Judge rules in BWXT’s favor over nuclear fuel pellet manufacturing in Peterborough

A federal court has ruled that Canada’s nuclear regulator made no error in granting a license to a local firm to manufacture nuclear fuel pellets in Peterborough — a decision that a local environmental group member called “reprehensible,” saying it opens the door for children to potentially be exposed to radiation.

Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley wrote in a new judgment that the regulator’s decision was “lawful and reasonable,” and that an application for judicial review of the matter is dismissed.

But Citizens Against Radioactive Neighbors (CARN) stated in a press release this week that it is “disappointed and saddened” by the decision, and one neighbor to the facility on Monaghan Road — across the street from Prince of Wales Public School — pointed out that the schoolyard is just 25 meters away.

“Approving a facility this close to a public school without fully understanding how emissions from this facility will impact children at this school is reprehensible,” Deirdre McGahern is quoted as saying in the release. “CARN will continue to fight this decision.”

CARN had applied for a court reconsideration of a late 2020 decision from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to give BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada a 10-year license renewal that also allows the Monaghan Road firm to manufacture uranium fuel pellets.

BWXT’s license is valid from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2030.

During this period, fuel pellet production will also be allowed to move from Toronto to the Peterborough BWXT location, which is based at the former Hitachi GE Nuclear facility on the General Electric property at 1160 Monaghan Rd. in central Peterborough.

No pellet manufacturing is happening now in Peterborough and on multiple occasions in the past several years BWXT officials have stated there are no plans to move it here from Toronto but that they’d like the flexibility to move it should the need arise over the next decade .

In March 2021, CARN announced it would seek a court order declaring that CNSC’s issuance of the license was unlawful. In March 2022, the case was brought to court.

Mosley writes in his new decision that the question facing the court wasn’t whether an expansion of an industrial site using nuclear materials in a residential neighborhood — across the street from a school — is wise and safe; that’s for the regulator to decide.

Rather it was up to the court to determine whether the decision to grant the license “met the legal standard of reasonableness” — and Mosley believes it did.

The majority of the members of the CNSC were satisfied that any radiation emitted from the expanded operations would not cause harm either to human health or to the environment, Mosley wrote.

“Applying the legal standard of reasonableness, including the deferential approach required by the governing authorities, this is not a case where the court can find that it is truly necessary to intervene in order to safeguard the legality, rationality and fairness of the administrative process, Mosley wrote. “The application for judicial review must therefore be dismissed.”

But this week, CARN said via press release they maintain the license was granted unlawfully.

“In CARN’s view, this most recent ruling severely criminals public trust in both the federal court and CNSC, and places the most vulnerable among us — our children — at risk unnecessary release for years to come,” the states.

Jacqueline Wilson of the Canadian Environmental Law Association — which is a specialty legal-aid clinic — was one of the lawyers representing CARN at the court proceedings in March.

Wilson had argued before the court that production of uranium dioxide pellets in Peterborough would mean “new exposures” of radiation in the community — and that this was an issue CNSC had failed to grapple with, before coming to its licensing decision.

But the Mosley decision points out that the majority of CNSC members were satisfied that any uranium emitted into the air would be “well below regulatory and license limits,” and that pelleting operations “would be adequately safe at either the Toronto or the Peterborough facility. ”

“We are disappointed by the court’s decision,” Wilson said in a written statement to The Examiner.

“BWXT’s proposal to expand operations involving nuclear materials next door to an elementary school raises serious concerns about environmental justice and risks to society’s most vulnerable, in this case children,” she stated.

CNSC spokesperson Kim Cunningham pointed out in a statement emailed to The Examiner that CNSC did not participate in the court proceedings: the matter was between CARN and BWXT.

“Having judicial oversight of the exercise of statutory power is an important part of the rule of law in Canada, and the CNSC welcomes the guidance of the federal court in its judicial review function,” Cunningham further stated. “The court concluded that the commission’s decision was lawful and reasonable.”

BWXT did not want to comment for this story.


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