Public trust in nuclear regulator eroded: CNSC grants 10-year licence to operate nuclear reactor on the Bay of Fundy
ROTHESAY, NB – The Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) say trust in Canada’s nuclear regulator is further eroded after news today that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) granted NB Power a 10-year licence to operate its Point Lepreau nuclear reactor.
The current 5-year licence expired at the end of June. During the life of the nuclear plant, the average licence length was less than 3 years.
CRED-NB and CELA believe that a longer licence period is a blatant attempt to reduce community engagement and involvement, and that shorter licences and more frequent hearings responsive to the nuclear operations would have better served the public interest.
The need for frequent licensing hearings, including a statutory public right to be heard, was at the crux of the oral submission by CELA and CRED-NB in May at the CNSC hearings to hear arguments about NB Power’s licence request.
The CNSC announcement came just one day after National Indigenous Peoples Day. At the May hearings, Indigenous groups in New Brunswick said a longer licence period disrespects the rights of indigenous people to care for the land in their unceded territory, by extending the nuclear operations and the production of toxic nuclear waste on the site.
The 10-licence renewal period more than triples the average licence length and time between public hearings on Lepreau’s operation. This longer licence period leaves unaddressed many concerns raised by our joint written intervention and our presentation at the May CNSC hearings in Saint John.
The 10-year period is, however, more appropriate than the 25 years requested by NB Power or the 20 years recommended by the initial CNSC staff report. We are aware of one precedent set by the 10-year licence renewal for Pickering nuclear plant in August 2018.
However, the events of the past 25 years – including the recent military attack on a nuclear plant in the Ukraine and the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 – demonstrate that our understanding of the dangers of nuclear power plants and the substantial risk they pose to human health, safety and the environment are continuously evolving.
The public is also concerned about NB Power’s plans to build two types of experimental “small modular nuclear reactors” (SMRs) on the Lepreau site within the next 10 years.
“This longer license ignores that SMRs could present new risks, and does not commit NB Power to a new public hearing to maintain its license as these new risks are added to the site”, said Gail Wylie, spokesperson for CRED-NB.
CELA counsel Kerrie Blaise said that shorter licence terms and more regular licencing hearings do not remove this risk, but they do allow for the “compulsory re-evaluation of these risks stemming from continued nuclear plant operations.”
The CNSC states it will hold a mid-point meeting no later than 2027, when a comprehensive update will be provided and public comment will be invited. CRED-NB and CELA remain of the view that a meeting is a discretionary process and is not a stand-in for a public hearing. We believe this 2027 meeting should adhere to the same procedural and regulatory requirements as a public hearing licensing process. In this format the CNSC can opine on whether to suspend or amend the licence.
CRED-NB and CELA continue to uphold the democratic importance of regular licence hearings, as a credible venue for public scrutiny and active public engagement in nuclear oversight.
In turn, this engagement can build public trust in NB Power’s operations at the Lepreau nuclear facility and build commitment of staff and management to honour that public trust.
The comprehensive CRED-NB/CELA written intervention to the Lepreau licence hearing is available HERE.
The CNSC Summary Record of Decision on June 22 is available HERE.
For further information:
Gail Wylie, spokesperson, CRED-NB
Kerrie Blaise, Canadian Environmental Law Association
416-960-2284 ext 7224
Photo description: Temporary concrete storage silos containing deadly radioactive waste at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.