Blog: Climate Change Concerns Breezed Over on Final Day of Nuclear Licensing Hearing for Point Lepreau Nuclear Power Plant

Photo: Uptown Saint John, NB

* This is the third in a series of blogs by CELA and CRED-NB live from the hearing room, as we share reflections and reactions from the nuclear licensing hearing. You can find our blog from Day 1 and 2 here,

SAINT JOHN, NB – Climate change concerns have repeatedly been raised by public intervenors since day 1 of the hearing for NB Power’s application for a 25-year renewal to its operating licence for the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy. Several intervenors, including CELA and CRED-NB noted that NB Power has not provided enough information about the impact of climate change on the Lepreau plant.

Yesterday, CELA counsel Kerrie Blaise explained that climate change poses unique dangers to Point Lepreau due to its location on the Bay of Fundy. Today, in an exchange following a presentation by the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick and member of the CRED-NB core group, experts from Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Staff (“CNSC Staff”) and NB Power referenced reports and studies suggesting that the danger of tsunamis and sea level rise is a low safety and security risk for the Lepreau plant. 

However, despite NB Power’s assertions that extreme weather events and sea level rise pose little to no risk to the facility, their licence application and associated studies fail to expressly consider climate change and its potential impacts on Point Lepreau. That’s why CELA and CRED-NB have recommended the Commission deny NB Power’s licence application until site-specific climate impacts have been modelled at least 25 years into the future.

After the exchange, Susan O’Donnell, primary investigator of the RAVEN project, noted that just last week, the CNSC issued a tender for a comprehensive study of the impacts of climate change on nuclear plants in Canada. She recommended to the Commission that after the report is completed, NB Power should be tasked with responding to the issues raised in the report and issue its own report. RAVEN is recommending a 5-year licence renewal period.

Intervenor Margaret McDonald, joining virtually from Fredericton, also raised concerns with climate change and the need for more regular licencing hearings at which the climate monitoring reports could be discussed.

Ann McAllister, a member of CRED-NB and a representative for the Council of Canadians Saint John, intervened to recommend a 5-year licence, rather than a 25-year licence.  Such a long licence would significantly limit public input. She recommended better ongoing monitoring of management practices, especially considering the significant debt that the Lepreau plant has incurred, $3.6 billion of NB Power’s $4.9 billion debt.

Ms. McAllister also raised concerns about plans by NB Power to develop the Moltex reprocessing unit on the Point Lepreau site. She cited reports by US nuclear research institutes and a recent letter by US experts that raised concerns about the weapons proliferation risks of the project.

In a discussion of tritium emissions that ensued, both the CNSC and NB Power minimized the health impact of tritium in well water. A CNSC staff person said: “Tritium in the environment is not a concern to CNSC staff,” and NB Power claimed that the lifetime dose from tritium in well water would be less than the amount received by one chest x-ray.

During a presentation by The Brilliant Energy Institute at Ontario Tech University, the only university in Canada that offers an undergraduate program in nuclear engineering, that intervenor said that enrollment in the program had been dropping. CNSC president Velshi expressed concern at this situation. However, in their intervention, the University of New Brunswick’s Center for Nuclear Energy Research said that they are developing a new degree program in nuclear engineering and, given the significant interest in SMR development in New Brunswick, there is considerable interest in the new program.

The Commission will make a final decision on NB Power’s application by June 30, 2022.

Interested in learning more about public hearings and participation?

CELA and CRED-NB co-hosted a webinar where you can learn more about the nuclear licensing process and how members of the public can intervene. Visit here to watch the recording.

The Nuclear Safety and Control Act requires, per subsection 40(5), that there be an “opportunity to be heard” at a public hearing when a request is made for licence, or a request to renew that licence. 

In general, during a licensing hearing, public intervenors are given 10 minutes to address the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. There is no opportunity to cross-examine, ask questions of the proponent or CNSC Staff. There is no qualification of experts or ability for experts, which may be retained by intervenors, to question staff or statements made by the proponent. 

Following a 10-minute oral presentation opportunity, it is usual for the Commissioners to ask follow-up questions of clarification to both CNSC Staff and the licensee. There is not, however, a requirement that the intervenor have a chance to respond or weigh in. We recommend using the “raise hand” function in Zoom or raising your hand in person, should you wish to respond to what is said.

The Commission does not conduct pre-hearing conferences, which is common in many tribunal settings, where all parties and intervenors can weigh in on the issues to be heard during the hearing. This means, the Commission often makes statements throughout the hearing as to what is within or out of scope. We encourage intervenors to not feel limited by these comments and again, speak to the mandate of the Commission which is the protection of the environment and public health as set out in section 9 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.