Giving new meaning to the phrase “trust us,” provincial and federal authorities and nuclear operators are conducting a major emergency planning exercise at the Darlington nuclear plant without involving the public, as reported by CityTV on May 27, 2014. There are many things wrong with this picture, but not involving the public is the biggest mistake of all. As Greenpeace campaigner Shawn-Patrick Stensil discovered from a report he obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a consultant for OPG reported that the vast majority of residents who live around the nuclear plants in Durham region in Ontario do not know what they are supposed to do in case of a serious emergency (Toronto Star coverage).
Take a look at the consultant’s report on what local residents know. Residents don’t know where to get information about a nuclear emergency. They don’t know about the sirens and radio stations that are supposed to provide notice and information. And hardly any of them know about the potassium iodide (KI) pills that they should have stocked on hand in their homes. At best some of them have a hazy recollection that they signed permission forms for their kids to be administered KI pills by their schools if need be. CELA has spent a considerable amount of time looking at the sufficiency of nuclear emergency planning in Ontario over the last three years and has provided concrete recommendations to the authorities about much needed improvements.
The biggest shocker of all is that Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans were not designed to respond to a serious accident like the ones that occurred at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Why not? Up until now it’s both because the nuclear operators and regulators couldn’t bring themselves to admit out loud that such accidents could happen. They repeatedly say they are not “credible.” Even very small improvements – like the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission saying it wants to start to review the offsite emergency plans during licensing hearings – are being strenuously resisted by the nuclear operators OPG and Bruce Power.
It’s clear that public communications in Ontario have been much more focussed on “reassuring” the public than on clearly communicating emergency preparedness. During a hearing on the Darlington plant last year, even the president of the CNSC expressed shock that a pamphlet handed out in the region purporting to list the “top ten” types of emergencies didn’t include a nuclear accident. This was from a region that hosts 10 nuclear units at Pickering and Darlington!! The answer at the time was there was a “separate” brochure on the region’s website, and distributed at occasional community events. Clearly OPG, the operator of the plant has to do a better job communicating with the public, and the regulator, the CNSC has to do a better job requiring that members of the public who live near the plants know about nuclear risks. They didn’t start that better job this week when the public was left out of the first large scale nuclear emergency drill to be conducted in fifteen years. For residents of Durham Region and the City of Toronto (both have residents included within the 10km “primary zone”), and everyone in the GTA (included within the 80 km “ingestion protection zone”), what a missed opportunity.