, & now their operators (a very large number of people paid very large salaries indeed) want to rebuild them. They could also be decommissioned, i.e., shut down, instead; that too is an option.

The estimated cost of the Darlington rebuild is somewhere between $8 & $14 billion, according to not-yet-final figures projected by OPG. This massive and wildly expensive rebuild project is anticipated to take part over many years. At public expense.

BUT … every nuclear project in Ontario has gone over-budget (and past projected deadlines). According to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance all past nuclear projects have gone over budget by 2 ½ times. In this case, then, the eventual cost could reach $32 billion. Taxpayers’ money.

Nuclear refurbishments create a lot of NEW nuclear waste. Unfortunately, after 70 years of nuclear waste creation, no safe solution has yet been found for the storage of these 70 years’ worth of nuclear wastes. The (now former) head of OPG (the $1.8 million/year Tom Mitchell), said at a nuclear waste industry conference in September 2011, The amount of nuclear waste in the world is expected to grow due to refurbishments, new build activity and the decommissioning of reactors.” Mr. Mitchell referred to the handling of nuclear waste as a “values-based activity” (a rather subtle way of saying there is plenty of money to be made from it). * Plenty of information about the waste issue here.

In 2009, during refurbishment work at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, hundreds of workers were exposed to plutonium-laden dust. No satisfactory explanation has ever been given as to why this was not prevented, or why the workers had not been provided with respirators. When asked at a Joint Review Panel hearing on the proposed DGR (DNA’s 2013 presentation can be found here) CNSC staff scientist Patsy Thompson said “Bruce Power has a healthy safety culture for the following reasons: the alpha-event was unforeseen for reasons that I don’t have right now; there was no evidence that there was a potential for this event, so it’s not something that Bruce Power or its employees decided to ignore;” [transcript, pg 159]

This is an … explanation??

In Québec, when it was learned how costly the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 reactor was going to be, the plant was ordered by the Québec government to be shut down. Hydro-Québec’s François Bilodeau had admitted at a nuclear industry ‘Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration for Canada’s Nuclear Activities’ conference held in Toronto in September 2011 that the refurbishment was expected to create 5 times as much nuclear waste as already existed at the facility.

While so self-evident as to surely not even really need stating, there is no plan in place for the additional wastes that will be created if this refurbishment proceeds (or for the 70 years’ worth of waste already in existence & also lacking anywhere to be safely & reliably secured and stored). The Pickering and Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations are already host to a grand total of 1,112,860 used fuel bundles (Pickering has 667,639: 406,315 “wet” & 261,324 “dry” – or did as of June 30, 2013); & Darlington has (or rather had, as of June 30/13) 445,221 (338,510 wet; 106,711 dry). You can locate these figures in this NWMO document (in a table on pg. 3). All dressed up, as it were, & just ... absolutely no place to go.

So, in Quebec the refurbishment costs & waste quantities led to an end to nuclear power in that province, while in New Brunswick, greater-than-anticipated quantities of refurbishment-created nuclear wastes at Point Lepreau led to the shipping of some to Tennessee, where it was to be incinerated … & the ash later returned to Canada.

** I learned these facts while attending a nuclear industry conference on ‘Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration for Canada’s Nuclear Activities’ held in Toronto from September 11-14, 2011. Learned lots at this conference!

From the final program provided to attendees (on pg. 25), “In short, Point Lepreau GS [Generating Station] has been challenged during the outage due to the amount of low and intermediate level waste that has been generated compared to that which was expected, which has driven the need to develop a new waste management strategy in the middle of the outage. The paper [New Brunswick Power Nuclear’s Charles Hickman was to present] presents an overview of pre-outage waste handling, what process changes and schedule changes occurred during the outage, and provides a discussion of the operational and financial consequences of those changes. Key issues highlighted the paper include for adequate provision of waste management facilities during large outages, the importance of ensuring that contractors have a stake in waste minimization activities, and long term waste management implications that need to be considered for large outages.” (Conference program)

Nuclear waste is a very, very serious problem (& that is a very serious understatement!) - one to which there is as yet no solution anywhere in sight. Not here, not "there," not anywhere on the planet!

To many people, it seems like a really good idea (& time) to stop creating any more of it.

At the very least, speaking up about the lack of wisdom of granting OPG a 13-year license for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station seems a highly advisable course of action. More to come on this topic soon.

More Information:


Relevant Quote:

“While we may learn from the past, we don’t seem to learn much.” – Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress

* more relevant quotes on this page