Much has already been said about so-called ‘radio-isotope crisis’ caused by the shut down of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL) NRU reactor in November.
Environmental groups have been concerned primarily by two issues: the government’s politicization of the federal nuclear regulator caused by the firing of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission president Linda Keen, and the failure to get to the root cause of what caused the radio-isotope crisis – AECL mismanagement.
In January, Greenpeace, Eco-Justice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association called on the minority parliament to pass legislation to move oversight and ministerial responsibility for the CNSC to another department, such as Environment Canada, with a mandate more in line with the CNSC's responsibility to protect human health and the environment.
There’s good reason for this. As the radio-isotope crisis has shown, the federal Minister of Natural Resources is in a conflict of interest. He’s responsible for both AECL, which promotes the sale of Candu reactors, and the CNSC, which is mandated to regulate without regard to economic interests.
We’re happy that today the federal NDP has responded to call by tabling a private members bill to move the CNSC to Environment Canada.
This is a constructive response to the recent radioisotope crisis. And I hope all parties support this bill. Indeed, I find it difficult to see any reason why the other parties should oppose it: Environment Canada provides a suitable home to an agency that is supposed to protect the environment and human health.
It also distances the CNSC from a federal Minister that has a mandate to promote AECL’s reactors.
Indeed, meddling by the Minister of Natural Resources in the regulation of nuclear safety is my big worry. Last year Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told the Globe and Mail that it was 'imperative' for AECL to sell to the Ontario market.
Meanwhile, the Canadian nuclear industry has been frustrated by the CNSC’s decision under Linda Keen’s leadership to require all new reactors be built international standards. This prevented AECL from selling its CANDU-6 reactor, which was originally designed in the 1970s, for electricity supply in Ontario.
Word on the street is that the Canada nuclear lobby is frustrated by the CNSC doing its job. We can be pretty sure that they’ve been communicating their frustration to the federal Minister of Natural Resources and asking him to intervene – as he did in the radio-isotope crisis – and water-down safety requirements.
This is an obvious reason why we should move the CNSC to environment Canada – ensure the CNSC is at arms length from an industry that will always prioritize cost cutting over safety.