It can’t happen here! / Severe Accident Study? / It’s the Planning Basis, Stupid!

“It can’t happen here.” This is what the nuclear industry would have us believe.

A serious nuclear accident (a Level 7 on the INES – International Nuclear Event Scale – like Chernobyl & Fukushima) “can’t happen here.”

This (false) belief is why the “authorities” refuse to actually plan for a serious accident.

If they planned for “The Big One,” they’d have to change the “planning basis” around which Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans are made. & then “beef up” plans for a serious accident. This would cost the nuclear industry (& our government?) money. They seem to be agreed that they don’t want to do this. Yes. It does appear as though the folks who “protect” us really apparently have little desire to do so.

** A recommendation went to the Ontario Cabinet calling for a change in the planning basis, btw, way back in 1993. 22 years ago. The Chernobyl accident had happened in 1986. So the Cabinet had this studied & it was recommended to them that the planning basis be changed to deal with a more serious nuclear accident. But … it never happened. See Planning Basis Change – pages 84-100.

Who is Responsible for What?

The federal government is responsible for licensing nuclear plants (all nuclear facilities). The government agency in charge is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

CNSC holds public hearings to review licence applications for matters such as the Bruce Power generating station, Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s requests for licences for the Pickering and Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations, the Chalk River facility (& many others too numerous to name: uranium mines, nuclear research facilities in university locations, etc. etc.).

Problem is, the CNSC grants licences quite as though it were a Coke machine dispensing bottles of Coke. Pop in your change, out pops a Coke. Pop in your licence request, out pops a licence. I say this advisedly, btw, being a CNSC watcher for almost ten years now.

Read How Harper turned a nuclear watchdog into a lapdog’ to understand this better.

Off-site Emergency Planning

This is a provincial responsibility.

So the feds license the plants, and the Province is in charge of the “off-site” emergency plans. In other words, the nuke industry will mind its own facilities, but beyond the site boundary – beyond that metal fence – it is our provincial (& regional) governments that will pick up the pieces (e.g. carry out evacuations).

Actually, to be more accurate, a literally dizzying # of government ministries, departments, agencies and municipalities have a finger in the nuclear emergency pie. (See list in posting here.) Exactly the right # to pretty much guarantee that if an accident happens, so many things will fall between the cracks that emergency response will be slow, inefficient & utterly inadequate (as was the case in Japan, where the "chain of command" broke down, KI pills were not distributed, people died during evacuation, some people were sent in exactly the direction the radiation plume was heading, & some were not evacuated until more than a month after they should have been).

And, I almost forgot to mention, our provincial government (specifically, OFMEM or the Office of the Fire Marshall & Emergency Management under the Ministry of Community Safety & Correctional Services) seems to have no plan or desire whatsoever to change the planning basis. If you want to find out what they are up to there, you have to pry the secrets out of them using Freedom of Information requests. A discerning listener could tell by what OFMEM's Mr. Suleman said at the Bruce hearing on April 16th, 2015 that they have no intention of changing the planning basis. (April 16th transcript is linked here; relevant remarks by Mr. Suleman on pages 41 & 45 in particular & also 51, 84, 265. Relevant comment about responsibility for evacuation being municipal, by Mr. Nodwell on page 266).

But It Can’t Happen Here … right?

This is the line nuclear regulators have been using ever since the early 1980s, right after the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident (much TMI info here. Please note that the site creator, Arnie Gundersen, worked for the nuclear industry himself at that time).

It can’t happen here. It's virtually a nuclear industry/regulator mantra. They said it post-TMI, & they said it post-Chernobyl, & they said it post-Fukushima. And they are still saying it … but why in heaven’s name is anyone still listening??

In the U.S., the federal nuclear regulator (Nuclear Regulatory Commission or NRC) sat on a study post-TMI that provided inconvenient results as to the likely costs of a nuclear accident there.

As is very thoroughly explained in the book Fukushima – the story of a nuclear disaster, the NRC basically adopted the position “the chances of an accident severe enough to produce such death and destruction were so slight as to be hardly worth mentioning.”

So the sweeping under the carpet of facts inconvenient to the nuclear industry (& its so-called regulator, please note) began long ago.

Early 1980’s.

In Canada, we see, the sweeping began post-Chernobyl when the Ontario Cabinet’s recommendation (after having sent a committee off to study it) to change the planning basis was somehow mysteriously swept under the carpet, & disappeared into the sunset.

The Cabinet called to have the planning basis changed – in 1993. Post-Chernobyl, long pre-Fukushima. 22 years ago. It never happened. It’s not happening now, either. The nuclear industry has very long arms, & they can make things happen. Most especially, they can make things (a lot of things) NOT happen, also.

Inconvenient Truths: then & now

The only way to keep everybody quiet (if not necessarily “happy”), it seems, is to go on with this charade of “It can’t happen here.”

