Both SMRs AND the high-level nuclear fuel waste they produce are EXEMPT from environmental assessment in Canada

As noted in the recent Hill Times op-ed by Eva Schacherl, Political Opposition Growing to New Reactors, both small modular nuclear reactors AND the high-level fuel waste they produce are EXEMPT from environmental assessment in Canada

From the op-ed:

“The Impact Assessment Act was intended to create “greater public trust in impact assessment and decision-making.”  But there will be no federal assessment of nuclear reactors up to 200 thermal MW in size, nor of new reactors built at existing nuclear plants (up to 900 MWth). Yet new tidal power projects, as well as offshore wind farms with 10 or more turbines, need an assessment under the regulations, as do many new fossil fuel projects.”

“Also exempted from federal assessment is the “on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste” associated with small modular reactors. This will make it easier for SMRs’ radioactive waste to be potentially left in the northern, remote, and First Nations communities, where they are proposed to be built.”

This SMR fuel waste exemption was a last-minute insertion in the Impact Assessment Act regulations. It is found in section 28 of the Physical Activities Regulations (the so-called ‘project list’ for the new Impact Assessment Act and reads as follows:

28 The construction and operation of either of the following:(a) a new facility for the storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste, outside the licensed boundaries of an existing nuclear facility, as defined in section 2 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, other than a facility for the on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste associated with one or more new fission or fusion reactors that have a combined thermal capacity of less than 200 MWth

As far the fuel waste from the proposed SMR (the “MMR Project“) at Chalk River is concerned, there is another exemption in section 28 – the phrase “outside the licensed boundaries of an existing nuclear facility”  allows it to be kept on site at Chalk River, a licensed nuclear facility.

Canada will make dozens of small modular nuclear reactors |  NextBigFuture.com
Artist’s rendering of a prototype small nuclear reactor plant. Under Canadian legislation, the whole plant along with the irradiated nuclear fuel it produced could become a radioactive exclusion zone, permanently off limits to humans

CNSC says climate change is not relevant to environmental assessment of SMRs

Canada’s first formal license application for an SMR is the “Micro Modular Reactor” in Chalk River.

CCRCA, and many others provided written interventions to the CNSC on “the scope of an environmental assessment for the proposed Micro Modular Reactor Project at the Chalk River Laboratories” prior to the one-person “Panel of Commission: R. Velshi, President” that rendered its decision on July 26th.

The CCRCA submission noted, in particular, that under the Impact Assessment Act, the proponent would be required to include as a “factor” in the EA ““the extent to which the effects of the designated project hinder or contribute to the Government of Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change.”

We added, “the CNSC has proposed that proponents assess the total GHG production as part of CNSC-led environmental assessments” in its fact sheet entitled “Greenhouse gas emission assessments for the Canadian nuclear fuel cycle,”  

Somehow, the Record of Decision on the project scope omits any mention of climate change.  

The CNSC’s decision on the scope of the MMR project indicates that climate change is not a relevant factor in the consideration of environmental impact of SMRs.

Here’s our take-away:

  • Reducing GHG emissions is a government priority.  This is reflected in the Impact Assessment Act.  The Minister of Natural Resources says nuclear power is essential to reduce GHGs (no path to net zero without nuclear) 
  • The CNSC did not include GHG emissions as a factor in assessing its first SMR license application – even when requested to do so – and even when its own “interim strategy for environmental assessments” calls for this.
  • The CNSC should not lead environmental assessments of nuclear reactors, including SMRs. 
  • The Physical Activities Regulations under the Impact Assessment Act should be changed to remove exemptions for new nuclear reactors.
Global Warming vs. Climate Change | Resources – Climate Change: Vital Signs  of the Planet

Civil society groups condemn plan to exempt nuclear reactors from Bill C-69 impact assessment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ottawa, May 7, 2019 — The Government of Canada is proposing that the “project list” for Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, exempt many nuclear reactors from any environmental assessment.  Civil society groups are condemning the exemption from environmental assessment under Bill C-69 and demanding that all new nuclear reactors be subjected to formal environmental assessment, as is now the case.

