Nuclear power debated: Darlington plant's critics line up at hearing

Renewal of nuclear plant's licence, as well as a nearby waste management facility, is at stake

This is Hope Fellowship Church. It sits on Bloor Street in Courtice, Ont., a small town east of Oshawa, and it’ll be packed with people for the next few days. That’s because the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is holding hearings about the future of the nuclear power plant five kilometres away, nestled against the shores of Lake Ontario. Many don’t much care for the nuclear plant, and they hope to throw a wrench into proposals to keep that plant chugging for years to come. Some are even suggesting Parliament should investigate various elements of nuclear safety. Others support the plant, and intend to tell the commission as much.

What’s on the table, specifically? Ontario Power Generation, the crown corporation that manages the province’s nuclear plants, wants to refurbish the plant, extend its licence until the end of 2014, and renew its waste management facility’s licence, too. The CNSC hearings are part of that application process. The commission received an abnormally high number of interventions, many of which were submitted by individuals, and it was forced delay hearings by several weeks. (By the way, you can request a copy of interventions at the CNSC website. Why they’re not available for download is puzzling.)

Who is opposed?

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submitted one of the most substantive interventions in opposition to each of the proposed measures. Waterkeeper Mark Mattson criticized fiercely the nuclear plant's cooling system, the turbines of which allegedly kill millions of fish every year. The simple solution to that problem, says Mattson, is a different kind of cooling system: closed-cycle instead of once-through. The former option wasn't given the consideration it deserved and is perfectly feasible, if you believe the Waterkeeper.

Good question. Here are excerpts from the submissions of a few groups who have concerns.

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility: "The CCNR formally requests the CNSC to recuse itself from judging the acceptability of extending the lifetime of the four Darlington nuclear reactors for another 30 years on the shore of Lake Ontario. The environmental assessment report should not be accepted by the CNSC until there has been an appropriate democratically-based political process to decide on the acceptability or unacceptability of the catastrophe risks associated with extending the lifetime of the four Darlington reactors for another 30 years or so. We urge the CNSC to report to Parliament that there is a need for clear political direction on these issues that transcend the needs of “business as usual”. One way of achieving this would be to call for a national public  inquiry into the future of Canadaʼs nuclear industry – something that CCNR and some 45 other organizations across Canada have been calling for for more than a year."

Families against Radiation Exposure: "FARE only has one recommendation pertaining to this hearing and that is we’d request the CNSC’s commissioners refer the matter of what is an acceptable level of exposure to all forms of ionizing radiation to the Parliament of Canada. It is with deep regret that FARE feels this to be a necessary action for you commissions to take. This is necessary as it has become evident to most Canadians that the impartiality of Health Canada and the CNSC staff have unfortunately been breached by the nuclear industry and they are therefore unable to perform their functions and duties, as required, for the benefit of Canadians."

National Farmers Union - Ontario: "It is the NFU’s recommendation to immediately establish protocols, guidelines and procedures to better protect Ontario’s food system from risks associated with the operation of Darlington and other nuclear power plants and redirect available resource to the safe decommissioning of Darlington at the end of each reactor’s life cycle, without refurbishment or adding new reactors."

Who's in favour?

The plant's allies are coming out in full force, too. They include two local chambers of commerce, local PC MPP John O'Toole, and the City of Oshawa—and organized labour, too. More excerpts below:

Canadian Nuclear Workers Council: It is our opinion that the silent majority especially in the vicinity of the Darlington NPP are fully supportive of the station, the pending refurbishment project and the Waste Management Facility.

Durham Region Labour Council: We strongly support the PWU and CNWC position that this proposed project will have no significant adverse effects on the environment of Durham Region and beyond.

Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities: CANHC is pleased to appear before the Commission in support of the Environmental Assessment for the Refurbishment project. Our Association has been monitoring the EA process undertaken by OPG and is impressed with its comprehensiveness, as well as the extraordinary emphasis it places on an open and inclusive public consultation process. We are satisfied with the conclusions of the EA that that the refurbishment and continued operation of the Darlington Station would have negligible impact on the environment and local communities.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clarington: Without OPG’s support, dedication and commitment to the people of this community, we would have been unable to achieve such tremendous success. Whenever we have needed them, they have been there to lend a helping hand, to come out and take part in our fundraising initiatives, to share their resources with us, and to spend time working with this community’s most precious resource, our children.

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