INVERHURON, Ontario – June 14, 2002
For your Information
MP’s Antennae Go Up over Bruce Nuclear Waste Site
Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development Questions Citizens Groups,
Environment Minister, Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
MPs Comartin (NDP), Kraft Sloan (Liberal) and Lunn (Canadian Alliance) Lead Questioning
Members of the Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development have been hearing startling testimony from a variety of public groups suggesting that the present Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) is not working. The Committee is holding hearings over plans to amend the Act.
In matters specifically related to the high level nuclear waste storage area under construction at the Bruce Nuclear site, Committee members expressed concern over points raised in testimony from the Inverhuron and District Ratepayers’ Association (IRDA) and Environmental Defence Canada (EDC).
The story began to unfold on May 23, 2002 with appearances before the Committee by Normand de la Chevrotiere, President of the IRDA and lawyer Rodney Northey of Environmental Defence Canada. In what was described by committee members as “incredibly moving testimony,” Normand de la Chevrotiere explained that the IDRA is a volunteer citizens group formed in 1946 in the tiny 300 family hamlet of Inverhuron, Ontario. The hamlet is also home to the world’s largest nuclear power generation station, waste storage and incineration facility, located at the Bruce Nuclear complex.
de la Chevrotiere explained that the IDRA had spent nearly 10 years in frustration trying to ascertain whether the waste storage sites were safe to live near. He spoke of Ontario Power Generation/Ontario Hydro documents that indicated leakage from the storage sites. And he explained how the IDRA had gone to the owners of the plant, federal regulators, Ministers of the Crown and finally through the three top courts of the land asking for an independent and expert environmental assessment of the site, which now includes a new high level waste facility and is considered the world’s largest combined facility to date. All this to no avail. His testimony, and all other testimony quoted in this Information Release, comes from the unedited, unofficial transcript of the hearings:
Mr. Normand de la Chevrotiere: Ontario Hydro changed the project materially in the middle of the public comment period and didn’t tell the public. The Atomic Energy Control Board recognized that. It wrote letters to at least four government departments and said, “There are three major changes. These new design changes need to be studied and information needs to be disseminated to the public, and we need to have an additional public comment period.” Even Hydro’s own consultant said there needed to be major changes to both the safety report and the environmental assessment report on the part of Hydro.
Hydro subsequently wrote back, basically saying, “We’re running out of time and we can’t afford any more delays under regulatory processes.” It promised to give a response to public concerns within a month. It did not. The Atomic Energy Control Board reversed its position, recommended approval of the project, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency agreed, and within two months the minister approved it. The project was done.
We only found out about these documents because we took the federal government to court. This is some transparent process. We thought now, since we had a strong case before us, this should be a fait accompli. It could not have been any clearer, yet the Trial Division ruled against us and awarded costs against us to be paid to Ontario Hydro and the federal government. We appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal: no, again. We sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and not only did it deny our application, it awarded even more costs against us. So now, on top of absorbing costs to participate in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act process, on top of the costs to pay our lawyers, we have to pay $100,000 to Ontario Hydro and the federal government because we were concerned about our children’s health.
de la Chevrotiere’s testimony continued with this question:
Mr. Normand de la Chevrotiere: Why do we have a regulator? Why do we even have a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act? If the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facility, housing the most toxic and deadliest of all industrial waste products does not merit a panel review, what would?
EDC lawyer, Rodney Northey, reminded the Committee that, according to the estimates of the Minister of the Environment, since the inception of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) more than 5 years ago, some 30,000 projects have been assessed. How many have gone on to detailed study and independent assessment as provided for by a panel review? Again, from the unedited transcript:
Mr. Rodney Northey: Now, in a measure of accountability, one might say well, let’s ask ourselves, should 1% of those projects get panel review? That would be 300 panel reviews. How many panel reviews have we had? I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to tell you it hasn’t been 300. Is .1 of 1% a measure of accountability for a statute? That would be 30 panel reviews. We haven’t seen that. We have seen 10 panel reviews over the course of CEAA.
Now, I want to get even more specific. CEAA has two routes to panel review: one is a process called screening; and, another is a processed called comprehensive study. Comprehensive study is for the bigger projects and you’ve heard about that today. But, let’s talk about screening. Screening applies to more than 99% of all projects subject to CEAA. So, more than 30,000 projects have gone through a screening. How many have led to panel review? The answer is staggeringly one. So, for 30,000 projects, apparently there is no need for independent or expert scrutiny, it’s all been figured out. And, I’ll put it to you when you read the act, it’s not even that one has to have certainty, panel review is supposed to be triggered if there is uncertainty about effects.
NDP Windsor-St. Clair MP Joe Comartin tried to express his concerns over the testimony he was hearing to the Committee Vice-Chair.
