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Testing Nuclear Fate

From August 30, 2008

When the chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission insisted that the Chalk River Nuclear plant should extend its maintenance shutdown in order to complete safety upgrades, the Conservative government felt, for some reason, that this was an affront to their power.

Parliament agreed on the importance of the Chalk River plant, as its function is the production of medical isotopes. But the Conservative government seemed to have issue with the fact that Canada's nuclear watchdog would have the gall to actually do her job when she asked that the plant shut down.

In testimony before parliamentary committee, she stated that safety upgrades required over a year earlier had not been completed and that the risk of an incident at the plant was a thousand times greater than the international safety standard. But for doing her job, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn requested that she be fired, and on January 15 2008 she was removed as chair from the CNSC.

The reactors at Chalk River led to the development of the CANDU design, considered "one of the safest reactors in the world". But since its commissioning, the Chalk River site has been scene to two serious accidents, including a partial meltdown and later a uranium fuel rod fire which contaminated the reactor building. The only remaining reactor at Chalk River is now over 50 years old.

Considering the nature of nuclear energy, it does not make sense to test fate to make a political point. Auditor General Sheila Fraser reports that the AECL site has been under-funded for a decade. Blaming and firing Canada's chief nuclear regulator was an absolutely unproductive and arrogant act.