Groups demand impact-study on possible terror target

TORONTO, ONTARIO - A multibillion-dollar plan to keep four aging Pickering nuclear reactors running until mid-century shouldn't go ahead without studying the potential impact on Toronto from catastrophic accidents or terrorist attacks, environmental groups have urged Canada's nuclear safety watchdog.

"In our post-Chernobyl and post-Sept. 11th world, it would be unacceptable to build Pickering where it is today," said Tristan Cheery, a spokesperson for a York University student group that champions off-grid electricity.

Greepeace's Shawn-Patrick Stensil said that the environmental impact study must include damage assessment from a terrorist assault should an aircraft be used to crash into the aged Pickering reactors, which are concrete shielded, or into the unprotected control room.

Staff at the commission had earlier rejected that view, concluding that security issues "do not warrant special consideration in the environmental assessment." But official documents reveal the commission is demanding new nuclear power reactors in Canada be built to withstand an aircraft crash.

"Theirs is obviously a double standard when it come to terrorism standards for older reactors," Stensil told the hearing.

On Monday, Greenpeace filed a petition asking the environment commissioner in the federal auditor general's office to investigate the apparent double standard.

The groups also complained that the Pickering plan is being rushed through without a full-fledged hearing permitted under the federal environmental protection law.

"You're spinning the public around in circles," Stensil told the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

The overhaul can't start until the commission accepts study findings on the environmental impact of keeping reactors running for 30 years beyond original shutdown dates.

An environmental study would likely take a year but has not yet started. The arguments before the commission centred on the study's limited scope – conditions that were largely hammered out between OPG officials and commission staff.

The seven commissioners who direct the federal regulatory agency must decide whether to approve the proposed guidelines for the environmental impact study, amend them or instruct their staff to renegotiate. Their decision isn't expected until February at the earliest, judging by past practice.

The key issue was whether Toronto should automatically be included in the environmental impact study. The current study zone covers Pickering and surrounding region but extends west only up to Scarborough. Commission staff and OPG officials defended the limited boundaries.

"Should the community identify significant concerns, we would of course extend the boundary into Metro Toronto to address those concerns," said Laurie Swami, an OPG licensing specialist Laurie Swami.

But the province's response plan in the event of radiation release already covers up to 50 kilometres from the Pickering reactor site, taking in all of Toronto, said Joe Verderami, an official with Emergency Management Ontario told the hearing.

He said the provincial agency considers people that far away might need preventative treatment if substantial radiation was released from the reactors.


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