So the U.S. regulator, & the Japanese regulators (almost dizzying the # of agencies with fingers in the regulatory pie over there, but the Fukushima book explains how the regulator(s) there took its/their cues from the U.S. NRC) & unfortunately, the Canadian “regulator,” have been preaching “It can’t happen here” ever since the 1980s.

But not only in the U.S. & Japan (& Canada). Global problem.

The inconvenient truth of the potential for a nuclear accident ANYwhere there is a nuclear facility is so … inconvenient, it takes really a lot of noise to wake up all the sleeping souls who are busy denying the possibility.

You have to make really a lot of noise before anyone with any power or influence pays attention!

What about Durham Region?

Post-Fukushima accident (that plant is still a radiation-spewing machine, btw, & will be for a very-very long time; very nasty recent events), a skeptical GTA (Greater Toronto Area) public demanded at the 2012 Darlington hearing that our federal “regulator” – the CNSC – study the potential impacts of a severe nuclear accident.

The CNSC tribunal ordered CNSC staff to do such a study.

“Inconvenient” results were encountered (same way it had happened in the U.S. post-TMI, right?).

So CNSC senior staff caused the study to disappear, & a less-serious accident study was conducted instead. All this uncovered by Greenpeace Access to Information digging.

Read Request for Ruling Aug.2015

Déjà vu already … hmmm??

Who(m) You Gonna Trust?

Well. Seems like we can’t really trust the nuclear industry (take a gander at this list of nuclear accidents since the 1940s, eh?).

& we can’t trust the regulatory agencies (see above).

The so-called “science” of nuclear “regulators,” among other things, is very very suspect indeed. I recall hearing senior CNSC staffer Dr. Greg Rzentkowski, when asked by the CNSC tribunal head at the Pickering Hold Point hearing (May 2014), about the safety of CANDU reactors & likelihood of an accident, reply “… we can say the risk is zero, because there was never a significant accident in the CANDU fleet.” (Pg. 132 of the Pickering Hold Point transcript - & a pretty interesting exchange it is, too!)

Whoa. Really? That’s how risk analysis works?? Zero probability of event in the future ... ‘cos it hasn’t happened yet??

Not too sure anyone really wants to take that assurance to the bank! (Or to their insurance agency, but anyway you are not insured against a nuclear accident, dear Reader. Nope. You are definitely, definitely not. Don’t take my word for it; ask your agent!)

So It CAN Happen Here!

If you live in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), this matters.

It matters because an awful lot of us are living in the Secondary Zone (50 K around the two plants). Pretty sure I live in the Secondary Zone of both plants, actually, though I live in Toronto's east end.

What we know from the Chernobyl & Fukushima disasters (accident is really too mild a word) is that evacuations took place to considerable distances. Chernobyl still has a 30K exclusion zone around it, 29 years later. In Japan, American service people were ordered evacuated out to 50 miles (not kilometres), & the citizens of Iitate (25 miles/40 kilometres away) were very belatedly evacuated on April 22nd, having been left for over a month right in the place where the radioactive plume was going – but that information was ignored because it was … inconvenient. Some people had to relocate six times or more. I wish I was making this up. (1000s or 10s of 1000s are still out of their homes & the Japanese government is trying to make people return to areas of too-high radioactivity. You didn't think this 4 1/2 year old crisis was over, did you??)

We are not ready for a Level 7 accident here. If anyone tells you we are, s/he is not telling you the truth. S/he may be deluded, s/he may be confused. But to say we are prepared for a serious nuclear accident is not the truth.

Just think how quickly Lake Ontario, source of drinking water for millions could become undrinkable. Sobering.

What to Do? What to Do?

  • Attend the DNA event on September 17th DNA Sept. 17 event
  • Attend the September 23rd event in Toronto.
  • Become informed. Do some reading. The DNA site has many useful postings (see list below), & each one contains useful links to yet more information.
  • Become a volunteer for Greenpeace or Durham Nuclear Awareness.
  • Check this out! Go to this site to find out how many would need to be evacuated if a serious accident happened at Pickering or Darlington (scroll down on the list for our local reactors).
  • Consider taking part in the CNSC hearing scheduled for Nov. 2-5. Details here.
  • Consider talking to your local politician(s) – whether you live in Durham Region or Toronto. Quite likely s/he/they don’t understand the planning basis issue, or that the Severe Accident Study is a sham (see previous post for useful links re: this study).
  • Ask yourself this: if a serious nuclear accident happens, do you know what to do? Where to go? How to reunite with your family members if they are evacuated when you're not with them? Where evacuation centres will be located? This article clearly indicated that people in Pickering & Clarington are ill-prepared for a nuclear accident. We need to get "the authorities" to prepare better, & then tell us all about the careful plans they have made ... don't you think?


Recent, Relevant Postings on this Site