[Date Prev][Date Next]
[cdn-nucl-l] Editorial: "This is no way to fix a nuclear safety issue"
This is no way to fix a nuclear safety issue
The Gazette, 10 Jan. 2008
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and the federal government of which he
is a part are fighting an uphill battle against Linda Keen, president of the
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. That Lunn was not wrong about the issue
that sparked the dispute does not excuse his heavy-handedness in trying to
force her out of office.
There are two different issues here. Both arose after a squabble over the
Chalk River nuclear reactor, which produces half the world's supply of
radioactive isotopes for medical diagnosis and treatment.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which owns the reactor, was ready to restart
it after maintenance, even though emergency backup power had for the
previous 18 months been supplied to only one of two backup pumps. Keen's
agency wanted AECL to obey the letter of its licensing requirements - power
to both pumps - before restarting.
Nuclear safety is as hot-button as issues get, but in this case it speedily
became clear to all, except the CNSC, that extending the shut-down made
little sense. On Dec. 11, amid growing global outcry for isotopes,
Parliament hastily passed Bill C-38, suspending CNSC oversight for 120 days.
Tellingly, all parties supported the measure. The plant is now operating;
the second pump will be connected soon.
In this fiasco there is blame enough to go around. AECL should not have been
so cavalier about a licensing requirement. The government should not have
taken so long to name new permanent top officials at the company. The CNSC
should have considered the whole situation before suddenly enforcing a
requirement it had not enforced previously.
But if Keen and her agency were less than perfect in their handling of this
issue, they were also within their rights. Parliament should, and does, have
the power to over-ride such a "quasi-judicial" regulatory body. But a
minister alone does not, and should not.
Whether the issue is nuclear safety or parking tickets, the autonomy and
integrity of officials is our bulwark against abuse. Whatever Parliament
does is done openly, after debate. What a minister does is sometimes done in
secret and not always for the best of motives.
Sometimes, however, the secrecy cannot be maintained. Someone leaked to the
media Lunn's letter notifying Keen that he was poised to dump her from the
CNSC chair. (She would remain a commission member).
She replied with a long letter of righteous indignation, denouncing what she
saw as improper meddling, and it must be said that she has a point. Lunn had
picked the wrong person to bully: As chair of the Federal Administrative
Tribunals Forum, and a director of the Canadian Council of Administrative
Tribunals, Keen is nobody to push around.
Had Lunn been inspired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's thuggish
denunciation of Keen, earlier in this affair, as a Liberal hack? Perhaps.
Did Harper have any evidence to back up his claim? None that he has
produced. And even if he believed that about her, why reduce the issue to
The schoolyard-bully persona members of this government reveal from time to
time never does them any good. Perhaps the bloody nose they earned in this
case will teach them that governing well requires timely interventions,
which are easier when done with propriety and civility.
No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
Version: 7.5.516 / Virus Database: 269.19.0/1216 - Release Date: 1/9/2008