John Gofman quote

Pickering: Flirting with Disaster (4) - Regulator Reasoning

So, the past 3 posts here have been about the Pickering “hold point” “public” hearing (1) held on May 7, 2014 at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) main office on Slater St. in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. The posts:


The written transcript of the hearing, btw, is now available on the CNSC Web site, here.

Just want to provide a small but telling example of how this body – the CNSC – works.

The tribunal bigshots always sit way up front in the room, on high, as previously explained in the posting ‘How CNSC hearings work.’

They have a large staff (not sure how big, but I suspect the salaries are plenty generous too) that they count on to do research for them, do all kinds of tasks related to the many nuclear operations/facilities in Canada (e.g. there are CNSC staff on-site all the time at the nuclear plants), & answer the questions that are raised at these hearings.

Here's an interesting exchange from the recent hearing.

Head honcho Dr. Binder asks, following up on a question from Commissioner Velshi, “From a layman perspective, I hear it now all the time. People say “Okay, the nuclear business, NPPs [nuclear power plants], have been around for 50 years, three events, 50 over three, that’s a probability.” And the industry keeps saying, “No, no. It’s not.” But I've never seen a good rebuttal that explains why this is not the right way of calculating probability, or is it? So it would have been nice if somebody can actually come up with some explanation why. And I understand the evolution of the industry and I understand all those things. But it's not explained with -- some pretty interesting people will come up and say that's the probability. Every, I don't know, 15 years or so you're going to have an accident like that. What do you say to that?” [See transcript, Pg 130-31.]

OPG Chief Nuclear Engineer Mark Elliott (salary = $520,000/year, paid for by Ontario taxpayers) has already replied to Commissioner Velshi, conveying that the Three Mile Island accident & the Chernobyl accident are more or less irrelevant (so long ago, you know), but that “the Fukushima is relevant. We learned that events, especially external events, can be beyond what we had previously considered, and that's a real -- that's a real learning. And that's why we put so much emphasis on the Fukushima action plan and building that into our PSAs [Probabilistic Safety Assessments]. So yes, we've had a number of events in the industry. I think the Fukushima is really the relevant one and we've addressed it.” [Transcript Pg. 130]

Binder asks the CNSC staff to comment on all this, & Dr. Rzentkowski goes at it with his customary zeal, saying basically, since no CANDU reactors have blown up yet, the risk is zero. (To quote him exactly: “… we can say the risk is zero, because there was never a significant accident in the CANDU fleet.” [pg 132])



I guess this means that since I have never been blown up by a ... whatever, or hit by a ... whatever, that I am at zero risk of these things ever happening? Holy smokes. Where are the rocket scientists when you really need them?? Not at a CNSC hearing, that’s for sure (especially when any self-respecting member of the aware public could have shot all this down in 2 minutes, only, yes, I was forgetting, at this so-called public hearing, the public was not allowed to speak).

Notwithstanding that OPG’s Mark Elliott had just finished telling them that Fukushima is very relevant – and that all those expensive Fukushima-related “enhancements” have been made – and that everyone in the room knows perfectly well the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are NOT CANDUs (they are General Electric-built boiling water reactors), it appears the tribunal members have already gone back to sleep as far as this issue is concerned.

& the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party rolls on!

As though a 3-year old child has thrown a tantrum, his manipulative parents have quickly placated him with a chocolate bar, & now peace reigns again.

It’s not remotely “scientific.” It's not even vaguely rational. & it's not the slightest bit "mathematical."

It has nothing to do with statistical probabilities … or even with common sense, quite frankly.

& that is how the guardians of “nuclear safety” in Canada watch out for you & me, fellow Canadian citizens.

I for one live 23 km/14 miles from the nuke plant in question, & I am not reassured in the slightest.

  • It’s shocking
  • It’s scandalous
  • It’s outrageous.


& if we ever do have a disaster here (increasingly likely, given the age of this creaky old nuke plant under discussion, which the Nuke Boyz clearly have every intention of pushing farther & farther & farther beyond the 210,000 hours it was designed for), the industry gets to walk away & leave the mess – the clean-up, the economic chaos, the social chaos – to the Canadian taxpayer.

Because that’s how this whole disastrous set-up is set up.

If I sound a little shrill from time to time, please bear with me, alright?

We need a lot more Canadians to sit up & pay attention. How this so-called “regulator” is “more of a lapdog than a watchdog,” & how we could easily have a homegrown Canadian nuclear disaster right on our very own doorsteps. (Toronto's doorstep, that is. The doorstep(s) of the Greater Toronto Area.)

Argh. Argh, argh, argh.


‘Quote of the Day’ with this post: “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.”Dr. John Gofman (M.D., Ph. D.) in his brilliant book “‘Irrevy’ – An Irreverent, Illustrated View of Nuclear Power,” published in 1979.

** tons more great nuke quotes here & yet more here!

** From the Introduction in Fukushima – The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan, and the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“The story of Fukushima Daiichi is a larger tale, however. It is the saga of a technology promoted through the careful nurturing of a myth: the myth of safety. Nuclear energy is an energy choice that gambles with disaster.

Fukushima Daiichi unmasked the weaknesses of nuclear power plant design and the long-standing flaws in operations and regulatory oversight. Although Japan must share the blame, this was not a Japanese nuclear accident; it was a nuclear accident that just happened to have occurred in Japan. The problems that led to the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi exist wherever reactors operate.

Although the accident involved a failure of technology, even more worrisome was the role of the worldwide nuclear establishment: the close-knit culture that has championed nuclear energy – politically, economically, socially – while refusing to acknowledge and reduce the risks that accompany its operation. Time and again, warning signs were ignored and brushes with calamity written off.” <Page vii>

“…What part of Fukushima don’t you understand? If you don’t make the modifications [re: safety & emergency planning] you run the risk of destroying the fabric of a country. It happened at Chernobyl, and it’s happening right now in Japan…” – Arnie Gundersen in an interview with Al Jazeera on March 27/14.

“It’s impossible to totally prevent any kind of accident or disaster happening at the nuclear power plants.  And so, the one way  to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change the position, that the only way to do this was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.” – former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Toshimitsu Homma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency stated recently [April 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada] at an international conference on Emergency Management that the most important lesson of Fukushima was that before the accident, “There was an implicit assumption that such a severe accident could not happen and thus insufficient attention was paid to such an accident by authorities.”

[1] At this “public” hearing, though, members of the public were not actually allowed to speak. That’s some kind of a public hearing, eh?? Members of the public were allowed to send in letters 15 days ahead – but no speaking up at the hearing.

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