Fired watchdog appeals to court

OTTAWA, CANADA - Canada’s former nuclear watchdog is seeking a judicial review into her firing by the Conservative government resulting from the shutdown of a nuclear research reactor.

Linda Keen, a long-time bureaucrat, had angered Prime Minister Stephen Harper with her handling of the Chalk River reactor shutdown that left the Conservative government scrambling and embarrassed as it coped with the shortage of medical isotopes.

The motion, submitted to the Federal Court, is the latest development in the bitter dispute between Keen and the Conservatives. She was fired as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) when she wouldn’t okay the start-up of the aging Chalk River reactor.

“By this application for judicial review, Ms. Keen is asking the Federal Court to declare that she was unlawfully removed as president and that the November 2005 Order in Council, which reappointed her as president, remains in full force and effect,” said Ottawa lawyer Allan O’Brien.

Keen, who remains on the CNSC board, recently told Parliament’s natural resources committee that it is not the job of a nuclear regulator to ensure the production of isotopes but rather that the public is protected from nuclear accidents.

The reactor was voluntarily taken out of service by Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. because of ongoing safety concerns.

The Harper government brought in emergency legislation to override Keen’s safety warnings and restart the reactor in mid-December. The CNSC is an independent quasi-judicial body meant to work at arm’s length from the government.

It was a month later that Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told Keen that the government had lost confidence in her, but when he appeared before the committee he could not cite one reason for the decision to dump Keen, who was to serve as president until 2010.

The Chalk River reactor, run by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., was shut down on Nov. 18 for routine maintenance, but an inspection by the regulatory staff found that mandatory safety upgrades – connecting vital cooling pumps to an emergency power supply that would work even if the area was hit with an earthquake – had not been done.


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