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Disaster plans miss the mark via The Oshawa Express

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Nuclear safety and planning are part of a web of responsibilities spanning across all three levels of government. The province is responsible for the bulk of the high-level planning, as well as the coordination of off-site emergency planning in the event of a nuclear emergency. Meanwhile, the corresponding municipalities in which the nuclear plants reside are responsible for more in-depth planning, while the federal government is responsible for security at the power plants themselves.

The PNERP includes planning for five nuclear plants, two of which sit in Durham Region (Pickering and Darlington) with the others located in Kincardine (Bruce Power Generating Station), Laurentian Hills/Deep River (Chalk River Laboratories) and Monroe, Michigan (FERMI 2).

Among the proposed changes is the addition of a new contingency zone, adding another layer of planning further out from the nuclear power plant. The current plan has in place a contiguous zone, a primary zone and secondary zone moving out from the location of the accident, each with varying levels of emergency response.

The contiguous zone would be required in planning for both Pickering and Darlington, and would only be considered during severe incidents and require measures to guard residents against the ingestion of nuclear material.

However, Stensil says these changes do nothing to strengthen off-site emergency measures, and the scale of the planning only extends to accidents like that seen at Three Mile Island, a meltdown that occurred in Pennsylvania in 1979, and saw the evacuation of approximately 140,000 people, less than half of the population of the area. Stensil says the province needs to consider larger scale catastrophes such as the one seen in Fukushima, Japan. In that case, a tsunami triggered by a large earthquake struck the nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, disabling the power and cooling supply for the three reactors.

The disaster, which led to the deaths of 15,000 people (not all attributed to the meltdown) and the displacement of tens of thousands, some of whom have not been able to return to their homes, is an example of a significant planning gap. The nuclear reactors in Japan were very much prepared for the earthquake that struck that day, but not the tsunami that followed.

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“That goes against what we see in the real world,” he says. “We see major accidents about once every 10 years and yet the government still relies on industry risk studies that show ridiculously low probabilities. We can’t trust those studies.”

According to a survey commissioned by Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA) of residents around the Darlington nuclear site, 86 per cent said they would want to see planning for a Fukushima-level nuclear disaster.

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McNeill is also concerned there are no measures in place for protecting Lake Ontario.

“There is no sign of the kind of drinking water protection that needs to be in place, and given that Lake Ontario provides drinking water for millions of people, this is a very serious failing,” she says.

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