Don't renew Pickering nuclear licence: expert

PICKERING -- The Pickering nuclear station is old and shouldn't be allowed to continue operating. That's the opinion of Arnold Gundersen, a U.S.-based nuclear expert who spoke at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing being held to consider renewing the plant's five-year operating licence. Mr. Gundersen was speaking on behalf of Durham Nuclear Awareness at the hearings, being held at the Pickering Recreation Complex.

The station's licence expires on June 30 and Ontario Power Generation has applied for a licence that would run to June 30, 2018.

"History has shown (the Candu reactor) isn't as reliable as others because of its complexity. It's at an evolutionary dead end," Mr. Gundersen said.

CNSC staff is recommending the licence be renewed for five years.

A report prepared by Greg Rzentkowski, the director general, Directorate of Power Reactor Regulation, to the commission says OPG is "qualified to carry on the activities authorized by the licence."

The company has made improvements to further protect the environment and will continue to make others, Mr. Rzentkowski said.

The first four Pickering reactors came on line in 1971, with the other four starting in 1986.

"The technology was well worth trying, but it's at an evolutionary and engineering dead end," Mr. Gundersen stated.

The technology used in a Candu reactor is similar to that used in the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan, which saw a meltdown following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

"We're talking about a technology that can have 40 great years and one bad day. Pickering A is as old as Fukushima 1," he said, adding the Fukushima reactor hit the 40-year mark one month before the accident.

"Fukushima 1 failed because of its age," and not because of the earthquake or resulting tsunami, Mr. Gundersen said.

In written comments to the commission, Mr. Gundersen said the evidence "makes it clear that both the CNSC and OPG have failed to grasp the magnitude of the essential messages from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. A severe accident could occur at an aging end-of-design-life plant like the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station."

Mark Elliott, the chief nuclear engineer for OPG, said, "We were already aware we could have multiple unit events. We had systems in place before Fukushima."

The systems, along with safety equipment, would "support all the units if we went through an event like Fukushima," Mr. Elliott said.

Chris Harwood, a technical specialist, directorate of assessment and analysis for the CNSC, said Candu reactors have more safety measures in the event of an accident. "It has tremendous redundancy and the time to use it."

Mr. Gundersen said studies related to the Fukushima disaster won't be completed until 2015.

"Any important lessons from Fukushima won't be incorporated in this station."

Mr. Harwood said, "The improvements are already in place, so we're not waiting until 2015."

Mr. Gundersen said one of the biggest lessons is that "sooner or later, with a foolproof system, the fools will exceed the proof."

Glenn Jager, senior vice-president of Pickering nuclear for OPG, said, "We didn't just evaluate Fukushima. We took action and put actions into place.

"We will meet all of our commitments. Our track record is we will meet all our commitments, environmentally, safety and any requirements the CNSC establishes in our licence," Mr. Jager added.

The three-day hearing wrapped up on Friday and a decision will be announced in June.

Source: Durham Region