Nuclear needs: Watchdog warns of shoddy power plant inspections
The agency responsible for Canadian nuclear safety can’t say whether it’s doing enough or even the right type of inspections at nuclear power plants.
That was the message Oct. 4 from Julie Gelfand, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who released a scathing report on unreliable record-keeping and inspection requirements at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).
The report shows CNSC could not demonstrate it adequately managed site inspections at nuclear power plants. This includes whether the agency:
- conducted the minimum number, the right number or the right type of assessments at nuclear power facilities.
- had enough staff to adequately conduct site inspections.
- carried out inspections according to its own procedures.
No records, no reasons
Between 2013 and 2015, CNSC planned 255 inspections at nuclear power plants, but only conducted 226 of these. The commissioner’s report notes decisions not to conduct these inspections were based on “professional judgment.” But “the rationales for these decisions – such as how risks were taken into account – were not documented.”
It also found about 75 per cent of inspections took place without a pre-approved inspection guide. Twenty-seven per cent took place without any guide at all, while CNSC said they didn’t have any data to say whether a guide was used during a further 17 per cent of inspections over the two-year period.
According to a statement from Michael Binder, CNSC’s president and chief executive officer, the agency has already reviewed the recommendations and will address all the report’s findings by March 2017.
Nuclear in Canada: a backgrounder
So, how important is nuclear power to Canada’s electrical grid?
Natural Resources Canada figures from 2015-16 show about 15 per cent of Canada’s electricity is generated from nuclear power plants. In Ontario, which generates most of the country’s nuclear energy, that figure is even greater – 59 per cent.
Canada has four active nuclear power plants – three in Ontario and one in New Brunswick. A fifth, located near Bécancour, Que., shut down in 2012.
Canadian nuclear power plants started producing electricity commercially in the 1970s. The country’s first nuclear power plant, in Pickering, Ont., achieved first power in 1971.
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