By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Outgoing regional chair Gerri Lynn O’Connor has raised several concerns regarding the planned decommissioning of Pickering’s nuclear power plant
Specifically, O’Connor is worried about a proposal to update Canada’s process for assessments regarding the environmental impacts of such decommissioning.
“Almost 50 per cent of the used nuclear fuel in Ontario is presently stored in our region in licensed, ‘interim’ above-ground facilities, directly on the shore of Lake Ontario,” O’Connor wrote in a letter to Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
To her, it is critical the region is involved in the assessment process due to the “decades-long impact of decommissioning [the plant].”
She wants the region to be involved in data collection and analysis, design of mitigation measures and monitoring once the plant winds down operations in 2024.
In August, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) was granted a 10-year license to maintain operations at Pickering station from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
O’Connor also points out even after being decommissioned, nuclear waste could remain at the Pickering plant for up to another 60 years.
With several factors at play, O’Connor believes that the Pickering plant must be subject to a full impact assessment when the closure of the plant becomes imminent.
“The [impact assessment] must consider and mitigate both onsite concerns and offsite impacts on the surrounding region,” reads the letter. “It is not reasonable that a study of possible decommissioning impacts done at the inception of the project can reliably predict environmental impacts of the future.
O’Connor is also worried about the nuclear waste that OPG has proposed storing onsite for several decades.
“Their preliminary decommissioning plan assumes these wastes will be removed to an offsite facility before demolition begins,” reads the letter. “Plant demolition and restoration of the site is contingent on the removal of all nuclear wastes in advance.”
However, O’ Connor points out that questions still remain exactly where the nuclear waste will be stored.
Currently, OPG is in the midst of planning for a deep geological repository (DGR) for low and medium level nuclear waste near the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine, located about 200 km north of London on Lake Huron.
OPG and Kincardine recently ratified an amended agreement for the repository, originally signed in 2004, under which the municipality will receive compensation.
However, it remains unclear exactly when this site will open, as an environmental assessment is still under review, and the project does not have the required support of local First Nations communities.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a federal body, is currently seeking a host for a DGR that would house high-level nuclear waste.
There are currently five communities, two in Midwestern Ontario and three in the province’s north, under consideration for the project.
“There is no guarantee that the NWMO process will produce a willing host, an acceptable site or federal approval to construct the [deep geological repository] for the used fuel,” O’ Connor says.
She goes on to say that the proposed site in Kincardine is not certain. It may not be available when the time comes to move the waste.
The regional chair feels these details should be incorporated into the detailed decommissioning plan that OPG is required to prepare, while also writing that this is another reason for the need of a full impact assessment.
O’Connor wants the province to participate in a coordinated, “one-window” impact assessment that will assess adverse impacts on, as well as protect, environmental components under their jurisdiction. She writes that they should be required to do so by the federal government.
“If the province declines to participate, the host communities should be able to request additions to the scope of the federal [impact assessment] process to ensure comprehensive consideration of the fiscal, social and economic impacts on their communities,” writes O’Connor.
O’Connor points out that host municipalities, such as Durham, aren’t mentioned in proposed impact assessment documents as either a level of government or principal party to be consulted during the impact assessment process. Instead, she feels they’re treated as though they are part of the public.
“But unlike ‘the public’ [municipalities] do not qualify for intervener funding because [they] are municipal governments,” she says.
She wants all host communities to receive formal recognition in the impact assessment process and be eligible to receive funding to participate in the impact assessments process.
Funding should also be available in regards to any subsequent responsibilities of the region following decommissioning, as it places a burden on the municipality.
“[The] community will need a well-developed emergency response capability,” reads O’Connor’s letter. “It will need the staff capacity to track and participate in the related regulatory processes that continue throughout the lifespan of the facility.”
As the decommissioning of the nuclear generating station in Pickering is the first of its kind in Ontario, O’Connor believes that this is a good opportunity for “Canada to develop, refine, market and export its expertise on decommissioning reactors around the world.”