Separate ‘nuclear specific’ evacuation plan for Point Lepreau unnecessary, safety officials say

As the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission holds hearings in Saint John on NB Power’s application for a five year renewal to Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station’s operating license, questions are arising about an evacuation plan for surrounding communities in the event of an accident.

Saint John’s fire chief told the commission it’s been a long time since an evacuation plan specifically related to Lepreau has been discussed.

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Currently, there is an evacuation plan of a 20-kilometre radius, which New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) feels is sufficient.

READ MORE: Environmental groups urge nuclear commission to release full report on disaster scenarios

Saint John sits about 40 kilometres away from Point Lepreau, but EMO says the city shouldn’t have to change its current evacuation plan.

“The difference between evacuating a community because of a threat posed by a nuclear plume doesn’t really require a whole lot of change in terms of the behaviour of the evacuees,” said NB EMO Director Greg MacCallum.

Nuclear Safety Commission staff agree even in the event a plume were to reach Saint John, “the impacts of that would never justify undertaking an evacuation,” explained Luc Sigouin.

“There are other protective actions that could be required, for example sheltering.”

Not everyone agrees enough is being done.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association wants Lepreau’s renewal application denied, at the very least only a one year approval granted, in the absence of a publicly available emergency plan. It doesn’t think the current distance is enough.

“As we saw with Fukushima, the initial evacuation zone then had to get evacuated because the emergency planning zones were not large enough,” said Association lawyer Kerrie Blaise. “Twenty kilometres is not enough.”

EMO says its emergency response plan has the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The hearings are scheduled to wrap up on Thursday.