The federal government’s discussion paper, released on May 1, proposes that all nuclear reactors that produce less than 200 megawatts of thermal power be excluded from the Impact Assessment Act, as well as nuclear reactors built on existing nuclear sites that produce up to 900 megawatts of thermal power. 

“Excluding nuclear energy projects from impact assessment means there will be no credible sustainability-based assessment of the environmental, health, economic or social impacts of new, expanded or refurbished nuclear energy projects before they proceed,” says Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel for the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “In our view, giving the nuclear power industry a free pass under the Impact Assessment Act is the antithesis of sound and precautionary environmental planning, and should not be countenanced by Parliament.” 

“It is shocking that the federal government expects nuclear projects to go ahead with no impact assessment,” says Dr. Ole Hendrickson, a retired Environment Canada scientist and board member of Sierra Club Canada Foundation. “This may benefit the nuclear industry, but at the expense of the environment, public health and safety and the rights of Indigenous communities.”

In November, federal Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi launched a “roadmap” at a nuclear industry conference in Ottawa that outlines plans to build Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in Indigenous and northern communities and at remote mining sites across Canada. The Roadmap’s recommendations included comments suggesting that SMRs should be exempted from Bill C-69. 

The discussion paper for Bill C-69 regulations says that the effects from SMRs are “well known” and “share core characteristics” with existing conventional reactor technology. However, all proposed SMRs would employ new and untested designs, or technologies, some involving liquid metal and molten salt coolants that caused serious accidents in early prototype reactors, and some using controversial fuels never commercially allowed in Canada before, based on plutonium, thorium, or enriched uranium. 

“People in northern and Indigenous communities where the nuclear industry wants to build these reactors have a right to know what the risks are,” says Hendrickson. “A formal impact assessment with public disclosure is essential to identify these risks, including radioactive emissions and long-lasting contamination of soil and groundwater, especially due to malfunctions or accidents.”

Impact assessment of SMRs became a focus of media attention last November when it was revealed that Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), had been secretly lobbying the Government for the reactors to be exempted from environmental assessment. The Globe and Mail reported that CNSC encouraged the government to exempt small modular reactors from the list of designated projects (see Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review – November 6, 2018).

The discussion paper also does not include decommissioning of nuclear reactors and facilities on the project list for Bill C-69.   Decommissioning includes cleaning up, dismantling and removing contaminated nuclear facilities; storing the resulting radioactive waste; and returning the nuclear sites back to public use. This is despite the environmental risks of these activities and direct requests from host communities.  

Remediation of contaminated nuclear sites, new radioactive waste storage facilities at existing nuclear sites, and nuclear waste transport are also not identified for impact assessment in the discussion paper.

The federal government is giving Canadians until May 31 to submit comments on the discussion paper regarding the Bill C-69 Project List at the following address: impactassessmentregulations.ca    

ABOUT CCRCA

The Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area was formed in 1978 to research and advocate about nuclear waste and other pollution issues in Eastern Ontario and the Ottawa River watershed. The group works closely with other civil society groups to promote responsible management of radioactive wastes and protection of the environment.

ABOUT CCNR
The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility is a not-for-profit organization, federally incorporated since 1978, dedicated to education and research on all issues related to nuclear energy, whether civilian or military, especially those pertaining to Canada.

ABOUT SIERRA CLUB CANADA FOUNDATION

Sierra Club Canada Foundation is a national and grassroots non-profit organization committed to empowering people to protect, restore and enjoy a healthy and safe planet.

ABOUT RALLIEMENT CONTRE LA POLLUTION RADIOACTIVE

The mission of the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (RCPR) is to act voluntarily and collectively to promote responsible solutions for the management of radioactive waste that are safe for the environment and for the health of the population.

ABOUT CELA

The Canadian Environmental Law Association is a public interest law group founded in 1970 for the purposes of using and enhancing environmental laws to protect the environment and safeguard human health. CELA lawyers represent low-income and vulnerable communities in the courts and before tribunals on a wide variety of environmental and public health issues.   

