I'm honoured to be invited to address the committee members today. My name is Gordon Edwards. I am president and co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, a not-for-profit organization. I have also served as a consultant on nuclear issues for governmental and non-governmental organizations for the last 40 years. For example, I was retained by the Office of the Auditor General last year to serve on an external advisory committee in connection with a performance audit of the CNSC.
I graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961 with a gold medal in mathematics and physics. In the ensuing years, I earned two master's degrees and a doctorate. In 1974 I coordinated a study on the role of mathematical sciences in Canadian business, finance, industry, government, and policy planning for the Science Council of Canada. This study was published in eight volumes, and copies were placed in all Canadian university libraries.
The greatest challenge facing the nuclear industry today is the question of nuclear waste, including the dismantling of radioactive structures and the decontamination of radioactive sites. Going forward, parliamentarians need to play a much more active oversight role. The industry is making plans to abandon these dangerous wastes right beside major bodies of water, such as the Ottawa River, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and the Winnipeg River.
Important matters of public policy are being decided by default, by the nuclear industry and its regulator, based on technical considerations buttressed with scientific extrapolations, but these decisions are not wholly technical in nature, as they will implicate society as a whole. For example, right now there is a plan to ship 23,000 litres of highly radioactive liquid waste over a period of four years from Chalk River, Ontario, down to Savannah River Site in South Carolina. This type of material, containing a witch's brew of fission products and actinides, has never before been shipped anywhere in North America in liquid form. Nevertheless, there has been no environmental impact statement, nor have there been any public hearings having to do with this proposal. I believe Parliament should be intervening in this and saying, “Wait a minute. What's going on here?”
There are other questions here. Should the radioactive internals of the nuclear power demonstration reactor and the Whiteshell WR-1 reactor in Manitoba simply be entombed right beside the rivers where they were built, where they will remain dangerous for many thousands of years? Or should all the nuclear waste from all of Ontario's reactors, except the irradiated nuclear fuel, be placed in a deep geological repository less than one mile from the waters of Lake Huron?
Surely these are societal decisions and should involve our elected representatives. This is especially so when two DGRs, deep geological repositories, in Germany, expressly built for the permanent disposal of non-fuel nuclear waste, have failed spectacularly. They figure it'll take 30 years to get the radioactive waste back out of the Asse II repository and the Morsleben repository. The German government has declared that what is happening now is unacceptable. As well, the DGR in Carlsbad, New Mexico, underwent a major failure in 2014, costing billions to set straight.
It would be beneficial to Canadians if the various agencies of the nuclear establishment, such as AECL, the CNSC, and the NWMO, were called upon to report regularly to a parliamentary committee at least once per session. This would allow parliamentarians to gain a better understanding of why the spending estimates for AECL have tripled from last year to this, going from $327 million to $969 million, or why the estimated radioactive cleanup costs for the town of Port Hope increased overnight from $800 million to $1.2 billion. That, by the way, is a federal program.
The safe, long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste is one of the world's major unsolved problems. There we're talking about the irradiated fuel, which is much more radioactive than the Port Hope waste or other waste.
In 1978 the Porter commission, the Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, recommended a moratorium on any new nuclear power plants in Canada if the solutions to the nuclear waste problem were not forthcoming by 1985. We have surpassed that deadline by more than 30 years.
After 10 years of intense deliberations and public hearings in five provinces, the Seaborn panel unanimously recommended, in 1998, the formation of a nuclear fuel waste management agency that is independent of the nuclear industry, whose board includes representation from the stakeholders and indigenous peoples, and that reports directly to Parliament.
Instead, the Government of Canada created the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, an agency that is totally owned and operated by the nuclear industry, in particular by the nuclear fuel waste producers. There is a built-in conflict of interest in such an arrangement that may seriously undermine the public trust that is needed for a successful long-term nuclear fuel waste program.
In order to dramatize the scope of the nuclear fuel waste program, the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning published a graph in 1978 showing the radiotoxicity of irradiated nuclear fuel over a period of 10 million years. The graph shows the radiotoxicity declining for the first 50,000 years or so and then going back up again, not to the top: it becomes more toxic after that 50,000-year period. So it doesn't just simply go down and down. The radiotoxicity begins to increase again due to internal radiological changes in the fuel waste, which I could elaborate on, if you like.
For purposes of illustration, the graph also shows how much water would be required to dilute the irradiated nuclear fuel from one CANDU reactor produced in one year to the maximum allowed concentration of radioactive contamination for drinking water. For one year's worth of irradiated fuel from one CANDU reactor, the amount of water needed would be almost exactly equal to the volume of Lake Superior. By this calculation, if Ontario were considering 20 reactors operating for 30 years, we'd be talking something in the neighbourhood of 600 Lake Superiors.
