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Nuclear critics pan licence renewal for Pickering

A number of dissenting voices have come forward since the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved the extension of operations at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station through 2024. (Image courtesy of Ontario Power Generation)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Watchdog groups are crying foul over a 10-year licence renewal for Pickering’s nuclear station.

Earlier this summer, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the renewal after hearings held in June.

It allows Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to continue to operate Pickering through 2024, with the removal of fuel and water to take place between 2024 and 2028.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace says there was little information on why CNSC granted the renewal.

“The CNSC issued a decision but didn’t issue the reasons. Those will come later,” he says.

The decision was welcomed by OPG.

“OPG is very pleased with the CNSC’s decision that will save Ontario’s electricity customers up to $600 million and preserve 7,500 jobs across Ontario,” said Jeff Lyash, OPG’s president and CEO. “Today’s decision reflects our continued investment in

Pickering to improve its already strong performance, and the dedication of our staff to nuclear safety and ensuring safe and reliable operations to 2024.”

Greenpeace had asked for conditions on the renewal such as the distribution of KI (potassium iodide) pills in schools, and an environmental assessment prior to decommissioning.

“None of that came out in the decision. I think that’s unacceptable,” Stensil says. “It disrespects the public and interveners.”

“The commission views these hearings as a rubber stamp. They don’t give enough time to deliberate on what they hear during these hearings,” he adds.

For Stensil, the uncertainty surrounding the facility’s closure is alarming.

“We’ve known this is too expensive to rebuild. We’ve known it is closing since 2010,” he says. “One of our concerns is that there has been no preparation for closing the station. How do you prepare the community for the shutdown?”

He says political parties in Ontario have failed to show any kind of hindsight on the issue.

“We haven’t heard from the government or the opposition. Everyone kept going on about the jobs, and they just kind of ignored the planning process,” he says.

Continued development around the facility disturbs him as well.

“They are building condos about two kilometres around it. That undermines the viability of emergency preparedness,” he says.

Greenpeace is not alone in voicing their anxieties.

In April, Durham regional council endorsed several resolutions aimed at OPG and CNSC.

The region is seeking compensation for the storage of nuclear waste at Darlington and Pickering until it is stored in a permanent nuclear waste site.

It is expected high-level nuclear waste will stay at Pickering until 2060.

This is more than 30 years after the planned shut-down, making Durham Region home to nuclear waste for almost a century.

“We’ve been a host here for many, many years but we’ve received no compensation,” Ajax Councillor Colleen Jordan told The Oshawa Express in April. “We need it to be recognized, I think 100 years is pretty permanent.”

Spokespeople for both OPG and CNSC said there were no plans to provide such compensation at this time.

Stensil says he is equally concerned about the practice of provincial ministries utilizing the services of OPG employees.

This practice was noted by Ontario’s auditor general Bonnie Lysyk in her 2017 annual report.

“It raises questions of conflict of interest and whether the public assurances we are getting are objective and trustworthy,” Stensil says.

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance also slammed the decision.

“It took the CNSC less than five weeks to review and dismiss dozens of submissions pointing out the Pickering Station’s terrible location surrounded by millions of people, the lack of thorough emergency planning despite 50 years of operations, and the absence of plans for better dealing with the tonnes of radioactive waste stockpiled at the plant with nowhere to go,” Alliance director Angela Bischoff said in a released statement.

As the CNSC has never denied a licence renewal, Bischoff says the hearings were never more than a “rubber stamp” process.

Decommissioning the station would generate thousands of jobs and open up new economic opportunities on the city’s waterfront, she adds.