Whistleblowers: Nuke Watchdogs Not Doing Enough to Prevent Canadian Fukushima

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Whistleblowers: Nuke Watchdogs Not Doing Enough to Prevent Canadian Fukushima

"That's not a nuts-and-bolts or an engineering issue. That's a safety culture issue."

A worker looks at tanks holding contaminated water at the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Photo: IAEA/flickr/cc)

Anonymous whistleblowers have reportedly raised the alarm over nuclear safety in Canada, with an open letter warning of underestimated hazards and undisclosed risks that could make the nation vulnerable to a Fukushima-style disaster.

The letter, sent several weeks ago to Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) president Michael Binder, was purportedly written by an internal group of specialists who opted for anonymity because they "are not confident in whistleblower protection."

On Tuesday, it was reported that federal officials would meet with Binder to discuss the letter's allegations. The CNSC also said this week it had "initiated a formal review" of the whistleblowers' claims. 

According to the Globe and Mail, the missive "points to five separate cases in which the commission's staff sat on relevant material about risk or non-compliance that might have called the safety of a plant into question."

The Globe and Mail continues:

The letter says hazards have been underestimated, plant operators have been permitted to skip requirements of the licensing regime and assessments outlining what could happen in the event of a major-scale nuclear disaster—such as the one that occurred in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011—have been withheld from the commissioners and the public.

"That's not a nuts-and-bolts or an engineering issue," Greenpeace Canada senior energy analyst Shawn-Patrick Stensil told the paper, referring to the allegation that CNSC staff is ignoring certain risks. "That's a safety culture issue."

Canada is home to five nuclear power plants in three provinces, which house 22 nuclear power reactors. Nuclear energy produces about 15 percent of Canada's electricity, according to the CNSC.

The National Observer notes:

The letter is much like one sent by 14 environmental organizations in March to Prime Minister Trudeau. Greenpeace Canada and the Canadian Environmental Law Association among others claimed that CNSC had been testing the “political environment” in 2015 before implementing changes needed to improve nuclear oversight.

They claimed that, under former prime minister Stephen Harper, Canada failed to keep pace with other nuclear powers in preparing the country for a Fukushima-style disaster.

"Our primary concern is that CNSC Commissioners do not receive sufficient information to make balanced judgments," the letter reads.

Indeed, in response to the news, the group Beyond Nuclear said it "can vouch, from extensive, direct experience, that CNSC staff's extreme bias in favor of nuclear power promotion is over the top."

Meanwhile, over the border in the U.S., an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity published this week shows how the U.S. Energy Department "lets its private contractors police themselves, producing 'chilled work environments' in which employees who find wrongdoing have no useful path for complaints."

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