Blog: Hearing For ‘First Ever’ 25-Year Nuclear Power Plant Licence Commences in Saint John, New Brunswick

* This is the first in a series of blogs by CELA and CRED-NB live from the hearing room. Check back every day as we share reflections and reactions from the nuclear licensing hearing.

SAINT JOHN, NB – Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, has commenced its three day public hearing of public utility NB Power’s request for a 25-year renewal to its operating licence for its nuclear reactor on the Bay of Fundy. The Point Lepreau nuclear power plant, owned and operated by NB Power, is located 40km southwest of Saint John, New Brunswick; it is Canada’s only nuclear power plant on the ocean. 

This hearing considers a first ever request for a 25 year nuclear operating licence. The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is among the public intervenors appearing before the Commission. On May 11, CELA, jointly with the New Brunswick based community based Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB), will be asking for the Commission to deny the 25-year licence request, citing concerns about the reduction in public scrutiny and engagement in nuclear oversight. 

Central to today’s hearing, reflected in the oral interventions made by the public and questions raised by Commissioners, was the length of licence being requested. We heard from NB Power that a 25 year licence “would not impede informal engagement with the public” with CNSC Staff echoing the Commission has the discretion to hold public proceedings at any time, should it so choose with the licensing period. 

We also heard from CNSC Staff that while a 25-year licence would remove the requirement for a public hearing for this duration, it would open up new opportunities, like “strategic and topical discussion on specific issues.” And, without a hearing, these standalone discussions on one-on-one items would allow for more “in-depth considerations.”

In response, intervenors, including Chief Akagi of the Passamaquoddy, noted a longer licensing period would mean “losing the voice of a generation” and would be determinative of the “length of time NB Power will be putting, fresh, hazardous materials on Passamaquoddy lands.”

The Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn echoed that a longer licence could “negatively affect both public perception of the Commission’s oversight, and opportunities for meaningful engagement with First Nations and other communities.” Both have asked the Commission to support shorter licence terms or 2 – 5 years. As Kim Reeder of Passamquoddy shared, this would simply maintain the status quo where in the station’s 40 year history, the licence length has averaged 2.44 years. 

Remarking on today’s hearing event, CRED-NB member Gail Wylie shared “What concerns me about what we have heard today, is the continued reference to nuclear as “clean” and “cheap”. I was pleased that other citizen presentations today have pointed out the very low cost of renewables and have debunked the claims of nuclear being reliable, especially as we’ve experienced Point Lepreau being offline for 40 days last winter and the 3.5 years during its refurbishment.”

As intervenor Ann McAllister shared, “For those of us concerned about being excluded from input during a 25 year licensing period, today was not reassuring to hear – both NB Power and the CNSC acknowledged the need for better public engagement, and yet they have no concrete plan to make that happen.”

Tomorrow, the hearing will continue and you can tune in live online

View of Saint John Harbour, photo courtesy of Ghislain Tillard