Now, this is a totally theoretical calculation, but the purpose of it is to highlight the extreme toxicity of this material and the reason why it simply cannot be treated the way even other very long-lived, highly dangerous materials are treated. It has to be stored with virtual perfection, which is something humans are not so good at.
This brings me back to the question of siting. At the present time, the NWMO is looking for a willing host community in the vicinity of Lake Huron. Given the extraordinary radiotoxicity of irradiated nuclear fuel, and given the fact that these wastes will remain highly radiotoxic for literally millions of years, is it wise to store them right beside the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for tens of millions of people?
The industry and the regulator plan to abandon these nuclear wastes after a certain finite period of time. In other words, monitoring and retrievability of the waste will not last forever. The intention is to cut the industry's liability and to terminate the regulator's obligations vis-à-vis the highly toxic material. Abandonment implies that amnesia will set in. At some point in the not-so-distant future, the dangerous nature of this waste will be forgotten. If it does start to leak after abandonment, people will be ill prepared to deal with the situation.
The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility believes it is essential to have parliamentary oversight of the nuclear industry, especially in matters of nuclear waste. Without a proper mechanism of accountability, monumental mistakes can be made. In the continental U.S.A., there have been eight separate attempts to locate a deep geological repository for irradiated nuclear fuel, and all of these attempts have ended in failure.
On a more positive note, there's going to be a multi-billion dollar industry in the field of nuclear demolition, particularly the dismantling of defunct nuclear power plants at a cost of about $1 billion each. The expense of decommissioning is due to the high levels of radioactivity found in the primary cooling system of the reactor due to contamination in the pipes spread from defective fuel bundles. In addition, there are radioactive activation products, such as cobalt-60 and many others, that build up in the entire core area of the reactor. The structural materials themselves become radioactive waste.
At one time it was believed that it would be better to wait 40 years or more after a reactor is shut down to begin the dismantling of a structure. However, European authorities and the International Atomic Energy Agency are now recommending immediate dismantling to take advantage of the expertise and experience of those workers who know the plant inside out as a result of years of working there. Besides, there are potential contamination dangers that will not be alleviated by waiting 40 years. For example, carbon-14 dust, which contaminated a lot of Pickering workers at one point in time—
Thank you for this opportunity to present to you today. My name is Shawn-Patrick Stensil. I'm a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace Canada. I also work as a radiation protection adviser for Greenpeace International and have done field work in such contaminated such as Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Palomares in Spain.
My presentation today will be in English. Although I have lost some of my French since I have been in Toronto, I will be pleased to answer your questions in French if you wish.
For the past month, you have been hearing from witnesses and seeking perspectives on the potential for innovation and economic opportunities in the nuclear sector. You've heard from a long line of industry witnesses who have claimed there is a huge potential for innovation and significant economic opportunities in the industry, but with more often than not a request for policy or financial support from the federal government. In my presentation today, perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm going to give you a skeptical view.
I've observed this industry, in Canada and internationally, for over 15 years now. I encourage the committee in its deliberations to also be skeptical about what you've heard, because, well, the nuclear industry has always been a “promising” industry. Its promises have caused the federal government to spend significant taxpayer dollars over the past several decades. In your deliberations I encourage you to weigh the future conditional promises you've heard over the past month against the industry's delivery in the past. This is necessary to not only protect taxpayers, but in light of climate change, we don't have the time or funds to let ourselves be distracted by false promises.
The challenges facing the Canadian nuclear industry are more or less the same as they've always been—specifically, technological complexity, escalating costs, and a lack of social acceptance. This lack of social acceptance is reasonable given that this industry has the capacity to displace large populations and burdens future generations with radioactive waste.
But today there's a new challenge: the competition. Rapid innovation and growth in the renewable and clean tech sector is making both existing and future conditional nuclear technologies irrelevant.
Today, I don't think there can be any credible assessment of the opportunities in the nuclear sector that doesn't consider the increasing challenge renewables and clean tech pose to the sector. So I have two main takeaway messages for the committee today. First, in light of the magnitude of past government support, the federal government should not provide any additional financial or significant policy support towards the development of new reactor designs, such as small modular reactors. Second, this committee should study innovation in the renewable and clean tech sector, and specifically whether the federal government and the Department of Natural Resources are properly tooled and focused to support the transition towards renewable-powered energy systems we're witnessing internationally.
I provided a briefing note to the committee. The first section of the briefing note is entitled “CANDU: A Technological Dead-End”. I think this is a good starting point for your deliberations. Despite significant policy support and $25 billion in taxpayer subsidies, the CANDU nuclear technology has failed to significantly innovate and evolve since the 1970s. The main focus of possible future reactor sales is the CANDU 6, a reactor that was first developed, with federal support, in the early 1970s.
