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Water Today Title December 11, 2017

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Updated 05/20/14


Courtney Griffin

The initial approval for four new nuclear reactors at the Darlington plant has been revoked after a federal judge determined that the Environmental Assessment "contained three significant information gaps," according to Mark Mattson, President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. The initial decision was reached on August 17, 2012.

"As such, Russell J [Justice James Russell] found the EA to be incomplete and sent it back to the initial JRP [Joint Review Panel] (or a newly constituted panel) to complete,” explained Mattson. “Until these three issues are examined in more detail by the JRP, no government or quasi-judicial authority is permitted to take any actions (e.g. licences) which would enable the Project to proceed, in whole or in part."

Further discussion with Mr. Mattson revealed that the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima should have been taken into account in the initial decision-making.

"The federal court found that OPG [Ontario Power Generation] and federal authorities should have taken Fukushima cause and consequences into account. Fukushima took place one week prior to hearing but hearing went ahead anyway."

Water Chronicles: What types of impacts could this sort of project have on the environment surrounding the plant and on Lake Ontario?

Mattson: "Many emissions and contaminants flow off the site even under routine operations; of course more so if [an] accident. Court found three issues were problematic and would merit further re-assessment by the JRP:
1) the failure of the JRP to insist on a bounding scenario analysis for hazardous substance emissions, in particular liquid effluent and stormwater runoff to the surface water environment and types and quantities of non-radioactive wastes generated by the NB,
2) the JRP's treatment of the issue of radioactive waste management,
3) the JRP's conclusion that an analysis of the effects of a severe common cause accident at the facility was not required in the EA.

All this would affect Lake Ontario. And since Lake Ontario is drinking water for 9 million people even greater concern and need for protection as Lake is only renewed 1% a year and discharges could have catastrophic impacts."

Water Chronicles: Would you consider this reversal an important moment in environmental law?

Mattson: "Very much so……as this was first EA in Canada for new nuclear reactor and first time federal authorities had expanded powers to oversee and approve. Fact that it was overturned due to unreasonableness is very important. (more below)"

Water Chronicles: Is there any other pertinent information you wish to provide?

Mattson: "Yes: here are reasons why I think this case is very important.

1. The proposal sought approval for the first new nuclear power reactors to be built in Canada in decades.

2. The Joint Review Panel was Canada’s first environmental assessment hearing for a new nuclear power plant…..ever!

3. The CNSC had been delegated more power and responsibility then ever to oversee approving and operating nuclear power plants. The Province of Ontario has deferred all environmental issues in the assessment process to the federal regulators. Even more recent changes to Fisheries Act delegate even more powers over Fisheries to CNSC.

4. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Greenpeace, Northwatch, Eco-Justice, CELA and other NGOs, members of the nuclear industry, and government departments have been preparing for the hearing for years and raised important issues in hearing that were ruled outside the assessment approval process.

5. After approval by the Joint Board, the public interest groups brought the first Judicial Review of the first environmental assessment for new nuclear power plants in Canada.

6. On review the Federal Court found that federal authorities did not consider all the relevant facts and information about impacts on environment before approving the plan, as argued by the public interest groups at the hearing, including:
- hazardous substance emissions from the site and on-site chemical inventories,
- spent nuclear fuel,
- a severe common cause accident.

7. Justice Russell found the EA to be incomplete and sent it back to the initial JRP (or a newly constituted panel) to complete.

8. But for the hard work and perseverance of the environmental groups and our scrappy lawyers and consultants……this approval would never have been challenged or sent back to drawing board to get all the facts, assess all the risks and order all the protections needed if this project or other nuclear power projects go forward in future.

9. The JR raises important questions about legitimacy and reasonableness of leaving EA decisions about nuclear power plants to the federal nuclear regulatory that is so closely tied to and dependent upon the nuclear industry."

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