Despite the fact that the planned refurbishment will be the first
such effort ever attempted, the three NB Power executives who spoke made
it clear that no contingency planning is being done for the possibility
that the refurbishment may run into serious problems, incur large cost
overruns, or flat out fail. Asked repeatedly what fallback plans exist
for such eventualities, all three NB Power executives at the session
agreed that no such contingency planning has or will be done. "All
is well and the refurbishment is progressing according to plan" was
Pressed by Fundy Baykeeper David Thompson for a ballpark estimate of
what dollar level of over budget costs would trigger a rethinking of
refurbishment, the company spokesmen repeated the company line-we're
doing a meticulous job of planning, and we're totally confident that
nothing unexpected will keep us from completing the refurbishment on
schedule and within the projected budget.
Like the Bush administration's pronouncements on Iraq, in NB Power's
view of refurbishing Lepreau, failure is not an option. Based on the
speakers' responses, NB Power is so confident that refurbishment will go
as planned that it is not even willing to consider other possibilities.
In a way this kind of "nothing can go wrong" attitude is
appropriate for a company whose refurbishment project will consume so
much of our province's scant energy budget that, should something derail
the refurbishment, there would be little or no funding available for
alternatives to provide replacement power. Better not to think about it.
A second jarring note that marred NB Power's smooth presentation
came when one of the presenters mentioned that in 2004 an aquaculture
site was established about 1000 meters east of the Point Lepreau nuclear
plant. Asked if NB Power had tried to discourage such a location for
aquaculture, the speaker noted that "we had no authority to do
Turns out the aquaculture operation in question at Duck Cove belongs
to Stolt Sea Farms. Quarterly tests of fish from the Duck Cove site are
done by NB Power's health physics lab, and so far this testing has not
found evidence of any radioactive elements "above normal background
levels". But representatives of the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the
province's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture were
unaware of NB Power's tests, and none of these agencies has required or
performed any independent testing.
(photo: Conservation council of NB)
Stolt Sea Farms' regulatory compliance manager Mark Kesselring says
his company did discuss the Duck Cove location with NB Power before
deciding to farm salmon there. According to Kesselring, "they (NB
Power) didn't have any concerns about the location except that there
might be a perception problem" if word got out that the site was so
close to a nuclear plant.
At NB Power's Saint John meeting Fundy Baykeeper Thompson pointed out
that there was no public announcement or media coverage when the Duck
Cove site was installed, and that "no one knows about its being
right next to Lepreau except for a few local fishermen and people who
are out on the water. The people buying the fish certainly don't
Like other nuclear plant operators, NB Power Nuclear and government
agencies such as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) routinely
claim that all dangerous radioactivity is safely confined within plant
boundaries and that exhaustive on and off site monitoring of milk, plant
and animal life, surface and groundwater, etc. offers government
overseers and the public assurance that nuclear power does not harm or
endanger the public or the natural environment.
NB Power health physics lab technical specialist Ralph Mapplebeck,
who oversees the company's testing of Duck Cove fish, notes that
Lepreau's cooling water is in a "closed loop" that is designed
to be completely separate from all "hot" (radioactive)
components of the plant. Mapplebeck also points out that the cooling
water is "continuously monitored" to detect any radioactivity
that might be present.
NB Power's in-house environmental testing may be accurate and
reliable, but it is carried out by a company that is strongly committed
to nuclear energy production and promotion. Such monitoring should not
be confused with independent, third party testing. Important findings of
the NB Power monitoring program, which were made public only as a result
of Right to Information requests, reveal that at Lepreau, as at nearly
all nuclear power plants, both planned and unintentional radioactive
releases are the rule rather than the exception.
N.B. Power's monitoring reports, which the Conservation Council of
New Brunswick obtained through a Right to Information request, show that
Lepreau's spent cooling water, like that of other CANDU reactors, is
contaminated with radioactive tritium, a long lived radionuclide that
can cause serious health and environmental problems. The Lepreau plant
is allowed to discharge more tritium than Ontario Hydro's nukes because,
unlike the Great Lakes, the Bay of Fundy is not a source of drinking
water. The tests also show that as the Lepreau plant has aged,
increasing amounts of tritium are being released to the bay, and that
the plant also regularly releases tritium into the air.
Numerous studies have documented the negative impacts on many kinds
of flora and fauna caused by radioactive releases from nuclear power
plants. Other studies suggest that elevated levels of cancer and other
chronic human health problems seem to be associated with emissions from
(or proximity to) nuclear generators.
The situation with Stolt Sea Farm's fish cage at Lepreau is a
frustrating example of the see-hear-and-speak no-evil attitude which the
nuclear industry, sadly, shares with rubber toothed "watchdog"
agencies in provincial and federal governments. One important
consequence of this attitude is that the "debate" about
refurbishing Lepreau was conducted without any attempt to systematically
review the health (or cause-of-death) records of the plant's neighbours
in nearby fishing villages or those not much farther away in Saint John.
The overconfident mind-set, the cocksure "we've thought of
everything important, and we know best" tone too often adopted by
managers of NB Power's nuclear division has unfortunate results. This
superior mind-set permits them to shrug off any concerns about a fish
farm locating near their plant, and to avoid studying human health and
disease patterns in nearby communities. It let them plan and attempt to
carry out a challenging, unprecedented refurbishment without any thought
about what they will do if things go wrong, if it should turn out that
they haven't thought of everything after all.
This mind-set keeps the engineer-managers at Lepreau marching along
firmly, dismissing the uninformed concerns of their unqualified critics
and steering New Brunswick into a brightly lighted nuclear future. It's
a future they know is right for all of us because they are sure there
are no problems with nuclear energy that they can't fix. Except,
perhaps, the ones they cannot bring themselves to think about.