If an accident were to happen at Darlington, where would the radioactive fallout end up? Yesterday it ended up in New York State and on the way there contaminated Lake Ontario, the drinking water source for millions of Canadians and Americans. The Darlington nuclear station threatens communities on both sides of the Canada-US border, but the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) won’t let us talk about it. That’s wrong.
The CNSC hearings on the future of Darlington reactors began yesterday in controversy. There was a clear divide between how the CNSC approached the risks from Darlington and ordinary Canadians.
Most public interveners questioned why the CNSC has refused to consider the possibility of a major nuclear accident at Darlington if Ontario Power Generation (OPG) proceeds with rebuilding and operating the station until 2055.
Major nuclear accidents are happening about once a decade somewhere in the world. If we’re going to have nuclear power in Ontario, it’s reasonable that we be allowed to consider what the impacts of such an accident at Darlington would mean for Canadian (and American) society.
Yesterday organizations such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Durham Nuclear Awareness told the Commission that their failure to consider large accidents means they’re putting communities at risk.
We’re currently told by government authorities that even if an accident at Darlington were to take place, Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans would ensure the people would be evacuated and shielded from radiation.
But the government’s reassurances are misleading.
Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans were designed to deal with only with small, controlled radiation releases. There are no detailed plans to protect Canadians from a Fukushima-scale accident because OPG claims the likelihood such an accident is so remote it’s not worth considering.
But OPG’s claim is not backed up by real-world evidence: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were all accidents the nuclear industry said were so remote to almost be unthinkable.
Large accidental releases of radiation are happening regularly. If we’re going to have nuclear power in Ontario, we need to be prepared for such accidents. And most importantly, we need to have detailed and publicly transparent emergency plans to protect Canadians in the event of an accident.
This is why Greenpeace released a weather balloon at the opening of hearings on Darlington’s future. We wanted to show how far and how quickly radiation could travel from Darlington in the event of an accident.
Radiation from Darlington could blow west across Toronto causing havoc. It could sweep across Eastern Ontario and towards Quebec.
Or, as it did yesterday, a radioactive plume from Darlington could move over Lake Ontario.
In Japan, most of Fukushima’s fallout ended up in the Pacific Ocean, contaminating staples of the Japanese diet. In the event of an accident at Darlington, the drinking water supplies of communities across the Great Lakes would be contaminated.
Somewhat ironically, Darlington’s fallout would have hit communities living around the Nine Mile Point nuclear station. The Nine Mile Point reactors might be may be best known for having the same reactor design as the Fukushima reactors in Japan.
This underlines that the Great Lakes are threatened from both sides of the border by reactor accidents risks.
So in about two and half hours, the weather balloon moved from Darlington across Lake Ontario and landed in New York State just across from Kingston, Ontario.
That’s hundreds of kilometers from Darlington a way outside of the small 10 km evacuation zone foreseen by Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans.
In light of Fukushima, we should be reviewing and upgrading Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans before any decision is made to spend billions to keep the ageing Darlington reactors running.
The CNSC’s refusal to listen to environmental organizations, citizens and even the government of Ontario is completely irresponsible and unaccountable.
If you want to learn more about the weaknesses of Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans please check out this backgrounder.
And better still, send a letter to Ontario’s Energy Minister Chris Bentley to ensure Ontarians are protected in the event of a nuclear accident at Darlington.