News in Depth: Defering the Decision on Ontario’s Nuclear Waste Plans

Back in March, we examined Australia’s efforts to find a site for a new National Radioactive Waste Management Facility. In that report, we also highlighted efforts being made in Canada to find a suitable nuclear waste management site, known formally as the Deep Geologic Repository for Low and Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste (DGR). One of the favoured sites, as of May, was the Bruce nuclear plant in Kincardine, Ontario.

This week, we will explore the recent developments in the DGR project, the story of the Bruce site, and discuss what may come next in this country’s quest to solve our waste management problem.

The Study and Approval Process So Far

In May, a report by the Joint Review Panel of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) approved the Bruce site and recommended it to the federal environmental minister, Leona Aglukkaq, saying that the “project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

For background, the plan at the Bruce facility to build a repository deep beneath the site where “200,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate level waste from the Pickering, Darlington, and Bruce nuclear plants” could be stored indefinitely. The facility would be more than one kilometre from Lake Huron and over 680 metres underground. The Bruce site was selected after years of consultation and assessment undertaken by Ontario Power Generation (OPG). This project is part of a larger movement in Canada to find safe sites in which we can store used fuel.

In 2002, the Federal government established the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to help guide this processIn 2011, Ken Nash, the current President and CEO of the NWMO, spoke with the National Post about the ethical motivations to finding suitable long term storage facilities that doesn’t simply leave materials above ground,

We can’t just leave it where it is, it’s up to this generation to look for something better and not pass on the burden…

The Bruce facility planned by the OPG is just such a solution, one that is designed to safely store materials for years to come. However, as the Toronto Star noted, over 152 communities in the US and Canada oppose the site. Local residents that live near the Bruce plant have also voiced concerns. Beverly Fernandez, of the Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump group, has been particularly vocal on the issue of potential contamination of drinking water. In a March report in the London Free Press, she is quoted saying that

There should be no deep geologic repository (DGR) for nuclear waste anywhere in the Great Lakes Basin… locating it beside the drinking water of 40 million people defies logic.

The CEAA report, however, found that the risk of drinking water contamination “would be extremely low relative to current radiation levels in Lake Huron and negligible relative to dose limits for the protection of the public.”

Site proponents and the CEAA report also argue that there are a number of key components to the Bruce site that make it a good choice, including the stability of the rock, the current safety and security infrastructure, and the presence of engineering and construction expertise at the facility.

When the report was released in May, the federal environmental minister was given till early September to make a final approval. However, with federal elections looming in the fall, the decision was recently made to extend that deadline into December.

The Future Challenges Facing the DGR Decision

Some critics argue that the delayed decision is a sign that the Bruce DGR’s future is in peril. Ms. Fernandez, cited earlier as a strong opponent to the plan, thinks that the deferral reflects the fact that “more and more Canadian are expressing deep concern and strong opposition.”

Meanwhile, another local citizen’s group, Save our Saugeen Shores, has filed an application to the Federal Courts for judicial review, asking that the CEAA’s decision to approve the site be set aside. They argue that the panel “failed to consider Canada’s international obligations, was biased and violated the Country’s environmental rules.” 

This recent court challenge, and the continuing public debate, suggests that in the run up to the federal environmental minister’s December decision, every effort must be made to exhaustively discuss both the practical and political, the global and local. This project, no matter where it is located, will have implications on people and the environment for centuries to come, it’s only right that we take our time over the coming months to discuss and dissect the plan piece by piece, so we can make the best decision we can. 

The deferment, as a result, should not be viewed as avoidance. If anything, it is a reflection of the noted complexity of the project. If anything, it gives parties more time to resolve open questions and to hopefully address concerns regarding transparency. These things take time, and more time we now have.


Update (June 29, 2015) – two corrections were made in the article relating to the management of the Bruce DGR project and the to the approval process by the Federal minister. I apologize for the errors and appreciate reader feedback.

Special Report: Nuclear Law and Liability Developments in India (Part 1 of 3)

INTRODUCTION 

On May 27, 2015, Mindfirst will be hosting a Future of Nuclear Seminar on Nuclear Liability Developments in India. The speaker at the event will be Els Reynaers, a Partner at the law firm of M.V. Kini & Co. and President of the International Nuclear Law Association.

In her talk on the recent Indo-US political breakthrough on nuclear liability, Ms. Reynaers will explore the legal and insurance-related developments in India’s nuclear sector, and what those changes mean for Canadian nuclear vendors, regulators, and suppliers.

In the run up to this event, we bring you a three-part special report on India’s nuclear law regime. In Part 1, we explore the history of India’s nuclear law and liability regime. Next week, in Part 2, we discuss the recent negotiations and tentative agreement reached between the US and India in early 2015. In Part 3, to be published the week of Ms. Reynaers’ talk, we will explore the opportunities and challenges ahead for India’s nuclear energy sector.

