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Council updated on new nuclear plans

Oshawa Councillor Amy McQuaid-England questions briefness of report

Updated provincial plans lay out the steps taken during a nuclear emergency, including if such an event were to occur at Durham’s Pickering and Darlington generating stations.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Regional council received a brief update on the province’s new plan for nuclear emergencies, perhaps too brief in the eyes of some members.

Dave Nodwell, deputy chief of planning and program development for the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, spoke at the latest meeting of council.

He outlined changes to the provincial National Emergency Response Plan (PNERP).

The updated plan was finalized in December 2017.

Shortly before its release, provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk criticized the lack of updates to the document since 2009.

The public consultation process saw 1,600 submissions in preparation for the updates.

“The plan is more transparent and accountable,” Nodwell said.

As deputations to regional council are usually limited to five minutes, Nodwell mentioned he would have to go through his presentation rather briskly.

This elicited criticism from Oshawa Councillor Amy McQuaid-England.

“This is not an issue we want to go through quickly,” she commented.

Whitby Councillor Joe Drumm agreed, stating it was “absolutely ridiculous” for Nodwell to try to go through all the information in five minutes.

The most significant change in the PNERP is the creation of contingency planning zone for areas located 20 km from nuclear reactors.

According to the document, this new zone is a “pre-designated area surrounding a reactor facility…where contingency planning and arrangements are made in advance so that during a nuclear emergency, protective actions can be extended beyond the Detailed Planning Zone as required to reduce potential for exposure.”

This contingency planning zone is in addition to the pre-existing automatic action zones for areas located immediately near a nuclear reactor, detailed planning zone for areas 10 to 14 km within a reactor and ingestion planning zones for areas up to 50 km from reactors.

Nodwell says areas in contingency planning zone have a low probability of issues with radiation.

The updated PNERP also calls for a technical study of the Ministry of Transportation’s evacuation plans in the case of a nuclear emergency.

Nodwell said an ‘independent vendor’ would perform this study.

“They [the Ministry] are reaching out to a specialist that has extensive experience in evacuation planning,” he says.

The vendor, which he did not name, is an American company that has performed evacuation planning at Darlington and Pickering nuclear plants.

McQuaid-England questioned if the message of emergency preparedness will be properly delivered to the province’s most “vulnerable populations.”

Nodwell says informing the community is a “municipal responsibility”, but did note the region’s Health Neighbourhoods Map is a valuable tool to “understand what residents (have) or don’t have when planning how to evacuate them.”

The Oshawa councillor also questioned if the updated plan considered the possibility of terrorist attacks on Darlington and Pickering, even at the same time.

Nodwell stated in nuclear emergencies, the cause isn’t the priority.

“We focus in on protecting people from the effects of an attack,” he said.

Still, McQuaid-England argued that “all types of accidents” need consideration, stating if both generating stations were attacked, it would trap residents in communities between.

If such an attack were to happen, Nodwell states a reactor would “not explode and spew radiation.”

“It’s actually a long process. In Fukushima, it took the first reactor 28 hours before there was any radiation released,” Nodwell explained. “There is a significant amount of time for an accident to unfold, and you have to time to enact plans.”

Ajax Councillor Colleen Jordan voiced disappointment that redistribution of potassium iodine (K-I) pills, which protect the thyroid gland against the effects of radiation, wasn’t extended beyond its current threshold of 10 km.

In communities beyond 10 km from a reactor, pills are stockpiled and available to residents upon request.

Jordan noted that Switzerland had extended pre-distribution to 50 km.

“Are you looking at countries who have obviously gone further than we have in Ontario?” she asked.

Nodwell says their plans are based specifically on the policies surrounding CANDU reactor plants like Pickering and Darlington.

“Our decisions need to be based on analysis of that technology versus what other countries are doing.”

Jordan also questioned whether there would be money provided to municipalities to assist in enacting new specifications under PNERP into local emergency plans.

While Nodwell says there are no funding allocations planned, further discussions can take place.

Although she said she was generally satisfied with what she has seen, Jordan called for “more robust and transparent” nuclear emergency plans in the future.

Implementation plans for the recommendations under the updated PNERP are currently being completed for Darlington and Pickering.

According to Andrew Morrison, spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, these implementation plans are part of the update to PNERP.

“The implementation plans for Ontario nuclear power generating facilities are not a formal part of the licensing process,” Morrison stated in an email to The Oshawa Express. “The site-specific implementation plans for the newly revised Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan may be considered by the federal licensing body as part of licensing deliberations.”

Morrison says the Pickering plan is expected to be finalized in April and Darlington plan in the fall.