– 30 –

Media contacts:

Theresa McClenaghan
Executive Director and Counsel, 

Canadian Environmental Law Association

theresa@cela.ca

416-960-2284 ext.7219

Lynn Jones 

(to arrange an interview with Dr. Ole Hendrickson of SCCF or Dr. Gordon Edwards of CCNR)
Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
hendrickson.jones@gmail.com 
613-234-0578

Ginette Charbonneau

Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

ginettech@hotmail.ca

514-246-6439

Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review

Globe and Mail article

SHAWN MCCARTHY GLOBAL ENERGY REPORTER

OTTAWA

PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 6, 2018 UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO

FOR SUBSCRIBERS

COMMENTS

Canada’s nuclear regulator has urged the federal government to allow smaller nuclear reactors to avoid lengthy impact assessments, a move that would create an easier and faster path for commercialization of the technology.

So-called “small module reactors,” or SMRs, have been touted as a low-carbon energy option for remote communities. But briefing notes from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) show it is worried that protracted impact assessment hearings could be detrimental to the commercialization of the reactors in Canada. The commission told the government it should retain responsibility to conduct environmental reviews when construction projects are proposed, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.

The SMRs represent the nuclear industry’s latest effort to reduce its high capital costs and would have a capacity ranging from 1.5 megawatts to a utility-scale 300 megawatts.

In one briefing document for internal discussions, the regulator notes the nuclear industry’s concerns about “longer regulatory timelines” that would result from passage of the government’s Impact Assessment Act – Bill C-69, which is now before the Senate. The CNSC encourages the government to exempt small modular reactors from the list of designated projects that would receive a full panel review, and warns that lengthy regulatory delays could kill a promising industry. The documents were obtained by Greenpeace Canada.

Proponents argue the small modular reactors could supply a wide range of electricity needs, from replacing dirty, unreliable diesel generation in remote communities, to providing low-carbon electricity for oil sands operations. They paint a vision of impoverished Indigenous communities getting reliable and affordable power from 1.5-megawatt reactors that would replace diesel, or off-grid mines and oil sands plants using larger reactors to provide low-carbon energy to their operations, and of units that would anchor “energy parks” and complement solar and wind generation.

“The future of the nuclear industry, especially for Canadian participants, is dependent on the success of SMRs,” says the April, 2018, note to CNSC’s then-president Michael Binder, who has since retired. “It is very important to get the project list right so that there is a reasonable threshold on what kind of projects require an IA [impact assessment].” Another briefing note also says CNSC is recommending the government adopt thresholds to ensure proposals to build small reactors do not face a full impact review.

Panel members of a full impact assessment would come from a broad cross-section of the public representing various disciplines, appointed by the government.

Greenpeace researcher Shawn-Patrick Stensil argues the CNSC’s preferred approach would prevent a broad-based review of the safety and environmental risks from untested reactor technology that will produce highly radioactive waste.

CNSC spokesman Aurele Gervais said the commission believes there should be a threshold for full impact assessments “based on risk.”

“Regardless, all projects would still be subject to environmental assessments under the Nuclear Safety Control Act,” which is administered by the CNSC, he said.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi is scheduled to release a “road map” – prepared by industry with support from the federal government – on how Canada can participate in the development of next generations of reactors. “We will make sure that we are looking at every aspect of this industry from safety, from regulation, to the potential for northern communities, the potential of co-generation for large industrial complexes,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

In an interview, Mr. Sohi said the government will consider the industry proposals, but has not committed to providing any support for the commercialization of SMRs. In an Oct. 30 letter to Mr. Sohi and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, critics representing 25 advocacy groups argue SMRs would be more expensive per kilowatt of power than traditional reactors and would continue to produce radioactive waste with no permanent disposal methods available.

Government-owned Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is in talks with several companies that are developing SMRs and is aiming to have several demonstration plants at its site on Chalk River, 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, assuming the developers receive a safety licence from the CNSC. Currently, 10 companies have submitted plans to the commission for a “pre-licensing design review” in which the regulator provides high-level feedback on whether their technology would meet with Canadian standards.

CNL is hosting an international gathering of SMR developers in Ottawa this week. That list includes Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Co., which is now owned by Brookfield Asset Management Inc., and Terrestrial Energy Inc., which has cleared the first stage of the pre-licensing review with the CNSC.

