Greenpeace attends CNSC Hearings
April 24, 2015
Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling
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A Greenpeace representative attended the recent CNSC hearings in Kincardine for the first time. Her name is Fawn Edwards Her impressions are captured in a blog reviewed below.
From her background, it is clear that she is a dedicated environmentalist in the best sense of the word.
Greenpeace of course is a highly acclaimed environmental group that has world-wide reach and resources.
Because Edwards is attending a CNSC hearing for the first time, we can gain some insights from her feelings.
But first a review about what is the CNSC?
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) holds hundreds of hearings all over Canada. They are a regulatory agency set up by the Federal Government.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment and to implement Canada's international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.
CNSC was established in 2000 under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources. CNSC was created to replace the former Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which was founded in 1946. Learn more about Canada's Nuclear History and the AECB.
CNSC's Commission has up to seven appointed permanent members whose decisions are supported by more than 800 employees. These employees review applications for licences according to regulatory requirements, make recommendations to the Commission, and enforce compliance with the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, regulations, and any licence conditions imposed by the Commission.
At the recent Bruce Power licence renewal hearings in Kincardine a Greenpeace Canada member Fawn Edwards wrote a blog entry. It was the Greenpeace member's first ever CNSC hearing.
Her visit was worthy of note, not because of factual content. It was noteworthy because of perception. She did not delve into the intricate science and process of running a nuclear power plant or regulating it.
What was interesting was what feelings Edwards took away. There were no facts to challenge in her Blog, just impressions. That's just fine. We all should be interested in impressions.
Here is a summary of what Edwards felt, perceived and heard. There are quotes around all of the five presented Edwards' opinions. The quotes are from her blog.
1. Edwards -- "Nuclear risks don't get the scrutiny they deserve."
Edwards -- "Given the unacceptable potential cost to our health and livelihood in such a scenario, there is an urgent need for greater public engagement in what’s going on at the Bruce facility."
2. Edwards -- "As a private corporation, Bruce Power is accountable to its shareholders—not the public."
3. Edwards -- "The Commission makes no effort to evaluate the impartiality of intervenors."
Edwards -- "This raises some very troubling questions about the transparency of the hearings process, and whether the voices of the public are being drowned out by the business interests of Bruce Power".
4. Edwards -- "Bruce Power dodges important safety questions—and the CNSC lets them."
Edwards -- "The first thing that struck me when I walked into the room where the hearings were held was the huge disparity between the bare-bones general seating area and what I quickly came to think of as the cushy “VIP section”. Tellingly, the “VIP section” was even cordoned off with a red velvet rope and security guards.
Edwards -- "This apparently elite seating area was reserved for just two stakeholders: Bruce Power and CNSC staff. This struck me as significant because it provided a visual representation for my growing sense of unease over what I perceived as an inappropriate level of fraternization between regulator and licensee."
Edwards -- "For example, when my colleague referenced in his presentation the potential for a large radiation release incident at the Bruce site, Bruce Power did everything they could to avoid admitting that this risk exists. Despite Bruce Power’s own risk assessments demonstrating that such an incident could occur, the CNSC let their evasiveness slide."
5. Edwards -- "Citizens see risks that government authorities can’t—or won’t—see."
Edwards -- "The stories of regular folks like you and I have a far greater impact than I ever could have imagined. This week, I heard the story of Eugene Bourgeois, a local farmer who shared his fear that his farm had been fumigated and his air and food poisoned by radioactive emissions from the Bruce station. I listened as local mother Jutta Splettstoesser shared her concerns over the municipality’s lack of emergency planning and the company’s failure to engage with the public on safety protocols."
Edwards is new to hearings like those held by CNSC and may not have read or known in full the duties and mandate of CNSC. The hearings are formal. They are not intended to be town meetings or moderated discussions.
One mistake that Edwards makes is to lump CNSC together with the proponent. The hearing has public input, proponent input and CNSC is the moderator and regulator.
In (1) Edwards misses the point. The hearings are very serious and CNSC has been through them before, knows the risks and does a great job of making the results public. It takes just a little effort to see the depth of information that is available to all of us.
The real issue is not CNSC's public outreach, but their great efforts in interesting the pubic in the information provided. The general public does not hang on every decision of CNSC nor do they pay all that much attention to Greenpeace.
CNSC does alert the general public all the time. I receive communication each and every day from them concerning all manner of issues under their mandate. I'm not unique as part of the general public. The same information goes world-wide every day.
In (2) Edwards points to risks of running a nuclear reactor as a business. That's ok and is a point to be discussed. It was not the the focus of the hearing, however.
Greenpeace has talked about the business process many times in the past. They continue to make the case. The government decided otherwise and we have engaged a company, namely, Bruce Power monitored by CNSC.
The stronger CNSC is, the stronger will be the process. Bruce Power knows this and their business case rests on the safety issue.