Here I would like to point you to the story of the advanced CANDU reactor. Fifteen years ago, in front of this committee, we would have been discussing the promise of the advanced CANDU. At the time, parliamentarians and the public were being promised that the Canadian nuclear industry could design and build a cheaper and safer reactor that would find significant markets in both Canada and internationally. Believing these promises, Parliament approved over $400 million to support the design of this reactor that will never be built.
The Canadian nuclear industry was unable to innovate, overcome market barriers, and find markets. That $400 million was wasted and diverted from other energy options. There's a lesson in this. In short, despite what I would take as sincere promises, the Canadian nuclear industry was not able to innovate, reduce costs, increase safety, or develop viable new markets. That should be considered by this committee.
In fact, the Canadian nuclear industry is now in decline. Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, who were all talking about building this advanced CANDU 10 years ago, have all abandoned those plans. By 2025, nine of Canada's 22 operating CANDUs will be closed due to the prohibitive cost of keeping them operating. That's almost half of the CANDU fleet in Canada, so the industry is clearly in decline.
I've raised the point about the failure of the advanced CANDU because the narrative that supported it gaining government support is very similar to what the committee has been hearing about small modular reactors. These are also promised to be cheaper, cleaner, and safer, but as I point out in the briefing note, the designs are purely conceptual at this point, and in most cases not much more than a power point presentation. There is no proven SMR design. Industry will probably look for government backstopping to build a demonstration plant. There's talk of doing this at Chalk River. I encourage this committee to advise against this.
This leads me to the major challenge I see for this industry and what should be the focus of this committee, in my view: the competition. While the Ontario government study on SMRs thought it would be possible to use small modular reactors in some communities to displace diesel, it did not consider other alternatives, such as renewable-based micro-grids, even though the technologies exist and are being used in other off-grid communities. This is an obvious blind spot in light of the declining cost of renewables and other clean technologies.
Put yourself in the shoes of a community that would be offered an SMR. Would you want to trust some big company from Toronto coming in with a nuclear reactor, given all the history that's surrounded it? There's not a market for these. Energy systems worldwide are being transformed by innovation in the clean tech and renewable sector. While nuclear costs have only ever risen, renewable costs are declining rapidly. That's called innovation. For this reason, more and more communities and countries are committing to go 100% renewable to fight climate change. In Canada, Vancouver, Victoria, and Oxford County—where, I would note, I am proud to have grown up—have all committed to go 100% renewable by 2050. They're doing this because the technology is already viable and becoming more viable, it brings local economic and social benefits, and it fights climate change.
I urge the committee to acknowledge this fact in your study. The declining cost of renewables, along with safety issues, and the waste issue that Dr. Edwards described so well, in my mind are an insurmountable challenge for the nuclear industry. The federal government should not waste additional financial resources or policy support on propping up this stagnant industry. Indeed, Greenpeace recommends that this committee turn its focus to study whether the federal government is properly tooled to enable the already innovative renewable and clean tech sector. That's where the change is actually happening and what Canada needs to be part of.
With that, I'd like to conclude my remarks. Thank you for listening to my comments. I'm happy to take questions.
I'd like to thank both of you for coming.
My home province is New Brunswick. I'm from the western part of New Brunswick, which is probably one of the only landlocked ridings in the east coast. I don't have access to tidal, of course, but tidal is going to play a very large contributing factor to our renewable sector on the east coast. I understand the challenges that we face in New Brunswick, and right now we have a significant challenge with building a generating station. We're looking at where we're going in the future, and the select committee on climate change in New Brunswick identified an action plan that would see us off coal in New Brunswick by 2030, or 2040 at the very latest, but that would have to be under a very stringent set of guidelines that would guide that.
From the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Lois Corbett and Louise Comeau, two people from my riding who are very passionate about renewables, have endorsed that plan. I think Louise Comeau has even said that she feels that it's one of the most proactive prospective plans that she has seen so far across the country. They've both identified Point Lepreau in New Brunswick as playing a contributing factor at this point to getting where we need to go in the short term, just as they have agreed that hydroelectricity plays a role in where we need to go in the short term.
I have the Mactaquac generating station in my riding. I understand the challenges around Mactaquac and in the refurbishment of it as well, which makes the refurbishment costs at Point Lepreau look minute because of the large scale. I have been in favour there of an option that hasn't been really touted too much, which is the idea of an in situ refurbishment at Mactaquac. That would extend the life of that generating station by up to 40 years. I've been in favour of that because I believe that our energy spectrum could look significantly different 40 years from now than it does right today. I recognize that, and when you talk about SMRs, I'm open to just about everything right now. I agree that we need to have increased investment in renewables and clean tech.
Actually, Mr. Stensil, you'll be happy to know that we are fully intending to do a clean tech study, I think, in the new part of the year, which will give greater focus to that.