At a presentation on Monday evening, CNL president Mark Lesinski said it is critical for the industry to be able to build demonstration plants at an existing nuclear site like Chalk River, in order to prove and fine-tune its technology before pursuing commercial deals. Industry officials suggest it would likely take five years before an SMR design is licensed in Canada, and another five years before they are sold commercially. However, in their letter to the ministers, the advocacy groups urged the government to refuse any support for new nuclear reactor technology.

“The nuclear lobby’s promises of affordable new reactors able to fight climate change are always conditional on government subsidies, watering down safety and limiting the public’s right to information,” Greenpeace’s Mr. Stensil said on Tuesday. He argued it is inappropriate for the CNSC to lobby on behalf of the industry that it regulates. The commission provided a submission to the government on the Impact Assessment Act, but has refused to release it, he said.

Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada: Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects

January 29, 2018

Petition summary on the OAB website here: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_413_e_43085.html

Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects

This petition is being submitted to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in accordance with section 22 of the Auditor General Act by the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCRCA) and the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (OFWCA).  We note that the concerns highlighted in this petition and the answers sought are also matters of importance to our colleagues in other organizations including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Pontiac Environmental Protection, the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and Friends of the Earth Canada.

Purpose of Petition

This petition concerns an important issue for our country in the coming decades: the environmental assessment of nuclear projects, including those for managing Canada’s large volumes of radioactive waste.  To inform this issue we review the ongoing discussion of how Canada’s environmental assessment processes can regain public trust and how to ensure that decisions serve the public’s interest.  We draw upon the report of the Expert Panel, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada (1); on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter (2); and on the federal government’s Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper (3).  We then pose questions for the various Ministers involved in the environmental assessment review and reform process, with a specific focus on how this process should address nuclear projects.

Background

Nuclear projects include construction and operation of new facilities such as uranium mines or nuclear reactors, refurbishment of existing facilities, decommissioning of facilities whose useful life is over, and management of wastes arising from activities such as mining, nuclear research and development, and nuclear power generation.

Managing nuclear wastes is a particularly challenging issue.  Nuclear waste has been accumulating in Canada for seven decades. Long-lived man-made radionuclides such as iodine-129, nickel-59, niobium-94, plutonium-239, plutonium-240, technetium-99, uranium-234 and zirconium-93 will be toxic to all life for many millennia. Facilities must be planned and built to look after the wastes in the best and most responsible manner possible, to keep them out of the biosphere for as long as they remain hazardous. 

Environmental assessment will be a key part of the process of establishing the necessary facilities. The best quality environmental assessment will be necessary in order to minimize pollution, protect the health of Canadians, protect ecosystems and avoid placing undue burdens on future generations.

Currently in Canada, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is the sole responsible authority for the environmental assessment of nuclear projects.

After conducting extensive hearings across Canada, the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment Reform issued its final report In April 2017.  It recommends that an independent assessment authority replace the CNSC as responsible authority for nuclear projects (1). The Panel accepted the arguments made by hearing participants that “industry-specific regulatory agencies are more focused on technical issues than they are on the planning process that is fundamental to a thorough IA [impact assessment],” and that issues “were being put off to the post-decision regulatory phase.”   

The Expert Panel’s recommendation that the CNSC be replaced as responsible authority also reflects the widely held view that the CNSC is a “captured” regulator.  The Panel report states that “The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions” of the CNSC. ()

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter (November 12, 2015)

Identifies environmental assessment reform as one of the Minister’s “top priorities”:

Supported by the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and Natural Resources, immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment processes to regain public trust and help get resources to market and introduce new, fair processes that will:

  • restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication;
  • ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public’s interest;
  • provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate; and
  • require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts. (2)

The Expert Panel addressed in detail the first part of this priority – review of environmental assessment processes to regain public trust.  With regard to CNSC-led environmental assessments, the Expert Panel said:

…the erosion of public trust in the current assessment process has created a belief among many interests that the outcomes are illegitimate. This, in turn, has led some to believe that outcomes are pre-ordained and that there is no use in participating in the review process because views will not be taken into account. The consequence of this is a higher likelihood of protests and court challenges, longer timeframes to get to decisions and less certainty that the decision will actually be realized – in short, the absence of social license. (1)

The Expert Panel went on to explain the difference between regulatory licensing – in which the CNSC has considerable experience – and assessment: 

