New Brunswick

Nuclear commission surprised Saint John lacks Lepreau-related evacuation plan

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is surprised to learn Tuesday that the City of Saint John does not have an evacuation plan specific to an emergency at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

Point Lepreau licence renewal hearings underway in city 40 km from nuclear plant

NB Power is applying for a five-year licence renewal for the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant. (CBC)

Members of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission were surprised to learn Tuesday that the City of Saint John does not have an evacuation plan specific to an emergency at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

It's been a long time since we've actually discussed that type of event for the city of Saint John.- Kevin Clifford, Saint John fire chief

The revelation came during hearings into NB Power's five-year licence renewal for Lepreau and followed a presentation by Chief Kevin Clifford of the Saint John Fire Department, who relayed the city's confidence in the safety of the plant.

"Do you have provisions or plans in case Saint John should be partially or totally evacuated?" asked commission member Dan Tolgyesi.

'It's been a long time since we've actually discussed that type of event for the city of Saint John," Clifford replied. "That's part of the evolution we need to go through. We need to look at that event in a more complete way, I believe, from the standpoint of the impact that might happen to the city of Saint John."

Clifford assured commissioners the city has plans for a full or partial evacuation but they are not specific to an emergency at Point Lepreau, which is about 40 kilometres away.

EMO disconnect?

Fire Chief Kevin Clifford of Saint John says more can be done to prepare for an emergency at Point Lepreau. (CBC)
The exchange led commission chair Michael Binder to ask if there was a "disconnect" with the province's Emergency Measures Organization.

Speaking later to CBC News, Clifford, who also heads the city's EMO, said he is confident the city is prepared.

"We have an emergency evacuation plan, no question about it," he said. "But we are probably lacking in how does that evacuation plan play out with respect to a specific site, or that site, So we need to unravel that and that's one of the things we want to do."

When Saint John updated its emergency plan in 2011, it set up more than 200 directional E-signs to mark an evacuation route in the case of a disaster. Point Lepreau was identified at the time as one of several possible sources of an emergency, but the evacuation plan did not deal specifically with a Lepreau problem.

First Nations among participants

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is considering 95 oral presentations and written submissions as part of the public hearings in Saint John.

They include submissions from municipalities, environmental and fishing organizations, business groups, nuclear industry organizations and First Nations.

Speaking on behalf of Maliseet First Nations, Russ Letica of Madawaska requested greater monitoring of environmental radiation, with training so members can be participants.

"The Maliseet feel stressed and anxiety about the potential of an accident, malfunction or unplanned event," said Letica. "This stress is ongoing as long as the facility remains in operation."

Letica also requested funding for a study of the history of Indigenous land use in the Lepreau area.

The hearings continue through Thursday. Point Lepreau's licence expires at the end of June. 

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