At the same time, I'm open to looking at the SMR option. The reason I'm open to looking at it—and I'm not saying that I'm sold on it or not sold on it—is that when you talk about rural northern communities, especially ones that are isolated, and you talk about an integrated renewal grid in those areas, I think that's great, and it's definitely going to take into account solar, and wind, and possibly submersible hydroelectricity. In the north it's quite cold, so I'm assuming we won't have a lot of conventional hydroelectricity generation, but we could have submersible generators, which we've seen used in Europe some, that would provide that generation load for those communities.
I think the reason you've heard so much talk about SMRs is that potentially we're still going to need baseload generation, no matter what, and you're going to need baseload generation in those communities. I'm not saying they're a viable alternative to diesel generation, and I'm not saying they're not a viable alternative to diesel generation. I'm just saying that I'm not discounting them based on the history of a different design of reactor, and I'm not discounting them based on the belief that renewables will 100% eclipse traditional generation. I do believe the future is in renewables, and I do believe we're going to get there. I just don't believe it's going to happen overnight, and that's the issue I have.
I want to ask you, Mr. Edwards, about the 23,000 litres of, I'm assuming, spent fuel that they're talking about transferring to the United States. Isn't that part of a....not a decommissioning, but they're going to reuse that fuel and blend it down so that it's not nuclear grade? Isn't that the idea? I thought the reason they couldn't ship it as solid was that you can't do anything with it once you encapsulate it.
I thank the witnesses for coming to talk to us today.
Mr. Stensil, I spent some time in the north, although not as much, obviously, as Mr. McLeod. After Greenpeace has done more to destroy the way of life, and the income, and the hunting and trapping, and the sealing industry, etc., with their international campaigns against Inuit people up there, I think they'll view your offer of help probably with suspicion, like they would from someone from Toronto. I think that has been a tragedy, and I note there are some Inuit organizations that are looking to bring a class action lawsuit, actually, to recoup some of the damages that have been inflicted on their communities.
Speaking of damages to the people of Ontario, I noticed your concern for significant taxpayer dollars having been spent on the nuclear industry, but between 2006 and 2014, hydro bills for homes and small businesses in Ontario rose 70%. Ontario's auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, placed the blame on Ontario's Green Energy Act. She noted that hydro companies will pay a total of $9.2 billion more for wind and solar projects under the Liberals’ 20-year guaranteed price program for renewable energy. Soaring hydro rates are forcing people out of their homes, closing small and medium-sized businesses. We're hearing about people having to choose between heating or eating, or choosing between heating and paying for their prescription medication.
The premier herself, Kathleen Wynne, has admitted that high electricity prices were her mistake, and that people had been placed in an unacceptable position of having to choose between paying their electricity bill and, as I said, buying food or paying rent.
With about 60% of Ontario's energy currently generated by nuclear energy, I know that Greenpeace has also opposed hydroelectric projects. You said we shouldn't be making policy that benefits the nuclear industry. We've seen what the policy looks like. We don't have to guess. We don't have to pontificate. We don't have to model it. We've seen how disastrous the Ontario green energy policy has been, so why would we repeat that right across the country? Have you done any modelling that would show how much that would cost ratepayers, the people who actually have to pay the bill, if we repeated, right across the country, the mistakes that Kathleen Wynne has made?
Great. Thank you for the question.
I'll start out with a compliment to the Conservative Party. Greenpeace supported the privatization of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It was a good thing for ratepayers, and it is protecting ratepayers from ongoing cost overruns at Point Lepreau and future refurbishments in Ontario. So that was a good thing. Let's keep the dialogue open, because sometimes we can find common ground.
On your point around the Inuit, I can supply this information to you, but you may be very intrigued to see the work we've been doing in Clyde River. This summer we helped the community install solar facilities to help them get off diesel generation. That's been something going on. We've also been supporting their Supreme Court case against seismic testing. So there's a different type of relationship on which I'm happy to provide you with more information.
For clarity, for communities in the north—and this goes for Mr. Harvey as well—listen to what my message was: namely, be skeptical about the promise that's been given around SMRs but also look at what the other alternatives to SMRs are other than diesel, and that is renewable micro-grids. To get to a good decision, we need to have both options on the table, and right now, as I noted in my briefing note, the only options we have are SMRs against diesel. I think a fair way to approach those communities, to allow them to make their own decisions, is to say, “Here is an SMR option, and here are renewable micro-grids, which are already being done in Alaska. What do you want to do?” Right now that information isn't available, so I would encourage the committee to look for it.
When it comes to Ontario, you're right, there have been a lot of mistakes, and a lot of that has to do with the Green Energy Act and how it was implemented. The government bought a lot of solar power at really high levels. The way green energy acts are supposed to work, as in Germany, instead of putting out big offers and buying a lot of power at once, you buy it in small increments as the price goes down. What Ontario did was buy a lot of solar power in 2010, when prices were higher. They didn't do what Germany is doing, which is ratcheting the price down consistently.
