Pickering: Flirting with Disaster (1)

** The phrase “flirting with disaster” is from the Marc Gerstein book by the same name: Flirting with Disaster – Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental (quoted by Arnie Gundersen in the Greenpeace report Lessons from Fukushima). Soooooooo.

On Wednesday (May 7, 2014) I attended the so-called “public hearing” held by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (sic) or CNSC, aforesaid hearing being held to review information & make a decision on the “hold point” CNSC had put on last year’s decision about relicensing the Pickering reactors.

Short story: The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station (PNGS) is a creaky old nuke plant (one of the oldest on the planet still operating if I am not mistaken) sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario – source of drinking water for somewhere between 6 & 9 million souls (& bodies) on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border – AND, also, as it happens, situated on the very eastern border, essentially, of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

Creaky, leaky & old.

That’s the PNGS.

But it makes a LOT a lot a lot of money for the OPG (Ontario Power Generation) boyz who run it (they are mostly boys/men).

So they want to keep on milking this cash cow for as long as humanly possible. We are talking, dear Reader, of some very very serious cash here for a very large # of over-$100,000/year folks. Check out the Sunshine list here. Yeah, no, I am not making it up.

(Aside: Dr. John Gofman, Ph.D & M.D. said in his book Irrevy” – An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power; a real gem, trust me!!) under the heading ‘Professionals as Apologists,’ “The pay has to be relatively high, because the job commonly requires the sacrifice of intellectual honesty.” Ahem. Btw, he also said “There has not existed the slightest shred of meaningful evidence that the entire intervention process in nuclear energy is anything more than the most callous of charades and frauds.”)

Public Hearing, Eh?

Sooooo. The room was full of expensive suits – the OPG heavy hitters (with the very occasional token female thrown in) & the CNSC bigshots (the so-called “tribunal members” headed up by President/CEO Michael Binder of the “What is the bumper sticker message from that?” fame, & also those incongruous smiles when asking deadly serious questions), & the staff (CNSC staff) they rely on to do all that so-called “due diligence.” The bigshots sit way way way up at the front of the room – so far away (& literally on high) that I doubt very much they could even see us lowly members of the public sitting down low, at the far far far end of the hearing room.

Of course we knew that at this “public hearing” (written submissions only, please) there was no real interest in hearing from the public. To call this a public hearing – when the public is forbidden to speak – is really a form of doublespeak, wouldn’t you say??

Normally at a CNSC hearing, members of the public can actually speak – provided of course they have submitted a written “intervention” a full 4 weeks ahead of time for the OPG & CNSC staff to vet & prepare rebuttals to.

At this one, written submissions only. (In one instance at the hearing on May 7th, tribunal members or CNSC staff were professing to not understand something from the Greenpeace submission they were discussing, for example – and while the person who had written it was right there in the room, no one would actually ASK him what he meant. I mean really.)

Somewhere around 50 brave & determined souls & groups had sent in submissions ahead of time, explaining many a good reason why they oppose the idea of having the Pickering CANDU reactors run beyond the 210,000 hours for which they were designed.

Unfortunately, while it is easy to locate the submissions from OPG & CNSC staff (all of whom have a vested interest in seeing those reactors keep running; can you say “Hey, that’s my meal ticket, thank you very much!”), the submissions from the public are not so easy to find. (You can go to this page on the CNSC Web site & request that they be sent to you, either electronically or in hard copy.)

** Also, 7 very outstanding submissions from thoughtful & knowledgeable members of the public are in my next posting, which I will put up as soon as I’m done with this rant (yes, I confess to feeling a tad ... irritated about it all).

Another confession: I’m a veteran of CNSC hearings. This was my 9th or 10th or 11th, I’ve lost count by now, so I am pretty darn familiar with the drill.


Well, for one thing it’s what you call an “echo chamber.” A bunch of people in the nuke biz talking to each other/themselves, in a public relations exercise whose foregone conclusion was probably long since predetermined.

