Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remember Stephen Harper Saying Chalk River Was Safe?

Anybody else remember when Harper ordered the restart of the NRU reactor at Chalk River ... and he was quite emphatic that the reactor was perfectly safe?

Not so much, it would seem.

This is precisely why Linda Keen was right to insist that AECL finish a series of upgrades to the NRU reactor, and demonstrates that Harper and Lunn were just playing politics.

Harper and Lunn were so wrapped up in "scoring points" against a "liberal appointee" that they lost sight of the regulator's job, and why they are at arms length from both the legislative and commercial aspects of what is being regulated.

So, a little over a year later, we find ourselves revisiting the Chalk River/NRU situation and discovering that there are more problems.

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, in Edmonton where she was giving a speech, said Wednesday she is relying on AECL, a Crown corporation, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal nuclear safety watchdog, to provide the best information about the timeline for repairs.

"It's a reality of having older infrastructure and that's why the world is coming together to come up with a plan in order to deal with the global supply of medical isotopes," Ms. Raitt said.

So ... a year ago, it was "urgent", and "couldn't wait" to restart the NRU. Now, it's "wait for the process to work itself through"? What's different from the situation in Fall 2007?. Not much. In short, the HarperCon$ are just proving that they are willing to sacrifice the public interest as long as they can score political points.


Patrick Ross said...

As I recall, the opposition parties were freaking out over an isotope shortage.

As I also recall, an Auditor General's report also found that the upgrades at Chalk River needed to be done when the Liberals were in power, yet Linda Keen didn't order the reactor shut down then.

Best case scenario is that Linda Keen never did her job and deserved to be fired. Worst case scenario was that she was acting out of partisan considerations and deserved to be fired.

MgS said...


AECL did not comply to its 2006 license extension.

... and then there is the lack of follow through to mitigate risk and Ms. Keen's testimony before the Natural Resources committee.

Sorry, but the evidence is pretty clear to me - Harper was out to make political points, not to actually govern in the interests of Canadians.

Patrick Ross said...

If you say so.

Perhaps you'd like to explain, then, precisely what Linda Keen was doing when the current government's predecessors were failing to complete the upgrades they had been told were necessary?

She certainly wasn't doing her job as nuclear watchdog. Where almost any Canadian comes from if you don't do your job you get fired from it.

That happened to Linda Keen. Maybe next time she'll do her job.

MgS said...

Perhaps you'd like to explain, then, precisely what Linda Keen was doing when the current government's predecessors were failing to complete the upgrades they had been told were necessary?Nice try at shifting the goalposts.

If you want that: It's over here:

Before and after the awarding of CRL's October 2006 operating license fo CRL, AECL reported that these two pumps had not yet been connected to a seismically-qualifed backup power supply (separate from NRU's normal backup power supplies); however, in November 2007 this fact was recognized by the CNSC as evidence of a license violation, leading AECL to extend the NRU's maintenance shutdown until the seismically-qualified backup power connection could be completed.
Which, mysteriously puts the affair under Harper's watch, since he was elected in early 2006 and the AECL license renewal was in October of 2006.


Auditor General Sheila Fraser, upon request from Keen, had investigated AECL's situation, and issued a report to AECL's board of directors in late August, 2007, indicating also that Lunn, who oversees AECL at the political level, should be informed. Fraser's report pinpointed serious government funding deficiencies for AECL, which had held back necessary expansion, upgrading, and replacement of its facilities. Opposition politicians defended Keen, called for Lunn to be fired, and for the report to be made public (Auditor-General's report identified 'deficiency' at AECL, by Juliet O'Neill, The National Post, January 10, 2008, p. A1).It's quite apparent that Keen was taking steps well before the November 2007 shutdown.

In short, the accusation that she wasn't doing her job is nothing more than a fabrication created by the HarperCon$ to suck in the gullible.

