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Activists: Nuclear safety, intensification don’t mesh

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A trio of activist groups are calling on the province to rethink proposed changes to the growth plan due to their impact on nuclear safety.

Greenpeace, along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA), has sent a letter to the province asking that it “respect international safety guidelines and protect public safety by restricting population growth around the 10 aging nuclear reactors operating in the rapidly growing Greater Toronto Area.”

These groups claim that the government has ignored safety standards at nuclear power plants and that by encouraging further intensification in the areas around these power plants, it is putting the public at risk.

“One hand of the government doesn’t know what the other hand is doing and that’s putting public safety at risk,” says Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace.

“If the government is looking to operate these reactors for several more decades, we need to take that into account in land use planning.”

Last year, the province initiated a review of several key pieces of legislation, including the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

While many proposed updates to these plans look at making “greener communities” and improving ailing infrastructure and public transit, the most contentious aspect has been the increase to intensification targets for development. If approved, municipalities will be required to have 60 per cent of new development occurring within its built boundary, up from the current 40, and constructed to accommodate 80 people and jobs per hectare, up from the current target of 50.

Squeezing more people around these power plants without a proper safety plan is a recipe for disaster, activists say. According to Jacqueline Wilson, counsel with CELA, the province should be doing the exact opposite.

“In looking at land use planning surrounding nuclear power plants, the province should be restricting land use around those nuclear power plants,” she says.

“It will obviously affect the ability to implement emergency plans in the event of an accident to evacuate people and implement any other steps that need to be taken.”

Wilson says there is “no consideration of this issue at all” and that Ontario should be learning lessons from the Fukushima disaster that occurred in 2011 after a tsunami caused three nuclear reactors at a power plant in Fukushima, Japan to melt down.

“We’re concerned that nothing has changed in our emergency planning and things like land use planning around nuclear power plants. So, the lessons learned since that Fukushima accident aren’t taking effect here and they should be.”

In total, more than 470,000 people were evacuated following the disaster, 154,000 due to the nuclear meltdown.

“We believe a majority of Durham residents want emergency plans in place to protect the public in the event of a Fukushima-scale accident,” says Janet McNeill with DNA.

“We’re concerned that nuclear emergency plans aren’t designed to protect Durham residents in the event of that scale of accident and ongoing residential growth will only make it that much more challenging to evacuate people in an emergency.”

Through a poll done last year, DNA found that 86 per cent of people in the area of the Darlington plant want emergency plans in place for such a large scale disaster.

“The province has a blindspot on nuclear issues when it comes to public safety and that needs to be remedied,” Stensil says.

Currently, the province is beginning the process to gather public comments on a review of its Provincial Nuclear Emergency Respone Plan (PNERP) from 2009. The plan is being updated based on “new international practices, Canadians Standards Association (CSA) standards and lessons learned from past international emergencies,” says Brent Ross a spokesperson with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

“Ontario is updating its nuclear emergency response plan to ensure it is up-to-date and reflects current technologies and facilities so that we can keep Ontarians safe in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident,” Ross states, adding the current timeline has the revised plan in effect before the end of 2017.

Ontario Power Generation, the operator of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Clarington, just recently begun the costly refurbishment process for the first of its four reactors in a project set to cost over $12 billion over the next decade. The project is set to extend the life of the reactors for as long as 30 years.

As of The Oshawa Express press deadline, OPG did not respond to a request for comment – however, the power company recently released the results of an independent study that described the environmental impacts of running Darlington station into 2055.

Of the findings, the report states the extended operation until 2055 will divert 297 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. It also found that by operating the Pickering nuclear station until 2024 will save Ontario electricity consumers $600 million and protect 4,500 jobs in Durham.