Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Linda Keen's Testimony

Linda Keen finally appeared before the Commons Committee today, and essentially shredded every single argument the government had raised to justify her removal as president of the CNSC.

Here is her testimony.

Some important points she clarified:
1) It was AECL and NOT the CNSC who decided to extend the shutdown of the Chalk River facility once it was discovered that the required safety upgrades had not been made. Just like I've been saying. This point has been consistently misrepresented by the media and the government, and even by Gary Lunn who should have known better. Yes, she said the CNSC would have extended the shutdown anyway, but the point is that AECL recognized that there was a serious problem and that the extended shutdown was absolutely necessary.

2) The risks to the health and safety of Canadians as a result of continuing to run the reactor without the safety upgrades were NOT negligible, as the government has repeatedly implied. They were, in fact, 1,000 times greater than the level of risk recognized by international standards as being the minimum acceptable for a nuclear facility.

3) The impact on health and safety of a shortage of medical isotopes that may (or may not) have resulted from the shutdown of Chalk River was NOT taken into consideration because such considerations are NOT, repeat NOT covered under the mandate of the CNSC. Her proof? The fact that the government found it necessary to add the consideration of these consequences to the CNSC's mandate after the 'crisis'.

(my take on this is that it would be like requiring a health inspector to consider the risk of neighbourhood kids going hungry when deciding whether or not to shut down a rat-infested grocery store.)

4) Despite this, the CNSC was NOT oblivious to the effects of a potential medical isotope shortage. Which is why it took a VERY pro-active approach in expediting both the re-start of the Chalk River reactor and the approval of alternate isotopes for its licensees. As she put it, she and the panel were "available 24-7" to facilitate the resumption of normal operations and isotope availability.

5) Neither Ms. Keen nor the CNSC had any issue with Parliament passing Bill C-38 mandating the restart of the Chalk River reactor. Parliament had a duty to balance the risk of a nuclear accident against the risks to those affected by the shortage of medical isotopes because that is their job. It is NOT the job of the AECL. The AECL is there specifically to assess the risks associated with the operation of nuclear facilities - NOT their shutdown.

I didn't catch Two Tier Tony's testimony, but I can only assume it precisely mirrored Lunn's and the Party line.

The worst part of all this is not Keen's dismissal, nor the blatant interference of a minister with an independent quasi-judicial body, although these are disturbing enough. The REALLY disturbing part is that this is just part of an ongoing, systematic purge of the civil service by the Harper government. Remember when he said that we didn't have to be afraid because there were enough Liberal-appointed judges and career bureaucrats in place to keep the Cons in check? Well, not so much any more.

Linda Keen - CNSC president.
Arthur Carty - science adviser.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley - chief electoral officer.
Marc Mayrand - chief electoral officer.
Johanne Gelinas - environment commissioner.
Bernard Shapiro - ethics commissioner.
Adrian Measner - wheat board president

All senior bureaucrats. All appointed by a Liberal government. All either fired, 'encouraged to resign', marginalized or on the chopping block.

(I'm sure this list is incomplete - feel free to fill it out.)

(UPDATE: Oh dear. We might just have to add Information Commissioner Robert Marleau to that list pretty soon.)

I keep thinking about that movie, 'Pacific Heights'. Michael Keaton plays a somewhat psychotic but seemingly trustworthy con man who rents a ground floor apartment from a young Yuppie couple, and then proceeds to dismantle and destroy the place. He never pays any rent, he ends up suing them when the hubby loses it - and all the while he convincingly feigns complete innocence.

I wonder - even if the Liberals win the next election, who will be left of those who actually keep the country running?


  1. According to the CNSC's website (last udated 2007-09-10):

    "The CNSC is also the Canadian agency that implements measures respecting international control of the development, production, transport and use of nuclear energy and substances."

    Medical isotopes fall under this mandate. That no alternative supply was ever procured speaks to their negligence on this matter.

    The lives of thousands of people were endangered by this shutdown.
    You see a threat to the civil service, I see lives of thousands needlessly endangered.

  2. First, nothing in the section you have quoted specifies or even implies that the CNSC is responsible for ensuring the supply of these substances - only for their control.

    Second, in most cases hospitals and labs already had alternatives to the specific isotopes produced by the NRU - they just needed their licenses revised to allow them to use a different isotope. According to Keen's testimony, staff at the CNSC made themselves available 24/7 to expedite that process.

    Third, constantly repeating the line that "thousands of lives were at risk" does not make it so. Read my previous post on this, as well as this and this.

    Fourth, this is not about protecting the civil service. This is about protecting the independence of regulators so they can protect us without political interference. Period.

  3. The statement by Ms. Keen of the safety implications of NOT having a back-up to multiple back-up cooling systems reveals her ignorance of engineering and real safety. It does provide some evidence that she understands only 100% compliance with human written laws.

    According to the very pessimistic safety analysis for the NRU, a complete loss of cooling may eventually lead to core damage and failure of the integrity of the fuel material.

    In the assumed event that such damage occurs, the maximum dose that would be received by any member of the general public would be 2.4 mSv (240 mrem). I realize that number does not mean much to most people, but it happens to be about the same radiation dose that is received every year by the average American if you ignore most medical procedures.

    There is no evidence at all that such a dose would cause any injury or illness. There is an unproven, regulatory ASSUMPTION called the "linear, no-threshold" model that says that there is no safe dose, but that is an absurdity for a species like homo sapiens that evolved on a planet with numerous natural source of radiation.

    The politics of this issue not withstanding, Ms. Keen's technical ignorance is adequate basis for her firing - no one who thinks that the NRU issue had any real safety implications should be in charge of a regulatory body.