Multiple Canadian organizations have expressed their concern that the approval process for the DGR is in the hands of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which is essentially an advocate for the nuclear industry, rather than a regulatory body. This is especially egregious since the Joint Review Panel, which is tasked with providing an independent review of the proposal, consists of three members, two of whom are appointed by the CNSC! This is not a truly independent panel.
One example of the mutual hand-washing that has gone into the review process of the DGR is the involvement of Golder Associates Ltd., which has issued a lengthy and expensive “independent” review of the DGR proposal. The chair of the Joint Review Panel is chaired by Stella Swanson. She, in turn, has worked for Golder. This first of all shows how easy it is for the CNSC to steer its “independent” reviews into a closed circle of people who all know each other and can be counted on to return the sort of result that it wants. Secondly, Golder is an employee-owned company; so unless Dr. Swanson has either divested her holdings with them (or somehow never was vested in the first place), she has materially benefited from their involvement in the review process.
This lack of true independent review has been a recipe for disaster at other nuclear sites, most prominently Fukushima, where regulatory capture has led to a situation where there is essentially no regulation of the industry.
It is with this as a backdrop that the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) wrote
We join other environmental public interest organizations in expressing our grave disappointment that the staff of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) have not supported an upgrade of the current environmental assessment from a Comprehensive Study to an Independent Panel Review.
An independent review panel would ensure a fair hearing, independent of the CNSC and its inappropriately close ties to the nuclear industry. We note that, to the present, nuclear waste has been kept in temporary storage facilities. This proposal strays entirely from this practice and would be the first permanent deep underground disposal of nuclear waste in Canada. This significant departure from temporary to permanent storage alone merits as full a public review as is available…. Such review is all the more important for a permanent facility that has the potential to impact human health and the environment essentially in perpetuity.
Likewise, the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario object to the composition of the Joint Review Panel:
Given PCWO’s over-riding use of the precautionary principle in all of our policies, we strongly oppose the proposal in the Draft Joint Panel Agreement that two members of the Joint Panel be recommended by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC); that CNSC should have the veto power of the Minister of Environment’s choice for the third panel member; and, that the third panel member then becomes a “temporary member” of the Commission.
In our view it is imperative that a truly independent review panel must assess OPG’s deep geologic repository application, not the agency that is steering the proposal to its conclusion and will be regulating it should the proposal be approved.
Therefore, we would request that the Joint Review Panel have three independent panel members appointed by the Minister of Environment. This would ensure that the Review Panel would be independent. The expertise of CNSC staff would then be the only link between the applicants and the Panel, which would be counter-balanced by experts of interveners to the hearing.