May 23, 2005

Quebec BAPE report supports approval of Gentilly-2 nuclear waste storage facility

A report released earlier this month by Quebec's Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, BAPE) has recommended approval of Hydro-Quebec's proposal to expand its facilities for temporary storage of high-level nuclear waste storage from the Gentilly-2 nuclear power station. The expansion would provide storage for wastes produced until 2013. The BAPE further recommends deferring any decision on refurbishing Gentilly-2 and establishing a permanent waste disposal until the federal government's Nuclear Waste Management Organization issues its recommendations on the long-term management of high-level radioactive waste. Such decisions, says the BAPE, should be guided by society's values regarding sustainable development.

The report, based on BAPE hearings on the proposal held last fall, concludes that phase 1 of the proposal, consisting of expansion of the storage facility, would enable the station to continue operating from 2007 through to 2010. Certain questions which remain unresolved would render any decision on phases 2, 3 and 4 premature, says the two-member commission assigned to review the project.

The BAPE report points out that a national solution for managing nuclear fuel waste still has yet to be determined, although a report from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is expected late this year. Any decision by the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks should take this report into consideration, even though the NWMO's mandate addresses nuclear fuel waste and does not cover other types of radioactive waste from nuclear generating stations.

A decision concerning the phase 1 storage expansion project by the Quebec government and by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commisison (CNSC) is expected by mid-2005. A negative decision, or the absence of a decision by either of the two parties would mean closing Genetilly-2 in 2007. Approval of phase 1 would allow the station to continue operating, independent of the subsequent phases planned by Hydro-Quebec to extend the operating life of Gentilly-2 by 25 years or more.

The BAPE report notes that the eventual refurbishment of Gentilly-2 could be slowed due to the fact that the CNSC has not received notice of the project proposal from Hydro-Quebec and so cannot make a decision as to whether an environmental assessment would be required under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The commission recommends that the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks confirm with the CNSC the necessity for Hydro-Quebec to conduct an environmental assessment of the eventual refurbishment of the station.

There are three options for providing the energy that will be needed by 2011, a demand now being met by Gentilly-2, says the BAPE. These include refurbishment of the station, construction of a new natural gas-fired combined-cycle facility, or greater use of energy from hydroelectric projects now under construction or in the approval process.

Before a decision on phases 2, 3 and 4 of the Gentilly-2 project is made, the Quebec government and Hydro-Quebec should make clear the criteria and mechanisms on which the decision for the refurbishment of the station will be made, the report continues. They should also take into account social concerns, as the project is not subject to any provincial environmental approvals process. The fate of the station, says the BAPE, is not just an energy choice, it is a social choice and should be based on sustainable development priorities.

Meanwhile, environmental groups in Quebec are urging the government of Premier Jean Charest to begin the process of shutting down the Gentilly-2 station in favour of safer, more sustainable energy sources. Elizabeth May, executive director of Sierra Club of Canada, observed that the Quebec government's stated position against the siting of a nuclear waste disposal site in Quebec is at odds with the continuing operation of a nuclear power reactor.

Johanne Roberge of the group's Quebec chapter said, "The only sustainable option, and indeed the one that happens to be the most fiscally responsible, is to phase out nuclear power before 2013. Premier Charest should instruct Hydro-Quebec to begin the process of decommissioning Gentilly-2 as soon as possible and redirect public monies into conservation and renewable energy."

A similar view was expressed by Greenpeace Canada. Commenting on the BAPE report, the group called on Pmier Charest to order Hydro-Quebec to close Gentilly-2 in 2013 and increase its conservation and renewable energy programs.

"We have eight years to plan for the end of nuclear power in Quebec. This is an opportunity to develop cleaner, safer alternatives to replace Gentilly-2. Quebec doesn't need nuclear power" said Steven Guilbeault, Greenpeace energy campaigner.

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