Just one day after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her government’s desire to keep the overdue-for-retirement Pickering Nuclear Station operating until 2024, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) slapped Ontario Power Generation with a $31,690 fine for failing to comply with the aging plant’s licensing conditions.

Details of what exactly OPG has been doing wrong at Pickering are being kept secret, but it is clear the CNSC, which generally gives nuclear operators little pushback, is unhappy with OPG’s behaviour, stating: 

“On two occasions, OPG made unilateral decisions to cease corrective actions necessary for compliance with conditions of their Power Reactor Operating Licence for Pickering Nuclear Generating Station without notifying the CNSC. If not corrected, this behavior could in the future result in unreasonable risks to national security, the health and safety of persons and the environment. This AMP [administrative monetary penalty] is issued to OPG to promote compliance with conditions of their licence and to deter reoccurrence.”

What seems to have particularly alarmed the CNSC is that after being warned, and despite CNSC staff actually being on site, OPG fell straight back into its poor safety practices. According to the CNSC: “OPG was initially unresponsive to CNSC staff’s direction to reinstate corrective actions” and “OPG failed to report to the CNSC their decision to cease corrective actions despite the presence of CNSC staff on-site.”

There’s a strong “back to the future” feeling to these findings. The 1997 safety and performance review that led to the shutdown of seven reactors similarly found an alarmingly lax safety and compliance culture at Ontario’s nuclear stations, noting “The malaise is deep and wide and continues to worsen. It will not be quickly or easily corrected” and adding that at Ontario’s nuclear facilities “It’s acceptable to cut corners. It is not acceptable to make waves.” Equally alarmingly, the report found that “deficiencies with safety systems are tolerated at all levels of the organization; procedures are violated and management is tolerant; justifying that “that is OK””

The similarities between then and now are unsettling: corner cutting, failure to follow proper protocols, and a desire to keep safety concerns quiet.

This incident should be more than enough to curb our Premier’s enthusiasm for continuing to operate a nuclear station with a long history of accidents and safety problems well past its design life, which ended in 2015. Please send the Premier a message telling her that Pickering must be shut down by 2018 (when its current licence expires) at the latest.