Public hearings underway for Point Lepreau’s unprecedented licence renewal request
Public hearings are underway to determine the future of Atlantic Canada’s only nuclear generating plant, and whether an unprecedented 25-year licence renewal should be granted.
NB Power is requesting the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to extend the facility’s operating licence to 2047.
The Point Lepreau CANDU nuclear reactor, located about 35 minutes west of Saint John, N.B., began producing electricity in 1983.
The commission’s renewal process for Point Lepreau began with licence application hearings in Ottawa earlier this year. Point Lepreau’s current five-year licence expires on June 30.
Part two of the process includes public hearings in Saint John that began Tuesday. The three-day hearings will consider intervener presentations, both oral and written, from individuals, organizations, and municipalities.
A staff report from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is recommending a 20-year extension to Point Lepreau’s licence, instead of the 25 years being requested. The CNSC said NB Power’s current licence application doesn’t include details about Point Lepreau’s anticipated “end of commercial operations.”
“CNSC staff estimate that this would be necessary in approximately 20 years,” said the report.
NB Power said its safety record and community engagement should be considered an advantage to its bid for a 25-year licence extension. NB Power officials said they wouldn’t be giving interviews about its licence request during the hearing “as per CNSC directive.”
INDIGENOUS GROUP QUESTIONS DECOMMISSION COSTS, TRITIUM RELEASES
As one of the first interveners to present, The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group Inc. asked for Point Lepreau to be given nothing longer than a three-year licence extension. The group said funding details for the plant’s end-of-life plan should become a central focus during that three-year period of time.
“They need to have enough money saved for when Lepreau is decommissioned,” said Kim Reeder, a representative for the group. “If they’re not considering all of the costs there’s no way they can set aside the right amount of money to do it.
“We don’t believe they’re accounting for all the costs.”
The Passamaquoddy Recognition Group Inc. cited past cost overruns at the plant, specifically Point Lepreau’s refurbishment shutdown in 2008, which ran about three years longer than expected and was about $1 billion over budget.
The group also raised concerns about the release of tritium from the plant into the environment. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. According to a CNSC fact sheet, exposure to tritium “can pose a health risk if it is ingested through drinking water or food, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large quantities.”
Jennifer Allen, NB Power’s senior health physicist, acknowledged Point Lepreau’s tritium releases were “significantly higher than our peers in Canada,” and added the levels were monitored daily and within regulatory limits.
NB Power suggested there were “fluctuations” of tritium emissions throughout the year but Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission President Rumina Velshi countered that Point Lepreau’s levels were “just going up.”
Jason Nouwens, NB Power’s director of regulatory and external affairs, said the release of tritium from Point Lepreau largely happened when pieces of equipment were taken out of service for planned maintenance and didn’t come as a surprise to the utility.
“There are no unmonitored releases, we understand the potential implications of the work we’re conducting,” said Nouwens.
SUPPORT FROM MUNICIPALITIES, DIFFERENT OPINIONS OF LICENSING TIMEFRAMES
A total of 10 New Brunswick municipalities submitted comments regarding Point Lepreau’s licence renewal: Belledune, Campobello Island, Dalhousie, Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis, Riverview, Saint John, Shediac, St. Andrews, and St. George.
All of the municipalities offering submissions gave support to NB Power’s licence renewal, however, two notably suggested a five-year renewal instead of the 25-year extension being sought: Belledune, and St. Andrews.
“(We) do feel that a 25-year licence is not an appropriate length of time as technology is changing at a rapid pace and a shorter licensing period would allow for continued information sharing and communication with NB Power,” wrote St. Andrews Mayor Brad Henderson in the submission.
The mayor of St. George -- the closest municipality to Point Lepreau offering a submission -- is a former nuclear safety inspector with the CNSC. John Detorakis said he wouldn’t advocate for any particular licence timeframe on behalf of the town.
“Regardless of the number of years the commission chooses for the operating licence extension, I am convinced that the station will continue to be subject to strict licensing conditions in each year of its operation,” wrote Detorakis.
ENERGY, ENVIRONMENT, AND EMERGENCY ORGANIZATIONS WEIGH IN
Strong support for Point Lepreau’s 25-year licence was heard Tuesday from the Saint John-based Atlantica Centre for Energy.
“We feel that knowing with certainty, that for the next 25 years, there’s going to be that safe, stable, and clean energy source here, we’d be fully supportive,” said Michelle Robichaud, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy.
Robichaud said Point Lepreau’s role in reducing the province’s greenhouse gas emissions should be considered a strong reason for granting the 25-year licence extension.
J.D. Irving also submitted a written statement in support of Point Lepreau’s licence extension request to 2047. Co-chief executive director James D. Irving wrote the facility was "very important to the long term industrial success and economic sustainability within New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada.”
The Canadian Environmental Law Association said a 25-year licence extension at Point Lepreau would shield public oversight and participation “for a full generation” and should be rejected, along with the CNSC staff report’s 20-year recommendation.
The New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization and New Brunswick Department of Health’s Emergency Response Centre were scheduled to deliver intervener presentations on Wednesday morning.
In each of its written submissions, both organizations describe NB Power as being highly committed to safety at Point Lepreau, but avoided any recommendations for a licence renewal timeframe within its written submissions.
WHAT IS AND ISN’T BEING CONSIDERED DURING THE PUBLIC HEARINGS
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission President Rumina Velshi made note of what would and wouldn’t be considered in NB Power’s application for a licence renewal on Tuesday.
“Many interventions in this hearing discuss possible future developments, such as the construction of a small modular reactor or the transportation of nuclear waste to an offsite waste facility,” said Velshi.
“It is important to remind the participants that such activities are not part of this renewal application. Authorization for such activities will come before the commission, be subject to the commission’s hearing process and review in due course.”
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