As I mention in my briefing note, it's very interesting to investigate where the price points in the renewable sector are going. If we do a forward-looking analysis, the cost is dropping consistently. In the last RFP the Ontario government put out, they got wind power in at 6.5¢ for the first time. That's lower than nuclear generation, and it's lower than wind was five years ago at 13¢. That is where, for this committee that's studying innovation, you can look at what the real deliverables are. There is a trend line there that we should look at as evidence for what's going on and how we, as the federal government, take advantage of that for ratepayers, for everyone.
I would urge you to keep an open mind. Yes, there have been some mistakes in Ontario. A lot of the problem in addition to the Green Energy Act—I'm right now working on Greenpeace's submission for the province's long-term energy plan—is the fact that we're exporting the entire output of Pickering, the nuclear station, about 20 terawatts, to Michigan at a loss. They have kept that station online. It's going to close in 2024. It should have closed in 2014. All of it is surplus, so right now ratepayers are buying that power at 7¢. We're selling it to Michigan at 2¢, and the ratepayers are paying that difference.
We also need to protect ratepayers, and I agree with you on that, but let's look at the evidence on the other side. I think you're getting some distorted views of where the renewable sector and clean tech sector are going. They're actually bringing their price points down. Between Greenpeace and Conservatives, we can find agreement that this is a good thing. We need to find out how it can be used in the public interest.
Thank you. That's a very good question.
It's important for the committee to realize that when it comes to nuclear accidents, the cause is often—for Fukushima and Chernobyl—attributed to something called “institutional failure”, which is basically when the regulator and the operator dismiss the risks that the technology poses and start to cut corners. That's exactly what happened at Fukushima. There was a bad regulator.
What really worries me about the CNSC is that, instead of acting as an independent, unbiased regulator, it has become over the past 10 years a promotional agency. That was caused—I already gave a compliment to one side of the table—when the Harper government fired president Keen in 2008. What was really driving that, according to Ms. Keen, was that she was imposing modern safety standards on the licensing of the CANDU 6 reactor, which is a pre-Chernobyl, pre-September 11 design. I mention that in my briefing note. Ms. Keen was saying that if they wanted to build it in Ontario, they needed to meet modern safety standards, and that that was the CNSC's job as an agency. That got Atomic Energy of Canada and SNC-Lavalin, who's since bought Candu, very upset because they were losing money and competitive advantage. They fired her for that and put in a new president, Mr. Binder, who you've seen.
These are some of the hard things to measure. The tone of the commission has changed considerably over the past 10 years. If you look at the likes of their communications, instead of just putting out simple facts, they're often touting the industry and its accomplishments. That's where you start to see a sort of conceptual capture that goes on. They're more interested in trying to prop this industry up.
So I'm very worried about the commission. I've been intervening at the commission for the past 15 years. There was no love lost between Greenpeace and Ms. Keen, either. We had our own fights. It has gotten significantly worse, though, under Mr. Binder. When I talk with international journalists from the nuke industry, they're shocked at some of the things that come out of the CNSC compared to other international regulators. This is actually a topic that the committee itself should look into more deeply, I think.
Gordon, did you want to say something?
I would like to thank the two witnesses for their presentations this morning.
As you know, I am from the province with the smallest carbon footprint in Canada, thanks to its hydroelectric facilities and its wind farms. In Quebec, we have also chosen to close the only nuclear plant that we had, the one in Gentilly.
Examples of nuclear disasters abound, such as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The disposal of nuclear waste and the decommissioning of nuclear plants are costly aspects of producing this type of energy. On the other hand, I am a person who believes in looking at both sides of the coin.
In Canada, we have developed nuclear technology and expertise that are respected the world over. In addition, our nuclear safety system is among the safest in the world.
Do you think that the government's announced carbon tax of $50 per tonne starting in 2022 will encourage the development of the nuclear industry in Canada, which boasts of producing energy without any CO2 emissions?
I would like to hear from both witnesses on this.
Thank you for the question.
I doubt that the carbon tax will lead to growth in Canada's nuclear industry since the cost of building and refurbishing reactors is rising steadily.
Ontario, for example, is closing eight reactors. The province has put forward a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also reducing the number of reactors. In other countries, such as Germany, good greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are set without resorting to nuclear energy. Like Quebec, Belgium and Switzerland are doing away with nuclear energy. These countries will use other technologies because renewable energies are more competitively priced than nuclear energy, and their costs keep dropping.
As I said in my presentation, we expect the cost of wind power to drop by 50% by 2050. There is a lot of innovation in this sector. The challenge facing the nuclear industry involves not only the costs of disposing of waste and the risk of accidents, but also the competition. Technologies are improving very quickly.
