Carte blanche for the nuclear industry endangers us all

This week, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is holding hearings on Ontario Power Generation’s request to extend their licensing period from the usual 2-5 years to 13 years for the aging Darlington nuclear power station. This facility is located in Clarington, Ontario, about 60kms from my home in Toronto.

I’ve recently moved back here after nearly a decade away. The country I had taken as my second home was New Zealand, the first nuclear-free country in the world. Following the French secret service bombing of the Greenpeace flagship in the Auckland harbour in the mid-80’s, New Zealand took a bold stance and banned nuclear energy for good.

Throughout my time in New Zealand, I spoke to many people who had lived through that period of history defined by the anti-nuclear movement. Being a nuclear-free country is part of their national identity.

And so upon my return to the mother-land, the topic of nuclear energy was top-of-mind. Nuclear is never safe. The entire lifecycle of nuclear energy poses grave threats to the environment and human health: from radioactive dust in mining operations contaminating waterways and causing higher-than-normal rates of cancer in workers; to the threat of unforeseen disasters and nuclear fallout; or finally the radioactive waste which remains dangerous for future generations for hundreds of thousands of years. Every ten years or so the world sees a nuclear disaster, the effects of which are not local but global—we all are affected, no matter where we live.

I have recently learned that Ontario Power Generation wants to extend the licensing period of the aging Darlington station for an unprecedented 13 years, far beyond the usual 2-5 year period, effectively strangling the public’s voice. Public consultation is an important facet of our democratic system, and to extend this period by nearly a decade is itself a huge concern.

Toronto is an incredible place to live or visit, but the ever-present threat of this crumbling plant is not something you’ll find in any guide-book. Since the Darlington station was constructed three decades ago, the surrounding population has increased considerably. You will not find a nuclear facility located so close to a major population centre anywhere else in the world. And yet Ontario’s nuclear emergency plans haven’t been upgraded since before the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Will it take a horrific and irreversible disaster like the one in Fukushima five years ago to prove to the CNSC that nuclear is a dangerous form of energy? Or will common sense and people power prevail?

We each have a voice, and I’ve done what I can to use mine. I am one of many intervening at this week’s hearings.  Will you join me? Click here to tell Premier Kathleen Wynne that Ontarians deserve protection from nuclear risks.

Stephanie is an environmental activist and Greenpeace volunteer. She holds a Master's degree in Public Health.