… regulation and assessment are two quite distinct functions that require different processes and expertise. Regulatory licensing typically focuses on determining the technical acceptability of a proposed project against the requirements set out in a governing piece of legislation, with a consequent emphasis on technical expertise and a tendency for the regulator and the regulated industry to be in regular contact and discussions. Assessment is a planning process which considers both technical and non-technical matters and engages in public review to select the best options. The scope of assessment is much broader and requires more diverse expertise, especially in consideration of the sustainability approach being proposed by the Panel. (1)

A June 2017 discussion paper outlines the changes to environmental and regulatory reviews being considered by the Government of Canada in response to the Expert Panel’s advice as well as additional inputs to government directly (3).  The Government is proposing that the new agency responsible for impact assessment would jointly conduct impact assessments of nuclear projects with the CNSC.  For non-designated projects the CSNC would continue to have sole decision-making authority, while noting that the Government would review the Regulations Designating Physical Activities.

This proposed sharing of authority between the new agency and the CNSC may be problematic from a procedural standpoint, and may impede the goal to regain public trust in environmental assessment, including of nuclear projects.

A close look at how the CNSC is conducting environmental assessments of three projects involving the permanent disposal of federally-owned radioactive waste is instructive and helps to illustrate why this agency may not be the appropriate responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects. These three projects are:

1) the so-called “Near Surface Disposal Project” a proposed mound for one million cubic metres of “low level” and long-lived radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River on the property of the Chalk River Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario;

2) the NPD Closure Project, a controversial “in-situ decommissioning” of the prototype CANDU reactor beside the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario; and 

3) the equally controversial “In Situ Decommissioning of the Whiteshell Reactor #1”, beside the Winnipeg River at Pinawa, Manitoba.

The CNSC allowed these three projects to go forward to the Environmental Assessment stage, despite the fact that all three are clearly at odds with international guidance and do not use best technologies available for responsible management of radioactive wastes. 

The terms “near surface disposal project” and “landfill” have specific meanings in guidance documents developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Although the proponent uses the term “Near Surface Disposal Project”, this project would actually involve the permanent disposal of long-lived radionuclides and relatively high activity wastes in an above-ground landfill-type facility.  According to the IAEA, such a facility is only suitable for very low level radioactive waste with “low concentrations or quantities of radioactive content,” “very limited concentrations of longer lived radionuclides,” and which does not need a “high level of containment and isolation”. (4)

Similarly, two “in-situ” reactor decommissioning (or “entombment”) projects appear to violate guidance in IAEA document Decommissioning Strategies for Facilities Using Radioactive Material, which states that “Entombment is not relevant for a facility that contains long lived isotopes because these materials are not suitable for long term surface disposal;” adding that “The disadvantages of entombment include: (a) Unsuitability for facilities with long lived radionuclides; (b) Cost of long term monitoring and institutional controls; (c) Public acceptance of creation of a near surface waste disposal site.(5)

With regard to the proposed entombment of the Whiteshell Reactor #1, a submission to the CNSC from Dr. Leonard Simpson (Former Mayor of Pinawa and retired AECL Director of Reactor Safety Research) reflects IAEA’s warnings about public acceptance and the cost of institutional controls:

… none of the senior members of the AECL Waste Management Program who are enjoying their retirement in Pinawa were consulted in the preparation of the proposal. The general level of community consultation of the CNL activities has been abysmal in spite of the fact that this is where we live and are expected to support an entombed site under institutional control effectively for ever. (6)

Concerns about costs were also raised by Dr. Michael Stephens, another former AECL employee at Whiteshell Laboratories: 

The stated objective of the project is to ensure “the prompt reduction of Canada’s long- term nuclear legacy liabilities”. If the entombed reactor is not licensable as a near-surface disposal facility because of the long-lived nuclides or hazardous substances, then this project does not reduce the long-term liabilities – it increases them because it will be more difficult and expensive to retrieve them for disposal later. (7)

Despite these serious criticisms, the CNSC scoping decision for the WR-1 project (which was combined with the decision for the other two other nuclear waste disposal projects) required no changes to the project description. (8)

The CNSC’s scoping of the Near Surface Disposal Project (NSDF) was equally flawed

The combined scoping decision was made nine days before the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the NSDF project was released.  The CNSC allowed the proponent to conduct environmental impact studies before the project scope was determined.  The scoping decision ignored many serious criticisms of the NSDF project description.  It was released by a 1-person “Panel” comprised solely of the CNSC President.  The public was not apprised of the “Panel” hearing, which may never have actually taken place.