We hope that this report will give you a clearer understanding not only of the recent Indo-US agreement, but the unique evolution of the nuclear law regime in India. We hope you can join us on May 27 to discuss these issues in person.

Part I: The History of India’s Nuclear Law and Liability Regime

As Gruendel and Reynaers pointed out in their 2012 article, India is not well endowed with natural energy resources. In response to this lack of reliable and local reserves, India plans to have 20,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020, with plans to derive 25% of its electricity (approximately 3000 GW) from nulcear by 2050.

Up until the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 (2010 Liability Act), to be discussed below, nuclear activity in India was governed by the Atomic Energy Act of 1948 and the Atomic Energy Act of 1962. Together, these Acts made the Central Government of India the sole legal operator of nuclear facilities in the country. The legislation did, however, leave room for private sector companies to hold a minority share in the ownership and operation of nuclear facilities under joint ventures.

Another key detail – highlighted by Yash Mannully in an important 2012 article on issues in Indian nulcear liability law – is that the Acts gave power to the Government to make rules that deliniate

the [operator’s] liability in respect of any hurt to any person or any damage to property caused by ionising radiations or any radioactive contamination either at the plant under license or in the surrounding area.

However, despite provisions that enable the Government to regulate liability, little was done in terms of legislating until the last decade. Additionally, up until the last decade, India’s 20 nulcear power plants operated at reduced capacity, given that India was excluded from international nuclear trade under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, with a 2008 agreement by the Nuclear Supplier Group to grant a waiver to India, the country was able to import nuclear technology and sign bilateral agreements on civilian nuclear energy technology with countries such as Canada, France, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.1

As of 2008 then, India’s nuclear energy sector was primed to grow at an incredible rate. The country, then home to over 1.1 billion people, was given a new opportunity to fulfill it’s nulcear energy ambitions, in new partnerships with suppliers from around the world. As Gruendel and Reynaers note2, these partnerships were not for “turn-key”, full construction services, but rather for specific contracts for reactor technologies and related components. Given that these contracts are between the suppliers and India’s state nuclear operator (the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL)) the challenge of establishing a clear liability regime for the industry, and the scope of the liability itself, remained.

The 2010 Liability Act was the first concerted effort by the government to outline the scope of liability for the nuclear sector in India. In essence, the Act, in conjunction with subsequent ammendments, expanded the scope of liability beyond the operator – in this case, the NPCIL – to the suppliers of technology used in the civilian nuclear energy sector. By affirming strict and no-fault liability on the operator, the Liability Act was in keeping with the 1960 Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage.3

However, where the 2010 Liability Act differed significantly was in its granting of special rights of legal recourse to the operators in the event of an incident. Under s 17(b), the operator of the nuclear installation “shall have the right of recourse where:

the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.”

As Gruendel and Reynaers note in their 2012 article, linked above, the original language of 17(b) targeted situations where “the nuclear incident has resulted from the willful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier,” but such language was dropped when experts agreed that establishing mens rea (or “guilty mind”) would be too difficult and would potentially weaken the government’s power, through their role as operator, to rely on legal recourse for damages against suppliers.

There are additional issues in the 2010 Liability Act that are important – including limitation periods and the complex interaction between international and domestic law – but they are beyond the scope of this brief review.

SUMMARY

The key point is that up until the early 2015 Indo-US agreement – which established an insurance pool and clearer liabilility limits for both operators and suppliers in India – suppliers were subject to special legal liability in the event of a nuclear incident. The establishment of this statutory tort – which coexists with common law tort liability – thus drove a wedge between suppliers and India’s nuclear industry. The 2008 agreement to allow bilateral trade was thus at a standstill – the country was open for business, but there was a massive catch. In addition, while the law was extensive, it did not necessarily clarify many of the issues it was designed to solve.

As a result, reform was crucial to any opening of trade between foreign suppliers and India’s NPCIL. Next week, in Part 2 of this series, we explore the efforts to reform and clarify the 2010 Liability Act and the recent Indo-US agreement on nuclear liability and technological development.


 

  1. See Gruendel and Reynaers 2012, page 46.  
  2. See their 2012 article, linked above, page 48. 
  3. See Gruendel and Reynaers, page 49, footnote 26. 

News in Depth: The Debate over Florida Power and Light’s Turkey Point Expansion Plan

Starting April 22, residents of Florida’s Miami-Dade county have had the opportunity to attend public consultation meetings hosted by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to discuss the Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) plan to add two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point plant.

For this week’s News in Depth feature article, we explore various components of the debate around FPL’s Turkey Point plans and reflect on what lessons industry officials and regulators can learn from the consultation process.

