Blog: Questions of Trust, Safety and Public Engagement Central to Day Two of Nuclear Licensing Hearing for Point Lepreau Nuclear Power Plant

* This is the second 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 here.

SAINT JOHN, NB – Today marks the second day 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.  The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission heard from sixteen public intervenors, asking questions related to access to information, public engagement, environmental impact, and cyber security risks.

Industry groups and nuclear proponents have been vocal in calling for a 25-year licence, going so far as calling for ‘decoupling’ of public engagement from the licensing process, according to Canadian Nuclear Association President John Gorman. 

“The process to license a nuclear reactor is the primary opportunity for the public to challenge many of the claims by the proponent. How could public engagement be decoupled from that process? Public engagement without any meaningful outcome would be a meaningless waste of time,” said Susan O’Donnell, core representative of the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB).

The need for frequent licensing hearings, which include a statutory public right to be heard, was at the crux of the oral submission by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and CRED-NB, who appeared before the Commission today and asked them to deny the 25-year licence request. 

CELA and CRED-NB explained that the events of the past 25 years – including the events of September 11 2001 and the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 – should demonstrate that our understanding of the dangers of nuclear power plants and the substantial risk they pose to human health, safety and the environment, is continuously evolving. CELA counsel, Kerrie Blaise, explained that while shorter licence terms and more regular licencing hearings do not remove this risk, “they do allow for the compulsory re-evaluation of these risks stemming from continued nuclear plant operations.” 

In response to comments by CNSC Staff made yesterday, that annual status reports, regulatory oversight reports, periodic safety reviews and environmental risk assessments are sufficient stand-ins for public hearings under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, CELA informed the Commission that all of these mechanisms are discretionary forms of public engagement, and that they often exclude the public from making oral interventions. 

The topic of cybersecurity was also raised in the afternoon session, with CNSC Staff sharing that a proposed regulation on cybersecurity threats to nuclear power plants would likely be published to the Canada Gazette in the Summer of 2022. Independent expert Dr. M.V. Ramana – who joined the hearing with CELA and CRED-NB – underscored that we are currently living through a cyber war in Ukraine and Russia, and that over the last decade we have seen cyber attacks on nuclear facilities in Japan, South Korea, and India.  He went on to note that “it is more a question of when, not if there will be an attack on a Canadian facility” and that “we should be much more guarded against the idea of a longer licence” for that reason.

CELA and CRED-NB concluded their intervention before the Commission, noting “a request for a 25 year licence is, quite simply, a blatant attempt to reduce community engagement and involvement” and that “shorter licences and more frequent hearings, which are responsive to the operations being undertaken by licensees, would better serve the public interest.” 

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