With the occasional pointed question by a member of the tribunal (many of whom are from an engineering background)

& the inevitable over-confident assurances from the NI (nuke industry) that

all is well

all is well

all will always be very well (Just trust us!)

The Usual?

  • Bafflegab & B.S.
  • Expensive suits
  • Fancy charts & graphs
  • Nuclear jargon
  • Obfuscation
  • Poker faces
  • Reassuring bromides about safety



All present played their roles very well.

The suits were, as always, lovely. (You can buy quite a lot of suit for that kind of cash! OPG head honchos present, Bryce Phillips, Senior VP Pickering, takes home $394,000 & OPG Chief Nuclear Engineer William Mark Elliott $520,000 – money that, if I am not mistaken, comes from Ontario taxpayers; please correct me if I am wrong.)

They were flawless.

Well, except for one small thing: Mr. Phillips kept referring to the PNGS as “my plant,” which had a bit of an odd ring to it, for me at least (possibly for others, too, 'though I cannot profess to being a mind-reader).

But anyway, well done, all!

** Interesting & I think pretty relevant quote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair

Irony Alert!

Plenty was said about the “Fukushima enhancements” the nuclear industry has made to their nuke plants. They have their “Fukushima Action Plan” (FAP, inevitably).

Much has been learned.

The irony?

We are supposed to feel tremendously reassured that the nuke folks have tweaked this & adjusted that & enhanced this & replaced that – greatly enhancing the safety of the (always hitherto already-declared “safe” nuclear installation) – so that now, it is, for sure, for sure, 100% SAFE!

But -- only because a little over 3 years ago now a massive, unprecedented nuclear accident took place over in Fukushima … after company staff & regulators there allowed an old plant to continue running – without the safety enhancements being made that had been recommended, in some cases 3 or more years previously. Because in the echo chamber there, the enhancements & safety measures were considered too inconvenient & expensive, & had not been made.

& now, the entire world is reaping the consequences. & will be doing so … forever, basically.

But don’t worry, anyone – we can trust the nuclear industry!


  • The nuclear industry is alive & well & still pulling in those fabulous, unbelievable, stratospheric salaries (paid for by the public purse; do correct me if I am wrong).
  • The fox continues to be very much in charge of the henhouse. Global nuclear collusion situation well-explained here
  • The Echo Chamber lives!
  • The public DOES need to continue paying attention & contributing its pointed assessments of the problems it sees oh-so-very-clearly, because even though those Nuke Boyz will never ever ever admit to appreciating the input of the great unwashed public, they do frequently have to react to it, & make changes & enhancements & improvements.
  • “Pickering is safe.” Well, at least until, until, until … an unexpected something-or-other blows or leaks or breaks, & human error kicks in, & someone makes a really bad call during a rather tricky situation/crisis. Good old human error...


Until then, it is very very safe.

Old & creaky & leaky yes………but “safe” – provided you still believe in fairy tales & “happily ever after.”


p.s. 40 good years … & 1 bad day, as Arnie Gundersen puts it here. (& at greater length here )

p.p.s. emergency planning deficiencies very briefly outlined here 

p.p.p.s. Transcript now available here. Your chance to see how Canada's nuclear "regulator" operates. As always, there are some doozies in the record!

‘Quote of the day’ with this post:  “What Dr. Gerstein shows is that reasonable people, who are not malicious, and whose intent is not to kill or injure other people, will nonetheless risk killing vast numbers of people. And they will do it predictably, with awareness …  They knew the risks from the beginning, at every stage … the leaders chose, in the face of serious warnings, to consciously take chances that risked disaster … Men in power are willing to risk any number of human lives to avoid an otherwise certain loss to themselves, a sure reversal of their own prospects in the short run.” – Daniel Ellsberg, quoted in the Marc Gerstein book Flirting with Disaster – Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental (also quoted by Arnie Gundersen in the Greenpeace report Lessons from Fukushima)

* many great nuke quotes here & other nuke postings on this blog here