The CNSC has not ensured sufficient engagement of First Nations 

In response to concerns about the WR-1 decommissioning project raised by The Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, CNSC staff said “The Commission is the CNSC’s decision-making body that makes EA and licensing decisions for all major nuclear projects. Decisions made by the Commission are not subject to any governmental or political review, nor may they be overturned by the Government of Canada.” (9) The CNSC’s “independence” from the Government of Canada is a serious impediment to proper engagement of Aboriginal peoples in the environmental assessment process.

The CNSC did not require the NSDF proponent to translate documents into French, despite a clear potential for adverse environmental impacts in the Province of Quebec

The closest residents to the NSDF project site are in Quebec.  Lack of access to French language documents led to a complaint from a Quebec citizen and a decision by the Commissioner of Official Languages to require translation of the draft EIS.

The CNSC allowed the NSDF proponent to make a major change to the project – elimination of “intermediate” level waste – without requiring revision of the draft EIS.

The proponent, under significant pressure due to highly critical submissions from many individuals and groups, including the Quebec Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (10), announced a major change to its plan for the NDSF in October 2018, two months after the closure of the public comment period on the draft EIS. The proposed change renders key parts of the draft EIS inaccurate, including the waste inventory, the waste acceptance criteria, and the assessment of alternative means of carrying out the project. CNSC, while acknowledging this change (11), did not require the proponent to prepare and release a revised draft EIS.  

The CNSC has delayed or refused outright to provide access to documents referenced in the draft EIS for the Near Surface Disposal Project. 

A footnote on page 3-14 of the draft EIS (12) states that “The Safety Analysis Report demonstrates that even after failure of some of the design features, the wastes do not present a risk to the public and environment.”  However, the Safety Analysis Report was not released until after the public comment period on the draft EIS ended.  Key portions of this document (such as section 4.2.1.3 on “Nuclear Criticality Safety”) were redacted. 

CNSC staff are proposing to remove references to CEAA from the licensing documents for the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).  

The Regulations Designating Physical Activities under CEAA require environmental assessment of new nuclear reactors, new facilities for the long-term management or disposal of nuclear waste, or expansion of existing long-term waste facilities by 50% or more. The current CRL licence handbook (13) says “A determination of the applicability of the CEAA must be made” with regard to i) changes to the CRL site, ii) modifications of existing nuclear facilities, iii) nuclear facilities undergoing decommissioning, and iv) construction of new nuclear facilities.  CNSC staff have removed these references to CEAA from their draft CRL licence handbook for the next licence period (14).

The CNSC’s own “Environmental Assessment” reports, which the agency conducts for non-designated projects, illustrate the agency’s lack of understanding of CEAA. 

The EA report attached to the CNSC staff document prepared for the January 2018 CRL site licence hearing (14) does not even mention the physical activities that the licensee intends to carry out during a 10-year licence period.  These activities include construction of a small modular reactor, construction and operation of a nuclear waste disposal facility, and decommissioning of the NRU reactor and other CRL facilities.  CNSC’s EA report merely describes the current state of the environment at the CRL site.

Conclusion

The CNSC’s performance as responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects is problematic.  Public interest and public trust may not be well served by allowing the CNSC to continue in this role, nor by assessments conducted “jointly” by the CNSC and a new agency.  Fortunately, an excellent alternative exists, as outlined by the Expert Panel: creation of a new federal authority that would be empowered to decide whether a project would make a positive contribution to Canada’s future well-being and, on that basis, approve or deny a project application.

Questions

For questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  For questions 5 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Natural Resources. For questions 6 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.  For questions 7 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.  For questions 8 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Science.  We also request that the petition be sent to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs as a matter of information.

1) Given the evidence presented here of serious weaknesses in CNSC’s approach to environmental assessment, and the government’s commitment to new, fair environmental assessment processes, would the Minister please explain how she intends to regain public trust in the environmental assessment of nuclear projects?  

