Bait-and-Switch? A Look at CELA’s Intervention Opposing Canada’s first ever SMR in Durham Region

Blog post by Jane Cooper

CELA and Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA) are jointly intervening in Ontario Power Generation (OPG)’s request for a renewal of its nuclear power reactor site preparation licence in Darlington, Ontario. Canada’s nuclear safety regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) will hold a public hearing on June 9 – 11, 2021. The public is invited to watch.

The public hearing pertains to OPG’s application request for a ten-year licence for their Darlington nuclear site. On its face, the license concerns mostly benign measures: access control such as fences and removing vegetation, installation of services and utilities, and grading of the site. However, this request coincides with OPG’s public intentions to (1) deploy a SMR (Small Modular Reactor) at the Darlington site by the end of 2021, (2) construct a 300MW SMR at the Darlington site by 2028, and (3) have the site contribute to the electricity group by the 2030s—all within the 10 year license period.

CELA and DNA are concerned that a 10-year license request for the Darlington site is being misrepresented as a licence to maintain a vacant site, when in actuality it is to set the stage for SMR development in the Greater Toronto Area. The assessment of site suitability for new nuclear power is an important and distinct decision stage which requires thorough review of the potential impacts of operations and accidents on the surrounding environment and population. Suitability for new nuclear development is an issue that should be determined with a high degree of certainty, and one that cannot be made without detailed reactor design information and choice of technology.

Furthermore, SMRs are novel both in a Canadian and global context. CELA is concerned about the potential for a multi-unit reactor accident, especially considering the land’s location— 60km from Toronto. This needs to be considered, as the CNSC must ensure that “licences are not issued unless it is satisfied that the public and the environment will be protected.” Even without an accident, radioactive waste products and health concerns remain. Brennain Lloyd from Northwatch sums up these concerns in a past CELA blog post: “SMRs will produce a next generation of radioactive wastes, burdening future generations with more radioactive wastes, more waste types, more reactors, and more contaminated sites.” Written submissions from both the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, and Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), echo these concerns.

In light of this, CELA and DNA have asked the CNSC to deny OPG’s request to renew its site licence for new nuclear, and only proceed when and if OPG updates its environmental, safety, and accident assessments, taking into account a specific SMR reactor design. If the licence request is approved, CELA and DNA have recommended it be a condition of licensing that another full and public hearing be held following OPG’s selection of reactor design to evaluate whether the public and environment will be protected from potential radiological effects and emergencies.