Mr. Joe Comartin: Madam Chair, I want to just take issue with you. The point that I’m trying to make here, and I’m trying to say this to the witnesses, is that we have all been moved by your statements to us today and the testimony you’ve brought to us. What I’m trying to assure you by my statement is that not only should those two ministers be here to respond to quite frankly the accusation that you’ve made, but so should somebody from the Atomic Energy Commission…
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): Mr. Comartin, I’m sorry that you’re taking issue with me, because I’m fully supportive of your intent. I am very concerned and perhaps we may want to have Atomic Energy answer to some of these questions, because personally and as chair, I’m a neutral party, but in my neutral fashion, I am appalled, for the record.
MP Gary Lunn, Canadian Alliance – Sannich Gulf Islands, echoed the sentiment of his colleagues:
Mr. Gary Lunn: …I wanted to focus on the panel review. Listening to Mr. de la Chevrotiere – my apologies if I’m not pronouncing your name correctly – I found your testimony very moving and quite disturbing about in fact what you had gone through. It’s almost appalling, if not appalling, that they wouldn’t trigger an automatic panel review in those circumstances.
A further exchange between Comartin, de la Chevrotiere, Northey and the Vice-Chair regarding the new high level waste storage facility at the Bruce site is recorded as follows:
Mr. Joe Comartin: Mr. de la Chevrotiere, with regard to the bringing of the spent rods, have they begun to do that? I wasn’t clear from your testimony.
Mr. Normand de la Chevrotiere: The facility is expected to be up and running by this fall, so they’re constructing it now. It’s just about complete. It will need a licence from the Atomic Energy Control Board to actually come into operation.
Mr. Joe Comartin: Do you know if that licence has been granted?
Mr. Normand de la Chevrotiere: No, the application will probably be made shortly to have the facility up and running in the fall.
Mr. Rodney Northey: That licence, just for the committee, does not trigger a Canadian environmental assessment.
Mr. Joe Comartin: Nor does anything else, obviously.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan): I’ve just spoken with the clerk and we’re going to make a request for witnesses from AECL to come to committee so we can have a discussion on this issue.
Mr. Rodney Northey: Madam Chair, it wouldn’t be AECL. It would be the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has replaced AECB.
The Vice-Chair (Mrs. Karen Kraft Sloan):That is AECB, okay.
Still later, Mr. de la Chevrotiere is quoted again in the unofficial, unedited record:
Mr. Normand de la Chevrotiere: I would just like to mention, and I’m sure I belaboured the point of how big the facility is and how potentially dangerous is, that I’m absolutely astounded that it made it through three regulatory levels and the three top courts in the land and the facility was never studied, just absolutely astounded.
The second comment that I’d like to make that goes with Mr. Reed’s comment is that by profession I’m an actuary, so my job is to identify and assess risk and put a price tag to it, for insurance purposes and I can tell you right now the Bruce facility represents a significant concentration of risk, and that although hopefully the potential for an accident or a terrorist attack is very small, let me tell you it would be absolutely catastrophic if it ever did happen. It’s sitting right on Lake Huron shoreline, on the Great Lakes Basin, home to 36 million people.
Six days later, on Wednesday, May 29, the present minister of the Environment, Mr. David Anderson, answered the call to appear before the Standing Committee.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—St. Clair, NDP) : We heard several horror stories from witnesses last week. Perhaps the one that caught my attention most was what’s going ahead now, the project at Bruce where we’re going to have the largest depository of radioactive waste in this country. For some reason this legislation as it stands–and I suggest as it would be amended with Bill C-19–did nothing to provide for an environmental assessment. Do you think that should have called for a panel?
Mr. David Anderson (Minister of the Environment) : Well, I understand you’re hearing from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission about the details of that environmental assessment. They will be reporting to you on the extensive study they did. Their view was that program technology and management practices associated with it will be satisfactory to mitigate any potentially significant environmental effects. I think you’re going to have to consider their testimony on this, which would obviously be more thorough than mine.
But once again, the importance of an issue doesn’t necessarily result in the panel approach or some other approach. It is, has it been appropriately handled? Has the concern been appropriately heard? And those are the questions you will be putting to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission when they come.
Six days after Minister Anderson’s appearance, on Tuesday, June 4, Mrs. Cait Maloney, Director General of the Directorate of Nuclear Cycle and Facilities Regulation, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) appeared before the Standing Committee. Mrs. Maloney’s remarks as well as others from CNSC staff, and a paper trial of letters from 1998-1999 showing how existing public process seems to have been by-passed, will come to you immediately under separate cover.
The official transcripts of the hearings of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development which concern the Bruce nuclear waste site (the hearings of May 23, May 29, June 4, June 6 from which unofficial versions we have quoted in Bruce Centre IR 2002-9 and IR 2002-10) should be available approximately 2-3 weeks following each hearing date. The unofficial transcript of June 4 contains testimony and Committee comments of concern on issues such as incidences of childhood leukemia, failure to err on the side of safety when there is uncertainty, and the nature of decision-making under duress as related to the Bruce site.