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Who knows more about nuclear safety, Harper or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

While there is no doubt that the current shortage of medical isotopes is a huge problem, simply restarting the reactor that produces them, against the advice of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is a bad idea.

The House of Commons passed emergency legislation late Tuesday night to reopen an Ontario nuclear reactor that produces most of the world’s supply of critical medical isotopes, even though the site has been shut down for safety maintenance.

To pass before Christmas break, the bill needed all party support. Both the Bloc Québécois and the NDP had said they could live with the government’s plan to override the advice of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and restart the 50-year-old reactor at Chalk River, Ont.

But Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff said the Liberals would not sign off on the legislation until they were assured “that we’ve got some guarantees on safety.”

Earlier, Harper declared in the House of Commons “there will be no nuclear accident” resulting from reopening the plant, citing an independent analysis of the site that already said there would be no safety risks.

Unless Stephen Harper has been hiding a degree or two in nuclear physics, overriding the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is a bad idea. It is the Nuclear Safety Commission that is responsible for maintaining the safety in Canada’s nuclear plants, the government should default to the advice of the experts on the commission and reactivate the plant when they are satisfied that it can be done safely.

UPDATE: The legislation overriding the recommendations of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has passed with the support of all parties in the House of Commons.

2 Responses to Who knows more about nuclear safety, Harper or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

  1. Your position is part of the problem. With no accountability, and imperious threats intimidating licensees from arguing their case, “nuclear (and other) regulators” tend to require non-productive “compliance” on conditions that have no actual safety significance (at least none more than some regulatory fictions). They consistently reject efforts to apply “realism” in assessing nuclear safety and actual risks. This can be true even where real people may actually be harmed, and even be killed by their actions, as opposed to just costing great wads of cash, ultimately borne by the public.

    I have no idea what Harper “knows,” but it would be simple and direct to find highly competent, unbiased, technical advisors, in and out of government, to provide the assurance that he would need for the existing conditions (with input from the licensee), and whether they entail any actual risk.

    Rather than take the “father knows best” approach, this is a good reason to review this case and the generic bases for their decisions, to see whether they have come off their rails, as all-powerful regulators/bureaucrats tend to do without regular objective oversight. The US Congress had to do this (partially) with the US NRC in the ’90s to get the agency back on its “effective regulation” tracks – which is not saying that the NRC now applies any realism in its tortured regulatory assessments and decisions.

    Paraphrasing Jefferson, we need to take unduly autonomous agencies to the woodshed about every 10 years or so. :-)

  2. My concern is that politicians (Harper isn’t alone in this) are giving in to pressure to re-open the plant.

    What is needed is a truly independent body to asses the safety of the nuclear facilities, that is what the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should be.

    By giving politicians the power to override such an institution it creates a dangerous precedent.

    The government should work towards having a competent Nuclear Safety Commission, so it’s decisions can be trusted to be correct in situations like these.

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