The Turkey Point Story

According to FPL, Turkey Point Nuclear Plant is located 24 miles south of Miami, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Currently, there are two nuclear power units which have been in operation since the early 1970s. Westinghouse supplied the Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and the turbine generators.

FPL now seeks to obtain a combined license (COL) for two Westinghouse Advanced Passive 1000 PWRs, to be called Turkey Point Units 6 and 7. The original application was tendered in June 2009, and FPL hopes to have the new reactors online by 2022.

FPL operates two nuclear plants in Florida, St. Lucie and Turkey Point. Progress Energy Florida operates a 5 unit plant in Crystal River, on Florida’s west coast, and has proposed another plant in Levy County. Nuclear plants in Florida have been met with skepticism by many, as the general public seeks to understand the safety risks in the event of hurricanes or flooding.

In the Turkey Point debate, critics have asked if the plant is prepared to resist the rising sea levels which have reeked havoc in Miami’s barrier islands. In response, FPL has highlighted that the current plant is 20 feet (6 m) above sea level, enough to withstand severe flooding associated with up to Category 5 hurricanes. In addition, the new reactors would be built at an even higher 26 feet, to take into account rising sea levels.

However, what is perhaps more interesting is not just how FPL is responding to criticism, but how it is using the story of its history and current practices to work with and educate the public.

Public Communication and Consultation: What can we learn?

FPL has used many of the standard, and expected, methods to communicate their rationale behind building these new reactors. On its website and in the press, they have emphasized the economic advantage of their operations, zero-carbon emissions, and the extensive research and safety preparation that goes into the plant.

They have also relied on community specific examples, including most notably their efforts to improve the habitat for the once-endangered American crocodile and their support for wetland recovery programs.

The public consulation process – like the one happening right now at Turkey Point – provides a unique opportunity for the nuclear industry to have an honest, down-to-earth conversation with the public about energy, safety, and the environment. In addition, a more human conversation also allows regulators to get a better sense of the public’s views and concerns. In the future, the focus should not only be on the technical details, but on the realistic compromises we must make to meet our energy needs. That includes talking about everything from transmission lines to crocodiles, depending, of course, on the context.

Westinghouse and OPG agreement a watershed moment for Canadian nuclear industry

With little fanfare, an unassuming tweet came across my screen yesterday afternoon while attending the global carbon leakage seminar at Bennett Jones. Apparently, Westinghouse and OPG had signed an agreement to collaborate and work on selling their nuclear expertise, products, and services in global markets. Under the agreement, the companies will consider a diversity of nuclear projects including refurbishment, maintenance and outage services, decommissioning and remediation of existing nuclear facilities, and new nuclear power plants.

This agreement could represent a watershed moment for Ontario’s economy, certainly for the nuclear industry. Like a sportscaster that tries to call the definitive momentum shifting play in a game, we won’t know for a while yet. But this agreement could be a gamechanger. Let me tell you why. Ontario has been built on the back of cheap energy, first from Niagara Falls and then nuclear. It is cheap energy that allows us to mine economically and manufacture cars with the best the world has to offer. Similarly, in Quebec, the vast hydro projects underpin their economy. In Alberta, oil and gas are key drivers. Any robust economy in the world has an abundant, secure source of energy.

Ontario’s CANDU technology has been a global leader and a gamechanger for many countries in the world. However, as in all technology driven industries, there is great innovation happening, it happens relentlessly,  and CANDU is not the only nuclear technology that growing nations are considering. The thriving economies of the world, China, India and others, are craving cheap, abundant, clean, safe energy. While Ontario does not have the demand to build new reactors now, other countries do. The challenge for our nuclear industry has been to somehow get our tens of thousands of nuclear related jobs serving the global market, not just maintaining our stable domestic market. This means being able to support the multiple and diverse nuclear technologies that are evolving in the global marketplace today.

The significance of the Westinghouse deal is that it ties OPG to a global leader in a non-CANDU technology. OPG is a globally recognized leader in operating nuclear power generating stations. It has an unblemished safety record that is the envy of the world. What a glorious opportunity this represents to market that operating expertise and enter other markets being served by emerging nuclear technologies. There is certainly a place for CANDU in the future. However, Westinghouse has their APS-1000 line of reactors that are making inroads in several countries. Kudos to OPG for seizing this opportunity and diversifying how they deploy their expertise.

Kudos also to Westinghouse. Westinghouse recognizes that in the 21st century the world will need more nuclear energy if it is to stem the effects of GHG driven climate change. In a post Chernobyl world there has been a relative shortage of young engineers and trades trained in the nuclear sciences. Ontario has almost 300 companies in the nuclear supply chain. There are more than 25,000 jobs related to the nuclear industry. There are nine universities that have courses in some sort of nuclear science. We have Chalk River and AECL, world leading nuclear research in medical isotopes and other applications beyond energy. And we have the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which is increasingly being viewed as an innovator and leading exemplar in nuclear regulation by emerging economies and jurisdictions that need to model their own regulatory regimes.