If you do a study of the cleantech industry, you will find, as Wayne Gretzky said with regard to hockey,
that's “where the puck is going”.
Everyone is going in that direction. Germany and Japan, which are the third and fourth largest economies in the world respectively, are doing away with nuclear energy while striving to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Investments in renewable energy are transforming economies and businesses everywhere. Companies such as General Motors, Google, and many others are setting targets and using renewable energy to meet their energy needs.
To answer your question, I doubt that a carbon tax will make nuclear energy more competitive. In addition to the costs, there is still the problem of the social acceptability of this source of energy.
As to small modular reactors, it takes at least 15 years to build a demonstration facility, and then buyers have to be found. So that would be too late to fight climate change.
Thank you for the question.
In terms of doing this in a few minutes, European federalism is a lot more complex than Canadian federalism sometimes. There are leaders and followers in the European Union on renewables, for sure. Germany is the main leader, and actually the world leader in that, so you'll see a lot more uptake in places like that. The U.K., for example, is not seen as a leader in the same sense.
I think the difficulty with finding the right mechanism.... Mr. Strahl had asked a question about subsidies, and I admitted that Ontario has made some mistakes. The problem with finding the right policy framework on renewables is because the price point is moving so quickly, how do you find the right mechanism to protect ratepayers but also encourage innovation and encourage uptake of these new industries?
What we've seen is that it's a success story. It's the kind of problem that you want to have. The price points have been changing so quickly with renewables that there's a lot of back and forth about how to do that in a just fashion, so you'll often hear stories here that are trying to dismiss what's going on in Germany, where they're adjusting their renewables framework. They're doing it for a reason; they're doing it to try to protect ratepayers while continuing to deal with this rollout. So in a general way for the European Union I think it is a bit of a mishmash.
I think what we need to look for in North America.... Ontario has made a commitment in its climate plan to make it the easiest and most affordable place in North America for homeowners and communities to install renewable or storage facilities. That is an interesting way to pose the question. They don't know yet what the mechanism will be. What's happening with energy markets is that in Canada we started with selling big hydro, like in Ontario and Quebec, really large power stations, and everyone was a consumer. The word that's now being used is “prosumer”. There is an actual two-way market that's taking place. People who have solar power on their roof are also selling it into a market. So it's about finding those market mechanisms that enable that, that are also fair to other consumers, which I think Mr. Strahl was getting at, and also for maintaining some basic facilities on the grid. That is the struggle we're dealing with in North America.
New York state is doing some renewable.... I forget what it's referred to as, but in their energy vision they're doing a lot on micro-grids and trying to enable how we allow communities to develop power on their own. I think that's something where across party lines we could find some agreement, and it is about finding those mechanisms. I don't have a clear answer to that because it's in development. But watching Ontario, it's kind of at the leading edge of it in Canada, but there are other areas like New York state in the United States that could also be looked at.
I think that tension is just because of the innovation, and it's about finding the right policy mechanism. With a nuclear plant, they come online and then you charge them the price and you increase it with operation maintenance costs for 30 years. It's fairly simple.
With renewables, we have to change our thinking from top down to bottom up.
On behalf of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the IUOE, and our nearly 55,000 members across Canada, we thank the committee for allowing us the opportunity to appear today.
My name is Steven Schumann. I am the Canadian government affairs director for the operating engineers. Unfortunately, Lynda Cloutier, who was supposed to be here with me today, had a family emergency, so I am here by myself. She gives her regrets.
The IUOE is a progressive and diversified trade union. We are involved in all facets of natural resource extraction. We work in the oil fields and build pipelines, hydroelectrical facilities, wind turbines, and solar farms, and of course we build and maintain nuclear facilities. As you can see, we build it all. I'm here today to give you a labour perspective on how we see the future of nuclear.
For our members and the members of the Canadian building trades union, who we belong to, the future looks very bright at both the Darlington nuclear facility and the Bruce Power nuclear site. The Darlington nuclear station will invest $12.8 billion over the next 10 years to refurbish all four units. This refurbishment, which began in October, will create jobs for thousands of skilled trades workers in the province of Ontario and provide an opportunity for apprentices to gain valuable work experience. The passing of industry expertise down to our apprentices is something you cannot put a price tag on. It allows future construction workers to work throughout Canada. Bruce Power is also scheduled to begin refurbishment on its fleet of CANDU reactors in 2020, with a targeted completion date of 2033. This massive undertaking again will supply thousands of highly skilled jobs to our members.
Most of this work will be under a project labour agreement, a PLA, and anything not covered by the PLA falls under a collective bargaining agreement, a CBA. Both the PLA and CBA language emphasize that skilled trades workers must be “nuclear ready workers”, and our local unions for each of the crafts are responsible to ensure the training so that their workers meet this threshold. It gives a great opportunity for us to provide the necessary training to our workers.
