Nuclear power plant safety inspections hit-and-miss, watchdog says

A federal watchdog has issued an urgent call to the country’s nuclear regulator to tighten up inspections of Canada’s nuclear power plants.

In a report released today, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development finds a number of failings at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the agency responsible for ensuring Canada’ nuclear plants are safe and secure.

Julie Gelfand’s fall 2016 report reviewed a range of issues from safety inspections at nuclear plants to the state of the nation’s fish stocks. She is holding a news conference at 11:30 a.m. ET and will carry it live.

“The CNSC could not show that it had adequately managed its site inspections of nuclear power plants,” the report says. “The CNSC could not demonstrate that its inspection plans included appropriate number and types of inspections, and that it had the staff needed to verify that nuclear power plants were complying with all applicable requirements, or that site inspections were carried out according to CNSC’s procedures.”

The report found the CNSC could not provide an adequate explanation for why some nuclear facilities were inspected while others were not. It also criticized the agency’s record keeping, saying planning records “contained inaccuracies and were incomplete.”

Inspections not recorded

“For example, there were planned inspections that were recorded as completed when they were not, and others that were not shown as completed but were completed.”

The report also raises questions about staffing and whether the CNSC has enough inspectors to carry out its mandate.

“While senior management told us that they believed there were enough inspectors and that more were reassigned as issues arose, we were told by site inspectors and site supervisors at every nuclear power plant that there were either not enough inspectors at their sites or not enough at the levels needed,” the report says.

The CNSC issues licenses and monitors Canada’s four nuclear power plants in Ontario and New Brunswick. The commission has agreed to the recommendations in today’s report and says it has taken action “to raise awareness and ensure observance of site inspection procedures by site inspectors.”

Today’s report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development looks at other issues including management of Canada’s major fish stocks. The report says Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs to improve the way it gathers and analyzes information. 

Missing fish files

Gelfand’s report also points out key issues with Canada’s fisheries.

“Overall, we found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was missing key information needed to manage fish stocks sustainably,” the report says. 

The report found the department had management plans for 110 of Canada’s 154 major fish stocks. Plans for the remaining 44 were either missing or out of date.

It also points out Fisheries and Oceans Canada experienced significant budget cuts between 2011 and 2016. The report finds the department has been unable to complete all its scientific surveys of fish stocks because of mechanical problems aboard Canadian Coast Guard vessels.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has agreed to the report’s recommendations. The federal government has promised to increase the department’s budget by $197 million over five years.

The department says it will use that new funding to improve monitoring of key species of marine mammals and fish.

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