Fire / Feu



La remise à neuf de Pointe Lepreau

Deux sujets dérangeants sont ressortis d'une session d'information publique d'Énergie Nouveau-Brunswick le 1er décembre 2005. 

Malgré le fait que la remise à neuf de Lepreau sera la première tentative en son genre, les dirigeants d'Énergie NB affirment qu'il n'y a aucun plan d'urgence en cas de problèmes ou d'accident majeur. 

Ils utilisent le même discours que les américains lors de la guerre en Iraq, tout va bien aller, rien ne peu arriver. 

Le deuxième sujet dérangeant est la prise de connaissance d'un site d'aquaculture de poisson à environ 1000 mètres à l'est de la centrale nucléaire de Pointe Lepreau. 

Le laboratoire de santé et physique d'Énergie Nouveau-Brunswick s'occupe de faire du monitoring à ce site d'aquaculture et jusqu'à présent aucune trace de radioactivité au dessus des standards n'a été détecté. 

Les représentants de divers gouvernements et agences concernées n'étaient pas au courant des tests effectués par Énergie NB et aucuns d'entre eux n'ont fait la demande et/ou réaliser des tests indépendant.














See no evil, speak no evil: nuclear refurbishment in New Brunswick

Larry Lack
December 2005

Two disturbing subjects cast doubt on NB Power Nuclear Corporation's optimistic update on the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear plant during a public information briefing in Saint John on December 1st, 2005. The slide presentation, with narration by several top managers of the Point Lepreau plant, was like all such public relations sessions, a dreary recitation of predictable corporate-speak. Less than a half dozen folks who weren't part of the close knit NB Power/Lepreau "family" were present.

 Pointe Lepreau, NB

(photo: NB Power)

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 the rhetoric.

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 that".

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)

Aquaculture site 

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 know".

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.