Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Parliament should pass bill to make environment ministry responsible for nuclear watchdog, groups say

Greenpeace, Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) applaud the private member’s bill tabled by the New Democratic Party to make the Minister of the Environment responsible for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

“This is a constructive response to the recent radioisotope crisis.  We encourage all parties to support this proposal to transfer responsibility for the CNSC from the Minister of Natural Resources to the Minister of the Environment,” said Theresa A. McClenaghan, Executive Director of CELA.

After the Harper government fired CNSC president Linda Keen in January, the environmental groups called on the minority parliament to pass legislation to move the CNSC from Natural Resources Canada, which has a mandate to promote nuclear power and support Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), to a department more in line with the CNSC’s responsibility to protect human health and the environment.

“The Minister of Natural Resources is in an inherent conflict of interest. He is currently responsible both for promoting the nuclear industry, and for regulating nuclear safety. This legislation would end that conflict of interest,” Dave Martin, Climate and Energy co-ordinator with Greenpeace Canada.

“It is critical that the CNSC is able to maintain its independence from political interference and fulfill its mandate to prevent unreasonable risk to human health and the environment. Moving responsibility for the CNSC to the Minister of Environment should help to do this”, says Hugh Wilkins, staff lawyer at Ecojustice Canada.

The groups called on Parliament to keep a close eye on the CNSC to ensure that the nuclear lobby doesn’t use the firing of Linda Keen to water down safety standards and undermine transparency at the regulator.

Under Linda Keen’s presidency, the CNSC imposed the use of international standards for any new reactor built in Canada, preventing AECL from selling its CANDU-6 reactors for electricity supply in Ontario.  Shortly after Keen’s firing, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called for a “new national approach” to approving the new nuclear reactors in Canada to speed up construction.

Environmental groups argue that safety standards for reactors should not be watered down in order to speed up reactor construction.   There are clean energy options that are quicker to deploy, such as conservation, renewables and decentralized supply, that could be developed instead to meet supply and climate change objectives without compromising nuclear safety.

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