Ontario’s Green Energy Act has spurred wind and solar energy. Cumulatively, renewables represent a single digit percentage of our energy mix. There are thousands of jobs related to renewables, depending on how you count them. This is wonderful news as renewable energy represents an important part of the energy mix. The Westinghouse OPG agreement reminds us that Ontario’s existing nuclear industry, expertise and workforce are an order of magnitude larger than the current renewable industry.

The full press release may be viewed at http://bit.ly/1m7nPmg .

Henry Vehovec
Chair, Future of Nuclear Advisory Board
President, Mindfirst Inc.

Dates Announced for Future of Nuclear Seminar Series

Mindfirst Inc. (M1) is pleased to announce that it will organize six (6) luncheon seminars on various nuclear energy related topics over the course of 2014 as part of the Future of Nuclear Seminar Series. Dates, topics and speakers are determined through the input of the Future of Nuclear Advisory Board and participant surveys.

The dates for the 2014 Future of Nuclear Seminar Series are:
January 21 – Speaker Assistant Deputy Minister, Rick Jennings, re. Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP) and Nuclear
– March 4 – Humans Resources Requirements of Nuclear Refurbishment
 May 8 – Trends in Nuclear Energy Finance, the UK Experience, Jonathan Dart and Panel
– June 24 – TBA
– September 23 – TBA
– November 4 – Full Day Conference, Innovation in Nuclear Energy, Science, Research and Applications

Please contact Future of Nuclear organizers directly if you have speaker suggestions for the following six (6) topics will be addressed on the given dates:

– Export opportunities for nuclear industries
– Jobs analysis and Growing HR Needs in Canada’s nuclear industry
– Chalk River
–  Ontario’s  refurbishment programs – an overview from OPG and Bruce Power
– Trends in Finance, UK’s experience in planning and financing new nuclear|
– Nuclear Waste Technologies

Following each seminar organizers provide a written report of the Top 10 Learnings as compiled from the survey of seminar participants.

The Future of Nuclear Series is possible through the support of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, OPG, Power Workers’ Union and Torys. Additional sponsors are welcome so that we may continue to build on our mission to build awareness and discussion for important energy topics.

The Future of Nuclear Power and The Long View

Below is a comment from Future of NuclearChair Henry Vehovec on his opening remarks and in response to post-event press coverage:

“The day after Wednesday’s Future of Nuclear 2013 Conference in Toronto the Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Province of Ontario announced that new build nuclear reactors would not be pursued at this time. Articles in the press cited pricing pressure from cheap shale gas, a decline in energy demand, and increased resistance to nuclear power in the post-Fukushima world as reasons for the decision. Although there has been a recent decline in nuclear power in the global energy mix it would be premature to dismiss nuclear in the longer term.

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

Henry Vehovec, Chair, Future of Nuclear

The global mix of major energy sources evolves over decades and plays out in time frames of a century or more. The first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859, however, it wasn’t until the development of the Model-T Ford fifty years later that oil truly took off as a major global energy source. Similarly, civilian nuclear energy started about fifty years ago and the industry now needs game changing innovation if it is to compete with shale gas and address concerns of radioactive waste, safety and proliferation.

Are there any such game changing innovations on the horizon? At the Future of Nuclear Conference we heard about several nuclear technologies that hold the paradigm shifting potential to compete with shale gas.  New nuclear technologies that are on the drawing board can burn spent fuel, are incapable of meltdown, and do not produce fissile material. We heard about fusion from General Fusion, thorium and molten salt reactors (MSR) from Terrestrial Energy, small modular reactors (SMR) from Babcock and Wilcox, portable reactors, travelling reactors, floating reactors and more. These technologies have attracted investors such as Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates as well as some of the wealthiest sovereign funds. The only problem with most of these technologies is that they require at least a decade to develop and would cost several billion dollars to produce their first prototype let alone a commercially available product. In this era of short term pressures for quarterly results in business and governments that rarely think beyond the horizon of a 4-year election term it is difficult to find jurisdictions that plan decades into the future as is required when considering energy infrastructure.

China, India, Russia and UAE are examples of countries that are taking an appropriate long view to energy planning. Not coincidentally, these are also among the countries that are proceeding aggressively with their plans to build nuclear power capabilities. China alone has 29 reactors currently under construction. Although some jurisdictions in the west do not have local demand to support new reactors it would certainly make sense to stay engaged with the industry and act as a supplier to international markets where possible. As a commodity, shale gas will not be cheap and plentiful forever.”