New Brunswick

Accidents at Lepreau? Emergency responders assure nuclear regulator they're prepared

Emergency responders gave their assurances Wednesday that southern New Brunswick is fully prepared to respond to any kind of accident at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station.

Meanwhile, nuclear worker’s council says 25-year renewal sets wrong precedent, hurts public engagement

Greg MacCallum, (left) director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization and Roger Shepard, EMO manager of nuclear preparedness, appearing Wednesday before the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in Saint John. (Tony Crawford/NB Power) (Tony Crawford/NB Power)

Emergency responders gave their assurances Wednesday that southern New Brunswick is fully prepared to respond to any kind of accident at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, located approximately 40 km southwest of Saint John. 

It was the second day of public hearings before the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which must decide whether to grant N.B. Power a 25-year renewal on Lepreau's operating licence. 

"We have a very robust emergency management capability," said Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.  "We have all the capacity we need to deal with whatever comes our way."

Greg MacCallum, director of the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, says EMO, N.B. Power and other agencies have developed a world-class emergency response program and he is proud of it. (Graham Thompson/CBC News)

Stockpiling pills

NB-EMO said it is well prepared to distribute potassium iodide pills and has recently increased its stockpile to more than 100,00 tablets. 

When taken as directed, they protect the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine that may be released as a result of a nuclear accident. 

Pills are now stored across 16 locations, including community centres and RCMP stations. For those who live within 57 km of the power plant and want to have pills on hand, EMO says they can mail them out or deliver them to the door. 

Bill Boutin, of Maces Bay, says he delivers pills in his role as warden for EMO, a position he's held for the past three years. 

"And in that time, I've not encountered anybody who has expressed concerns at all about living next to a nuclear power plant," he said. 

"In addition to that, which is kind of cool, those newcomers that I've got to … they've been made aware of all the issues from their neighbours who have told them, 'Don't worry about it. It's safe. Everything's good to go."

Bill Boutin appeared before the commission on behalf of the Fundy Bay Senior Citizens Club of Maces Bay. He says he has also been a warden for EMO and in that role, he distributes potassium iodide tablets. (Graham Thompson/CBC News)

Boutin says that's a reflection of the good communication that is happening between N.B. Power and the community. 

It was something that came up during his presentation on behalf of the 100 members of the Fundy Bay Senior Citizens Club. Boutin said the club endorses a 25-year renewal.

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is the only nuclear power power station outside of Ontario. ( N.B. Power )

Emergency exercises

N.B. Power is required to conduct a full-scale emergency exercise every three years as a condition of its operating licence. 

Last year, the utility and NB-EMO, along with government and non-government agencies, simulated a nuclear emergency caused by a cyber incident. 

N.B. Power says the computer systems that control the nuclear operations in the plant are isolated and can't be hacked. 

But in last October's fictitious scenario, communications were compromised and threatened to impact power to the plant, which in turn, could have triggered a more conventional nuclear emergency, said MacCallum.

"And there was a bit of another vignette that was incorporated into the exercise that involved some protest activity,"  he added. 

MacCallum says this is the kind of practice that makes all agencies better and better at working together. 

"We've proven that over a series of very complex challenging exercises and we prove that every day," he said.

The second day of public hearings gets underway at the Delta Hotel in Saint John. (Tony Crawford/N.B. Power)

Workers' group rejects 25 years

The Canadian Nuclear Workers Council addressed the Commission on Wednesday on behalf of 900 workers at Lepreau – all members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The council's main message was that a 25-year extension was too great a leap for the industry and would jeopardize Canada's "gold standard of public engagement." 

"I was at Darlington when it celebrated its first five-year licence," said Bob Walker, the Council's director.  "That was a big event."

"Now we see an application for a 25-year licence and a recommendation from staff of 20 years."

Walker said public engagement also drives changes behind the scene.

"With all due respect, it forces licensees to do the right thing. It pushes them to go to the community. It pushes them to go into deeper collaboration with community partners and workforce partners."

Walker said this was not the time to make a dramatic change in a licensing period which then might set the bar for Canada's four other operating reactors.

"This will affect license periods at other Canadian nuclear power plants," he said. 

"We suggest a license period of no greater than 10 years."

On Oct. 6 and 7, 2021, N.B. Power and NB EMO simulated a nuclear emergency initiated by a cyber event to test their response. ( N.B. Power)

Decision expected by June 30

The public hearing is expected to conclude on Thursday and if the commission is satisfied with the information received, it will issue a summary decision before June 30. 

That's the expiry date of the current operating licence.

A detailed record of the decision would follow at a later date.


Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.