Letters to the Editor

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Conservation Council appeals renewal of Point Lepreau's operating license

CCNB Action, New Brunswick's largest environmental organization, has appealed the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's (CNSC) decision to renew Point Lepreau's operating licence and grant permission to reload the reactor with uranium -- citing its failure to comply with the Canadian Nuclear Safety and Control Act, its rules of procedure and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).

In a letter, dated March 8th, written to CNSC President Michael Binder and the Ministers of Environment and Natural Resources, by Kaitlyn Mitchell a staff  lawyer for Ecojustice, acting on behalf of CCNB Action, asked for CNSC to rule on a request made by CCNB Action's Saint John Chapter for an external review of two technical assessments of the seismic risks posed to Point Lepreau.

CCNB Acton's Saint John Chapter intervened on behalf of the environmental organization at the regulatory hearings held by CNSC  in Saint John, December 1-2, 2011.  It was, and is CCNB Action's contention that two technical assessments filed with CNSC by NB Power contained errors which resulted in an underestimate of the seismic risk to the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.  

As part of CCNB Action's submission to the hearings, pursuant to Rule 20(3) of  the CNSC Rules of Procedure it requested:
1.      an updated site-specific seismic hazard analysis.
2.       an external review of the two technical assessments of seismic risk used by NB Power to support its application for a license renewal and permission to load uranium into the reactor.
3.      a federal environmental assessment of the refurbishment activities.

CNSC responded by ordering a site-specific seismic hazard analysis at Point Lepreau, but failed to rule on CCNB Action's request for an external review of the seismic risk assessments.  The request for a federal environmental impact assessment was denied.

"We believe NB Power  provided the nuclear regulator with an underestimate of the seismic risks faced by the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant," said Sharon Murphy, Chair of CCNB Action's Saint John Chapter. 

"We have checked with Dr. Robert Kennedy who developed the seismic risk assessment methodology used by NB Power. It appears that NB Power made errors in its assessments of the seismic risk for Point Lepreau, which is why we requested CNSC to order an external review of them, but our request was ignored," said Murphy.

In  the letter to the CNSC, Ecojustice staff lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell asked that if an external review of the seismic risk assessments is granted by CNSC, and the review identifies problems with the assessments that a public hearing be held in Saint John to review and publicly analyze whether or not the reactor can meet acceptable standards when it comes to weathering an earthquake.  Furthermore, CCNB Action is requesting that a federal environmental impact assessment be ordered to consider the up-to-date seismic hazard information that will be provided by the site-specific seismic hazard assessment already ordered CNSC.

"Given the devastating effects that can be caused by accidents at nuclear power plants, there is an enormous need for certainty and precaution in renewing the operating license of Point Lepreau and in granting NB Power permission to load the reactor with uranium," said David Coon, Executive Director of CCNB Action.  

"That is why the external review of NB Power's seismic risk assessments is critical," he concluded.