2) Noting the Expert Panel recommendation that an independent agency should replace the CNSC as responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects, why does the June 2017 Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper propose that the twoagencies jointly conduct impact assessments?  How would this work in procedural terms?  How would project approval decisions be made?  Would the Minister be willing to reconsider this proposal in light of the evidence presented in this petition?

3) As stated in the Expert Panel report, “Assessment is a planning process which considers both technical and non-technical matters.”  What steps will the Minister take to ensure that planning aspects are addressed in environmental assessment?  How does the Minister intend to balance technical and non-technical matters (such as the sustainability approach emphasized by the Panel) in assessing potential impacts of nuclear projects?

4) The Expert Panel expressed the view that “assessment processes must move beyond the bio-physical environment to encompass all impacts likely to result from a project, both positive and negative.”   The Panel added that what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment”.  What is the Minister’s view on the need for a broader “impact assessment” approach?  Specifically, how should socio-economic considerations be addressed in the assessment of nuclear projects?

5) Your mandate letter calls upon you to work with your Cabinet colleagues to introduce new, fair environmental assessment processes, including to “provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate, including provisions to enhance the engagement of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.”  What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?

6) Your mandate letter calls upon you to collaborate with your Cabinet colleagues “to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement, and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.”  What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?  Are specific measures needed to enhance the participation of indigenous groups in the assessment of nuclear projects?

7) Your mandate letter calls upon you to collaborate with your Cabinet colleagues to introduce new, fair processes that will, inter alia, restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction; ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public interest; and provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate. What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?  

8) What actions have you taken, or will you take, to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence?  How can science, facts and evidence be brought to bear in choosing the best technologies available for projects involving the long-term management of nuclear wastes?

9) Noting the apparent deficiencies in the CNSC-led environmental assessments of three projects involving permanent disposal of federally-owned radioactive wastes, how will you ensure that decisions taken regarding these projects serve the public interest?

References

  1. Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada. The final report of the Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes. April 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/environmental-assessment-processes/building-common-ground.html
  2. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter, November 12, 2015.  https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-environment-and-climate-change-mandate-letter
  3. Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper. June 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/share-your-views/proposed-approach/discussion-paper.html
  4. Disposal of Radioactive Waste. Specific Safety Requirements No. SSR-5.  International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.  2011.  http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1449_web.pdf
  5. Decommissioning Strategies for Facilities Using Radioactive Material. Safety Report Series #50. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. 2007.  http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1281_web.pdf
  6. CNL’s Proposal for WR1. Leonard Simpson. July 3, 2016.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/114864E.pdf
  7. Comments on the “Project Description for the in Situ Decommissioning of the WR-1 Reactor at the Whiteshell Laboratories Site”. Michael Stephens. June 30, 2016.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/114855E.pdf
  8. Decision on the Scope of Environmental Assessments for Three Proposed Projects at Existing Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Facilities.  CNSC.  March 8, 2017.  http://suretenucleaire.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/pdf/Record of Decision – CNL Scope of EA Factors 2017.pdf
  9. Disposition Table of Public and Aboriginal Groups’ Comments on Project Description – In Situ Decommissioning of Whiteshell Reactor #1 Project.  CNSC.  March 8, 2017. http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/118863E.pdf
  10. Questions et commentaires sur le projet d’une installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface sur le territoire des Laboratoires de Chalk River en Ontario proposé par les Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens. Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques.  September 15, 2017. http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80122/120514F.pdf
  11. Near Surface Disposal Facility – Recharacterization of Waste. November 2, 2017.  http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=120908
  12. Near Surface Disposal Facility Environmental Impact Statement.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. March 17, 2017.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80122/118380E.pdf
  13. Licence Conditions Handbook for Chalk River Laboratories(CRL Handbook).  CNSC e-Doc 4937963.  December 12, 2016.
  14. A Licence Renewal.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Chalk River Laboratories.  CNSC CMD 18-H2. http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/hearings/cmd/pdf/CMD18-H2-SubmissionfromCNSCStaffforCRLLicenceRenewalJanuary2018.pdf