So we would agree with those who appeared before you that the future looks bright for these two facilities in terms of providing construction and work for our members.
I would now like to discuss the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Chalk River facility and its subsequent facilities. I believe the committee also has been given a very rosy picture for the future of Chalk River. However, we do not completely agree with that view. Under the previous government, it was decided that Chalk River and its related facilities would be transferred to a GOCO model, government-owned and contractor-operated. This operating model is the first of its kind in Canada. We find it concerning that the nuclear sector would be chosen as the first model for a GOCO model. Proponents of GOCO say it operates well in the U.K. and the United States. I cannot speak on the U.K. experience, but I do believe, from talking to my colleagues in the U.S., that it is not a perfect model. We clearly do not support the GOCO model in Canada's nuclear sector, and believe it may be asking for problems.
Just because it works well in one country does not mean it will work well in other countries. Countries operate under different regulations and are governed differently, and therefore success in one country does not mean it is destined for success in another country. To be clear, we do not oppose change. For example, we are one of the few unions that believe there is a benefit in the P3 model. We're very open to new ideas, we're just very concerned about this model.
Our first concern with this new approach is the fate of the roughly 3,400 employees. Under the GOCO agreement with all employees, all employees will no longer be able to participate currently in the public service pension plan, the PSPP, which they belong to now, and they will no longer be considered government employees, although the facility remains owned by the Government of Canada.
Under this model, all employees are being forced to move into a new pension plan that will be developed in conjunction with the employer and the employees. Negotiations to develop this plan are currently taking place, but they are not progressing very well. If an agreement cannot be made between the employer and the employees by September 2018, the GOCO agreement forces all employees to go into a plan that has already been set in agreements.
The current PSPP is a defined benefit plan; the new plan will be a defined contribution pension plan. We can provide you with more detailed differences between the two plans...to focus on more things on Chalk River.
We are not sure why the employees are being forced out of their current plan. One argument appears to be around savings. However, one thing we know is that we are unaware of any cost analysis done on the GOCO model. Nothing has been shared with us. Neither CNL operators nor AECL have been very forthcoming in sharing any details of the GOCO model to us or any other unions.
The reason this is a problem is that it creates uncertainty, and there has been a lot of uncertainty around the Chalk River facility. The creation of this new plan and the direction of the new operators have greatly affected the morale of the employees. New hires currently are without a pension plan, and this issue is yet to be resolved.
How do you attract new people if there's uncertainty, and if they don't even know if they're going to be part of a pension plan that others have around them?
There's also uncertainty around the numerous upcoming collective bargaining agreements, since bargaining units have no idea what the pension plan will look like in the future. How can you bargain when you have no idea what your pension plan will look like?
One of the biggest clouds hanging around this GOCO model is the fact that the SNC-Lavalin operating consortium, as we understand it, currently has a five-year contract with an option to renew. What happens if they decide after five years not to renew? How do you attract a new suitor in this situation? What if the new suitor doesn't want to come in under the current agreement, i.e. the pension plan? What if there is no new suitor? Does the government take over the facility again? What would this mean for our employees? Do they get back into the pension plan? There's a lot of uncertainty that hangs around this facility, and it has a negative impact on employees and employee morale.
Chalk River once was a shining star for employment in the nuclear sector. However, over the last few years, for various reasons that reputation has greatly diminished. It has been hard to attract and retain new people to work at the facility. Part of the problem is that the location of the Chalk River facility makes it difficult for people who want to move out there.
Beforehand, the public service pension plan was used as a sort of lure to incentivize people to come and work there, but now this lure will no longer exist. Under the current direction of the facility, we're not sure how they're going to attract these new, high-quality people they talk about for the facility.
We do not share the optimism that has been expressed by others who have appeared before you about Chalk River and subsequent facilities. We encourage the government and all parties to re-examine the use of a GOCO operating model. If we want a bright and thriving nuclear sector, a GOCO model may not be the best option for the future.
I'll leave it at that and answer any questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
When we have witnesses that come through, I often wish sometimes the panels would be arranged so that, for instance, in the last panel we could have the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility actually appear with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, so they could deal with some of the comments.
I think it would have been good, as well, to have the International Union of Operating Engineers appear with Greenpeace in the last panel, because I note with interest the IUOE has supported the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the Line 3 pipeline expansion, has supported the nuclear facility refurbishment. I met with the BC Building Trades Council, which also supports pipeline development, supports the Site C dam, supports responsible resource development.
I guess I'm looking for your perspective. I know you said you don't like to get into the policy. If it's going to be built, you want to build it. I think on this, certainly from the Conservative side, we're not too concerned about oil companies or pipeline companies or nuclear companies, but we are concerned about the women and men who gain family-supporting jobs and who pay the mortgage and put food on the table because of the projects that are approved by government.
