Problems with Regulatory Oversight

Regulatory agencies that were unconcerned with protecting the public were a crucial part of the world’s three largest nuclear disasters: Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Kyshtym.

The Soviet/Russian authorities, then as now, have almost no concern for the public. In fact Mayak, the facility whose nuclear waste exploded in the Kyshtym diasaster, has remained in operation ever since, with 34 major documented further accidents. As of today, its radioactive effluent continues to flow into the Ob river (with the seventh largest drainage basin in the world) and causes continual health problems for the people who live along its shores.

The Fukushima Daiichi facility, site of the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, is a classic case of regulatory capture, a situation where a regulatory agency created to protect the public from the predatory or callous practices of a type of business instead performs the bidding of the industry it is charged with regulating.

The relationship between the Japanese nuclear industry and its regulators is a compromised one. Changes were made to the Fukushima plant without regulatory approval, safety records were falsified, and the regulatory agency did not require another plant to shut down even when a district court ordered it to do so for not meeting safety requirements. Read more here.

Just as in Japan, the oversight and review of development at the Bruce Nuclear Power Station has been characterized by stonewalling, obfuscation, and a dogged lack of interest in its mandated responsibilities – and in some ways, the situation is worse because the courts have also repeatedly ruled not to punish violations.

Just as in Fukushima, the Bruce Plant was allowed to make major changes to its design after its review process was complete [read more here]. Just as in Kyshtym, it continues to leak tritium into the local groundwater [read more here] and discharge toxic fumigants over the neighboring farms [read more here]. Just as in both of these previous disaster sites, regulatory interest (let alone intervention) has been nonexistent. Leukemia in Bruce County is 30% more prevalent than in surrounding counties, but the CNSC’s mandated study of this and other elevated cancer rates was fudged [read more here] in order to say that no conclusion could be drawn from this.

Construction has not even been started on DGR itself. Yet its regulatory approval has already been allowed to proceed in spite of multiple violations to its mandates for safety and feasibility. 34 scientific and engineering deficiencies are listed in the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s submissions alone. The approval has also been allowed to proceed in spite of the plans lacking any specifications whatsoever for the incinerator, which is a major part of the waste treatment. In one particularly outrageous example, Greenpeace submitted a 66 page report showing how the metal canisters intended to contain the nuclear waste can degrade more quickly than claimed by their developers. The JRP sent the report back to Greenpeace, asking them to state how this was relevant to the review process. This is not how scientific planning and regulatory approval proceed when the planners and regulators have any interest whatsoever in the integrity of the process.

In addition, the DGR and its operator have been allowed to reclassify high-level waste as intermediate-level waste for the purposes of allowing it into the facility. It has thus, before even starting operation, already committed itself to storing waste that is beyond the level of danger that the facility was originally planned for. This has also been done in other inconvenient nuclear waste storage situations [read more here] and has had interesting consequences at the Swedish Forsmark DGR, one of the few that is already in operation [see discussion below].

We sincerely hope that the Bruce nuclear facility will not become the site of another tremendous nuclear catastrophe. But if it does avoid that fate, it will be in spite of the delinquent and negligent regulatory oversight it has hitherto received.

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