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Water Today Title November 23, 2017

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05/20/14 - Updated 6/2/14


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The initial approval for four new nuclear reactors at the Darlington plant has been revoked after a federal judge determined that the Environmental Assessment "contained three significant information gaps," according to Mark Mattson, President of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

Federal Court of Canada Judge James Russell determined that the initial Environmental Assessment which studied potential impacts of the project on the environment was incomplete and therefore invalid. The EA was returned to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) for completion.

Three information gaps were identified within the EA, regarding the following issues:

Bullet 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;

Bullet 2. the JRP's treatment of the issue of radioactive waste management including spent nuclear fuel; and

Bullet 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.

The lack of information on these three subjects was determined grounds for reversing the original decision for the Darlington New-Build Project. Mark Mattson, the President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, notes that the Fukushima nuclear disaster should have been considered during the decision-making process for Darlington.

"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."

Mattson is particularly worried about pollution of Lake Ontario, given the fact that the water body is the source of drinking water for 9 million people. Additionally, only 1% of the volume of Lake Ontario is renewed each year, indicating that any nuclear pollution of the water would have catastrophic impacts.

This case created a monumental moment in the history of Canadian law, as the Joint Review Panel was the first-ever Environmental Assessment hearing for a nuclear power plant. Pressure from environmental groups also brought about the first Judicial Review of this nuclear plant EA.

President Mattson was quick to bring forth the fact that without the continued efforts of environmental groups, lawyers, and consultants, this review and decision overturn "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."

As for future Environmental Assessments regarding nuclear power plants, the Joint Review Panel has raised critical doubts as to the "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."

While many may not yet realise the importance of this decision overturn by Judge James Russell, it marks a major milestone in the history of environmental law in Canada.

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