The End of Independent Nuclear Regulation

The outage of the Chalk River nuclear reactor has worrying implications for the future of nuclear safety in Canada.

The 50 year old reactor is owned by Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL), a federal Crown Corporation.  It makes 2/3’s of the world’s radio isotopes used in medical scanning.  The product has a half life of a few days, so supply cannot be stored, and medical tests are being delayed.  AECL was ordered to install additional safety equipment several years ago, but it never happened.  The chair of the nuclear regulator said, “This should have been done, and it was the clear expectation of the commission that it would be done.  You are, and were, in violation of licences given to your by Canadians.”

Today in parliament, Prime Minister Harper said that the Liberal appointed commissioners were blocking the re-start of the reactor, and that Liberals would be to blame for delayed medical tests.  So let me get this straight.  Commissioners appointed by a Party that had a 50 year track record of supporting nuclear energy to the tune of billions of dollars are somehow getting in the way of the nuclear business.  Why would they do that?  Could it be that they take their job of looking after the safety of nuclear reactors seriously?  Could it be that AECL has a track record of ignoring licence conditions?

Now the government plans to introduce legislation to overrule the regulator.  This is scary stuff.  A bunch of politicians know more about nuclear safety than people who have years of experience doing this?

The foundation of nuclear energy is an independent regulator.  The technology is so dangerous, the product so toxic, that this is the only way any rational Canadian could ever support its use.  What happens when the regulator shuts down one of the reactors in Ontario, or Quebec, or New Brunswick?  If the lights threaten to go out, will the politicians overrule them?  It would seem so.  We no longer have an independent regulator.

The Ontario Liberal government has announced plans to build new nuclear capacity.  How can safety be assured without an independent regulator?  It can’t.  So it should not be built.

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