The government is planning on introducing urgent legislation to bring NRU
Admittedly I know nothing about the current NRU situation but I would
find it hard to believe the government is weighing the increased nuclear risk
as described by the CNSC against the benefit of providing these
isotopes. Call me a cynic but I don't believe Public Relations is a good
enough reason to go above the CNSC.
Say what you will about nuclear safety standards (too high, too
low...opinions vary), but I, personally, am comforted by a strong independent
regulator (even if seemingly arbitrary decisions increase my workload
from time to time :-)).
I don't think a CNSC that can be and is "overruled" by legislation from
people who (I assume) have very little knowledge about how a nuclear reactor
actually works and the risks involved.
But, again, that's only my 2 cents...
|CREDIT: John Major, The Ottawa Citizen|
|Aerial view of the Atomic Energy plant in
OTTAWA - The federal Liberals have accused the Harper government of
putting the safety of Canadians at risk by attempting to force the premature
start-up of a nuclear reactor that produces an isotope used for medical
"The government solution to the crisis is apparently to lower nuclear
standards and hand the matter over to AECL without any oversight," Liberal MP
Omar Alghabra told the Commons Tuesday. "Will the minister, or the prime
minister for that matter, tell Canadians what will happen if there is a
nuclear accident? Who will be responsible? Will it be the prime
The Liberal Opposition was reacting to a government announcement that it
would introduce "urgent" legislation ensuring the resumption of operations at
the Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. facility, overriding safety
concerns of the nuclear regulatory authority.
Although the government wanted to push the legislation through the
Commons quickly with all-party consent, the Liberals said they opposed the
measure. They feared that the reactor, at Chalk River, Ont., is unsafe and
requires more upgrades.
"Mr. Speaker, there will be no nuclear accident but what there will be is
a growing crisis in the medical system here in Canada and around the world if
the Liberal party continues to support the regulator, obstructing this reactor
from coming back online," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
"This is essential. It is in the public interest. It is necessary for
Canadians' public health. The Liberal party can cast around all the blame they
want on AECL, that is fine, but they should stop blocking the best of
interests of Canadians' health."
The reactor was shut down Nov. 18 for upgrades, which included connecting
pumps to a power supply that would be secure in the event of an earthquake.
AECL has been waiting for parts and material to complete the project, creating
a critical, worldwide shortage of the radioactive diagnostic material.
In a joint letter to Linda Keene, president of the Canadian Nuclear
Safety Commission, which is the regulatory authority, government ministers on
Monday questioned the repairs proposed by the agency.
"We . . . seek an urgent explanation of why you believe it to be
essential that both earthquake-proof power backup units be made operational
immediately . . . as opposed to a more orderly upgrade process that might
take, at most, a few extra weeks, but which would allow isotope production to
resume uninterrupted," the letter said.
In a response Tuesday, Keene replied that "the commission has serious
concerns regarding the safety of the 50-year-old NRU reactor when its former
licence was due to expire. When the commission considered the licence renewal
application in spring 2006, it seriously questioned the safety of the
"As concerns the safety of the NRU reactor, under its current licence
conditions, the commission requires AECL to have all safety upgrades in place
in order to operate safely under its licence.
"Each upgrade has a specific purpose; however, it is the integrated
operation of all the upgrades that allows the critical safety functions to be
delivered," Keene wrote.
"These pumps are required to provide essential safety assurance and are
not just in place for earthquakes, but for all external design basis events.
If AECL has additional evidence to support a different position, they are
aware of the process to submit this information for evaluation by the CNSC