Can you perhaps talk about the tension that sometimes comes up where we have organizations that are actively involved in opposing much of the work that sustains the families that you represent? How do you deal with that? Do you have campaigns to try to educate people on the nature of your work, the important economic benefits that it provides to communities and families? Or is that the job of government?
For a long time in the past we relied on others to do that because we were busy working and building stuff; however, over the recent time and in the previous government's tenure, we saw it more. Certain groups were very loud in protesting development. We ourselves, as operating engineers, and some of the building trades have started to promote the projects we work on and highlight the fact that these are jobs for the women, men, first nations, youth, for the future of Canada.
For example, just quickly, on the pipeline ones, we create some social media campaigns to inform people that we're ready to work, we want to build these pipelines, and here are the benefits. The protests have been very loud on the pipelines, so yes, we've been very active on that.
In terms of promoting nuclear, no, we've not been very active in promoting the benefits of the work that we do, in part because most of the work is in Ontario, at the two facilities, and there has not been a very loud, boisterous protest over these refurbishments like there is on some of these other projects.
But yes, if in the future we see the discourse going against what we build, we will become more active. We want to work with the governments who help put us...employed, and that will be of any political stripe. We both need to get the message out, because I believe that governments haven't done a good job as well of expressing the actual economic impact on the people who build the jobs. I think we all need to take a better role in that as well, but we are actually being more active in taking a role in that.
Thanks for being here today and for your comments.
In the same vein as the conversation that we've been having, on November 24 we did have a representative from the Office of the Auditor General here who had conducted an audit on the CNSC. She did express concerns that were outlined in her report about protocols, data management, and follow-ups for the CNSC site inspections and practices. She went on to say, similar to the comments you were making, that it's likely the industry and the workers are well ahead of the regulator on all of these fronts.
She said that like the Canadian energy, oil and gas, and mining sectors, safety is in their DNA. It was echoed again by a representative from Bruce Power on the same day, who said that when looking at the spectrum of energy development or responsible resource development in Canada broadly, we are blessed to have a three-legged stool here, with the first leg being the strong and successful oil and gas sector, the second leg being hydroelectricity, and the third leg being nuclear. He said it's important that all of these sectors are supported, promoted, and acknowledged as world-leading sectors, as well as the performance of workers in Canada, which is second to none on the planet. That seems to align with the comments that you were making.
Another witness said that in particular to nuclear, we punch above our weight as a country, and that Canada's regulatory regime in the post-Fukushima period was one of the first to step up, and it was internationally recognized.
I'd invite you to expand on your comments about whether you agree with the assessment that the nuclear industry and the workers, in their performance and their commitment in Canada, are dedicated to responsible development and to safe operations.
I wonder if you might comment personally, on behalf of the members you represent and you work with, on whether you find it insulting that organizations, sometimes foreign-funded organizations who protest against your way of life, your expertise, and the economic opportunities for the men, women, first nations, young workers, and older expert workers in the sector consistently, it seems to me, are making the argument that the construction and the operation of these facilities are guaranteed to result in failure and in catastrophic risks to your neighbours, to your fellow Canadians, and to the communities neighbouring these operations that provide so many economic benefits to their communities and sustainable energy for all Canadians.
First, we work very closely with our contract partners and those who hire us, to ensure we meet their standards of what they need. For example, with the refurbishment of facilities, as I said, they want nuclear-ready workers. We sat down with our contractors, those who had bid on the work, and the operators and asked them what they meant by nuclear-ready workers. They explained it to us. They showed us what they needed, their concerns. We took that back to our locals who provide the training, saying this is the training they need, and asked if they could meet it.
We ensure that we sit with our contractors, and we train our workers to those higher standards they will need to ensure the safety of things being constructed. I can safely say here that things that are constructed in any energy sector by a unionized Canadian workforce will be by the best-trained workers you'll see, and we will follow the highest standards out there. Again, as you said, for us, worker safety is paramount. We breathe it through and through in our training, on the sites. When we build it, it will be safely built through the requirements that have been laid out to us.
To the second part of your question about the protesters, I'm of two minds. Everyone has a right to protest and express their views. Do I find it insulting? No. That's their point of view. All I ask is that they have an informed point of view. Unfortunately, when we come to a lot of these arguments, they're don't.
Again, I will go back to oil and gas, because I know it better. When we talk about pipelines in B.C., you see the baby duck from the Exxon Valdez. That was 30-odd years ago. It's the same baby duck you see over and over again. That's not an argument: the pipelines are the safest thing out there. Let's have a real argument. If you have concerns about nuclear, let's talk about the concerns. Let's not talk about the construction, because it's going to be built to the safest standards. Let's have an honest discussion about your concerns.