What she was doing prior to that license renewal in 2006, I have no idea - I'm sure that if you wanted to get those documents through FOIA, you could find out ... but it's kind of irrelevant.

Patrick said...

Egad. You just aren't going to be forthcoming about this.

The Auditor General sent a memo to then-Minister of Natural Resources Herb Dhaliwal warning him about the upgrades that needed to be performed on the Chalk River reactor, warning that the reactor was imminently going to pose public health and safety risks.

Where was Linda Keen while that was going on? Where was Canada's nuclear safety watchdog when the previous government was screwing the pooch on nuclear safety?

The answer: unequivocally not doing her job.

MgS said...


You might as well have said "but...but...the Liberals!"

Get the concept. With respect to the upgrades to the NRU reactor, those were specified and mandated as part of the 2006 operating license extension.

The reactor was shut down for maintenance in 2007, and at that time, inspectors found that the required upgrades had not been completed.

ALL of these events took place under the Conservative watch.

If one dials back to 2006 and prior, then you must recognize that AECL was in the process of implementing the MAPLE reactors, and the expectation would likely have been that those would be replacing the NRU in fairly short order. Clearly that has not happened.

Regardless, in December 2007, it was the Harper Conservatives that pushed legislation through overriding the CNSC and allowing the reactor to restart without complying with its 2006 amended license.

No matter how I slice it, the CNSC was in fact doing its job appropriately from the time it received the application to extend the NRU operating license. Whether they should or should not have acted on the NRU reactor in 2006 or earlier is irrelevant to the discussion regarding the 2007 shutdown.

Sorry - what happened prior to that is not at issue in this conversation. You can bellyache about what did or did not happen prior to 2006 all you like. The fact is that the issue is what happened in 2006 and later - in particular how Harper & Co. mismanaged the issue from the outset.

Stephanie said...

I find it so annoyingly juvenile and idiotic whenever I hear someone trying to defend the current government's lack of action on fixing a problem by pointing out the previous government's lack of action on the same problem as if that somehow excuses the current government for being as negligent in their duties as their predecessors were.

eg. Why should Harper do the right thing and repatriate Omar Khadr when Paul Martin didn't do the right thing either.

Or when Gordon Campbell circa 2006, after being re-elected and was still blaming Glen Clarke's lack on action in the 1990s as the reason he himself hadn't taken any action to fix the same problem even after half a decade in power.

Patrick Ross said...


Whether your partisan fervour permits it or not, the prior conduct of Linda Keen as Canada's nuclear safety watchdog is very much open to debate -- in this conversation, or any other.

You cannot honestly expect to readily excuse both the Liberal party's demonstrated mismanagement of the situation surrounding Chalk River, or Linda Keen's failure to do her job.

Both Linda Keen and Herb Dhaliwal had access to an Auditor General's report that told them that these upgrades needed to be performed.

Neither one of them acted on that report until 2006, when the country was facing a nuclear isotope shortage that the opposition parties insisted would tarnish Canada's reputation on the global stage.

Whether you like it or not is immaterial. Linda Keen is neither the martyr you insist she is -- she is, in fact, someone who failed to do her job -- nor is the Liberal party free of any blame for the situation that ultimately unfolded at Chalk River. In fact, the entire situation was the result of their mismanagement.

As I said before, whether you like this or not is immaterial.

MgS said...

Nice try Patrick. However, the critical events all took place under Stephen Harper's watch - starting with the conditional extension of the operating license.

It was Harper and Lunn who politicized the whole business by ordering Keen to take actions that were outside of what her mandate allowed.

You can whine, piss and moan all you like about Ms. Keen's actions before 2006, it does not change the fact that the events in question took place while PMSH was at the helm ... and it was he and his ministers who were so emphatic that there was no risk to the public in restarting the NRU reactor while it was in violation of the terms of its operating license.

I'm sorry, but it's long past time for the HarperCon$ to grow up and start taking responsibility for their actions as a government.