On Tuesday, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) held a public hearing in Saint John to discuss and hear interventions related to NB Power’s request for an unprecedented 25-year renewal of their Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station located just southwest of the city.
Before Tuesday, the CNSC had held that no new information had been brought forward by either NB Power or the CNSC Staff to alter their recommendation that the renewal be instead capped at 20 years.
One intervention was provided by representatives from Generation Atomic, a non-profit and self-reported “heart of the pro-nuclear movement.” Describing Point Lepreau as the “crown jewel” of New Brunswick’s renewable energy portfolio, Generation Atomic drew much of its data from case studies in the United States and Europe, contending that economic studies might be transferable to the Canadian context.
“In the end,” one spokesperson offered, “we all want the same thing.”
As their presentation was drawing to a close, Generation Atomic jested that they hoped the United States and Canada might one day become “one big country,” united behind the common cause of nuclear energy.
Later that morning, the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group (PRG) offered their intervention during the commission’s proceedings. They presented a request that the commission reconsider the issuance of a 20- to 25-year licence, and instead offer a three-year license to continue operations at Point Lepreau. Representatives from the Passamaquoddy reported that NB Power had not consulted the nation prior to the storage of hazardous waste, and that actions taken by the utility had defied the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UNDRIP).
Kim Reeder, a representative for the group, noted that out of sixteen prior licenses granted to Point Lepreau, twelve had not exceeded the time frame of two years. In fact, the average length of licencing remained only 2.44 years.
Passamaquoddy Chief Hugh Akagi called attention to the differences in the ways in which power and knowledge are wielded by both settler and Indigenous nations: “We store knowledge in our people, elders… not in your museums, archives, or books where they will be put away.” According to the Chief, the 25-year licensing period, by minimizing if not silencing public discourse regarding nuclear energy, meant that the Peskotomuhkati Nation was losing “the voice of a generation.”
Chief Akagi further urged that renewable rather than nuclear energy sources be pursued to combat the effects of climate change. The nuclear industry, he argued, really represented a mass-transfer of public funds to private industry. Thus, the colonial model was “alive and well”; the provincial and federal governments, by offering little in the way of Indigenous self-determination, were really in the process of telling the Peskotomuhkati nation that the state really knows “what is best.”
Interventions continued. Much of the CNSC Staff’s pro-nuclear argumentation – including its cost estimate – rested upon the assumption that Canada might one day develop a sufficiently large Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for the storage of nuclear fuel waste.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization plans to build a Deep Geologic Repository to store the used nuclear fuel at a cost of about $26 billion. All the nuclear waste producers, including NB Power, contribute to this fund. NB Power’s Jason Nouwens said that a site in Ontario for the DGR will be selected within the next two years.
Entirely separate from the used nuclear fuel, which is planned to be removed and shipped off-site, there are thousands of truckloads of long-lasting radioactive rubble that will be produced when the reactor structures are ultimately dismantled. That voluminous radioactive waste inventory, called the decommissioning waste, is the sole responsibility of NB Power and the New Brunswick government – and so far it has nowhere to go.
Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, warned that NB Power’s current financial guarantee set aside for the decommissioning of the Point Lepreau station fell well below the norm. Whereas NB Power had locked the guarantee at $755 million, Edwards reported that the actual decommissioning cost would translate to “about $1.83 billion” – two-and-a-half times larger than NB Power’s estimate.
Edwards further pointed toward the risks that radioactive tritium – a by-product produced by Point Lepreau’s CANDU reactor – might hold for the future of public health in New Brunswick. He reported that little to no data currently exists regarding tritium levels within the soil beneath the Point Lepreau plant.
In response to claims made regarding the health risks of tritium, Rumina Velshi – current President of the CNSC – argued against a statement made Jennifer Allen, NB Power’s Senior Health Physicist, wherein Allen stated that recurring rises in tritium were merely “yearly fluctuations.” Velshi instead called attention to the fact that tritium levels at Point Lepreau had steadily risen across a four-year period, and that the tritium situation Point Leapreau largely differed from similar stations elsewhere in the country.
Later that day, the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) released a statement supporting interventions put forward by both the Passamaquoddy Recognition Group and Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc.
“We urge the CNSC to respect Indigenous rights and desires,” wrote CRED-NB, “and grant a shorter licence period than the 25-year license extension NB Power applied for.”
The coalition’s statement further outlined a clear chain of command fostered between the CNSC and its associated Parliamentary bodies, wherein “the CNSC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources, whose mandate letter from the Prime Minister includes a clear direction to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
CRED-NB’s own intervention was presented on May 11 in association with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). Both CRED-NB and CELA recommended that the CNSC reconsider the unprecedented timeframe of NB Power’s planned 25-year licence of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. CRED-NB, by highlighting six “significant concerns” related to the future operation of Point Lepreau, brought to the public’s attention the precarious and uncertain nature of the station’s technological, environmental, and security impacts.
According to CRED-NB, NB Power’s request to receive a 25-year licence is “patently unreasonable” due to the fact that the license is “contrary to the public interest” and “fails to consider the impacts of […] a potential Small Modular Reactor and reprocessing facility.” The report continues, stating rather succinctly that NB Power relied on outdated and incomplete environmental data while drafting their application, and that the planned licence extends beyond Point Lepreau’s operational life. By failing to “expressly consider” the impacts of climate change, as well as the joint issue of off-site emergency preparedness, NB Power’s application “is insufficient to protect human health and the environment.”
CRED-NB’s intervention was reviewed by physicist M.V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA) at the University of British Columbia.
CRED-NB and CELA’s written intervention can be read in full here.
Harrison Dressler is a researcher and writer working out of the Human Environments Workshop (HEW) funded by RAVEN, as well as a technical assistant for the UNB Art Centre. He writes on New Brunswick and Canadian history, labour, politics, and environmental activism.
Note: this story was revised several hours after publication to clarify the difference between nuclear fuel waste and decommissioning waste.