In (3) Edwards is off the mark too. CNSC knows all the interconnections of companies and how Bruce Power runs and that the work involved in nuclear power spreads to sub-contractors.
In the copious information that flows out of CNSC, we see them working right at sub-contractor locations.
They are present and on site all the time and investigate contractors in great depth too.
CNSC studies the reports, peer reviews and testimony given and they cross check information tirelessly. They hire their own experts in specific areas.
They review international regulations and also ratings of Bruce Power by independent agencies world wide. The more involved they are makes Bruce Power long term a better and safer company.
It is the most regulated industry in the world. Far more regulated than waste disposal, chemicals, oil, gas, coal, solar and wind. Check the record.
The more than 800 member organization at CNSC is highly qualified. They are polite to speakers representing all sides.
They do, however, look for real information and not vague opinions and feelings. Although public feelings are important to them and part of their monitoring mandate, they try to get down to measureable facts both technical and social.
Edwards might not realize it, but the same public faces show up at hearings time and again, which is fine. She uses two individuals as examples.
What Edwards seems to ignore is that this is a hearing about continuing operations, not an open forum at a town hall. It has structure and an agenda. It certainly is not held in plush digs.
If a member of the public attends a local town council meeting, the mayor and council will have better chairs and there will be a formal process with deputations by the public scheduled and not willy-nilly shouted from the audience. Public input is done via deputations submitted a few days ahead of time. So it is at CNSC hearings.
Although there is an outreach to the public, the hearings are very serious and the information content is paramount. There is a very powerful outreach effort by CNSC, NWMO and OPG. The hearings are for information purposes. The decisions rest on facts with feelings considered too.
The proponent wants to go forward. They are trying to make their case. Greenpeace prefers shutdown. Greenpeace has to make their case too.
In (4) we will have to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt. This was her first hearing attended. The hearings are for evaluation by CNSC of Bruce Power's case.
There is a formality about the hearings that does not sit well with Edwards. It's not a group chat about a contentious issue. It has to be formal and respect has to be given the judge, which in this case is CNSC. They pass on their recommendations to the government of Canada per the mandate.
It's like a court hearing in which the Judge is hearing the case from the proponent. There has to be protocol and clarity. Speakers who lack information content are allocated time, but not questioned deeply because there is nothing to probe.
Unlike many court cases anyone can show up and many are allowed to testify by signing up in advance. They have to stick to the subject. Sometimes they don't.
Like any hearing, CNSC puts forth an agenda and the seating is done purposefully so that interplay can be achieved. Edwards is a bit naive in not noticing the real situation here. It's hardly the Ritz. Of her list of 5, this is the weakest impression taken away by Edwards.
The citizens Edwards mentions Bourgeois and Splettstoesser have given deputations a number of times and with Bourgeois, he has been engaged for 30 or 40 years. Edwards might not know the past history. CNSC knows both of them.
Both spoke at the Joint Review Panel Meetings about the low and intermediate DGR. They are heard and engaged locally.
CNSC knows both of them well and always listens carefully. Edwards might not be aware of their past testimony and writings, which are always presented in good form and duly noted by CNSC.
They are not innocents looked down upon and ignored. They have a following and are a local force. They garner respect from the CNSC staff. One thing they do well is to stay engaged.
So, what we have here is a first timer, Fawn Edwards expressing impressions and not facts. She presents feelings that may blur what was important about the hearing. Her blog won't stir many. It is representative, however, as a peek into feelings and impressions of a first timer.
That's ok, it's a personal Blog after all. It would be better to bring some facts forward though. Fact and emotion are powerful. Emotion without facts can move people, but not for long and not very far.
Greenpeace is an old hand at these hearings. They never miss an important one. That's ok and is part of their mandate. It is part of their model to gain attention for their overall cause. Edwards' blog is part of their outreach.
I'm sure Edwards will study the subject in the future and interact with other Greenpeace people to get more substance. If she has not taken a tour of the Bruce, she might consider that too.
Something like Edwards' reaction to the hearings was expressed at the JRP hearings by others, so she certainly is not alone.
In that hearing many were trying to keep pace with the technical information, which is substantial. They consistently failed to do so. Edwards does not go into anything technical, so runs less risk.
It might be helpful for Edwards to read and view the Joint Review Panel hearing minutes. It might take a month or more to do that.
Edwards will see that everyone was treated with respect and the many, many months of testimony included thousands of pages of testimony by local and international anti-nuclear speakers. In those hearings the three person panel were the judges and OPG, CNSC and NWMO were there to review and testify.
Edwards writing is clear and concise and anti-nuclear. I appreciate her honesty. Edwards is not deceptive. Others express admiration for Bruce Power because they know that a head-on attack may not produce the desired results at least locally, where it is the largest employer.
So others then proceed to do a dance around trying to be diplomatic, while tossing stones and avoiding what they really would like to say. Edwards is honest and comes right at her five points. That's refreshing.
Edwards has some valid areas to investigate and they are noted by all who read the blog.
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