Harper takes new swipe at nuclear watchdog

PM defends decision to restart Chalk River reactor to provide medical isotopes, saying shutdown should never have happened

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper ratcheted up his government's attack on the head of the country's nuclear regulatory agency Thursday, saying her refusal to allow the restart of the Chalk River reactor had put Canada's health system in jeopardy.

Parliament was forced to pass emergency legislation last month to ensure “the Canadian medical system was not needlessly endangered by decisions made by the president of the nuclear commission,” Mr. Harper told reporters in New Brunswick.

The Conservative government has threatened to fire Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, over the nearly four-week shut-down of the reactor last fall that cut the supply of medial isotopes to health facilities across North America.

Opposition MPs say the person who should lose his job is Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn. They agree with Ms. Keen who has accused Mr. Lunn of improperly interfering with the independence of her commission.

But Mr. Harper defended his minister Thursday, telling reporters that Mr. Lunn and other cabinet ministers were “acting beyond the normal call of duty” in trying to get the reactor back in business. Then he fired another round at Ms. Keen.

When “Parliament actually has to overturn the decision of the nuclear commission, unanimously … I think to label that kind of action illicit troubles me greatly,” he said.

“I'm very troubled by the response of the president of the nuclear commission because this is an incident that should never have happened and cannot be contemplated in the future.”

Mr. Harper was also asked about a newly released report of the Auditor-General of Canada that says Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. – the Crown corporation that operates Canada's nuclear reactors – is facing a money crunch that will make it difficult to tackle key problems, including a refurbishment of the Chalk River facilities, about 180 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

“The fact is the minister and government have been aware for some time of the long-term financial and managerial challenges that exist at AECL,” Mr. Harper said. “These are very serious problems that have developed over a very long period of time. There are no short-term solutions.”

Hugh MacDiarmid, who became president of AECL this week, filling a post that has been vacant for more than two months, said in a telephone interview that the company welcomed the report and considered the findings accurate.

Auditor-General Sheila Fraser's report said that more than $1-billion would be needed to retrofit the Chalk River unit, completing two replacement reactors and developing a new reactor for the Canadian and foreign markets.

Mr. MacDiarmid suggested that her findings would help to determine how much money the corporation would be asking from the government.

“We are at a stage where we are just now getting to the process of submitting budgets for the next fiscal year and it's certainly our intention that we are going to be proposing and recommending the level of funding we need to achieve our mission,” Mr. MacDiarmid said. “Addressing and resolving these three issues [identified by Ms. Fraser] is clearly part of that mandate.”

Even with added funding, there will still be challenges for the Crown corporation. Although the two new reactors at Chalk River – Maple 1 and Maple 2 – were supposed to be on stream eight years ago, they remain unfinished and Mr. MacDiarmid said there is no end date or cost projection associated with that project.

Much work also needs to be done on the many buildings at Chalk River, some of which do not meet modern fire codes.

The report, which was given to ACEL on Sept. 5, was not released publicly until Wednesday at the prodding of the opposition Liberals. Mr. MacDiarmid said AECL was waiting for his arrival and that of Glenna Carr, the new chair of the board of directors.

It is unclear when Mr. Lunn first saw the report because he was unavailable for comment on the matter again Thursday. He did, however, issue a news release saying the government agreed with Ms. Fraser's findings.

With a report from The Canadian Press


  1. Ottawa Mens Centre.com, from Ottawa, Canada wrote: Just when is Harper going to accept responsibility for his own inappropriate and improper decisions or statements? Of course most of the population are more concerned about getting their medication, what the hell do they know about nuclear safety? Three Mile Island? Gee, that must be an expensive home on an island around the One Thousand Islands, right? Harper has to know more than Homer Simpson right? Our Prime Minister would not mislead us or knowing make an improper statement to gain political points would he now. Harper thought he was playing Russian Roulette with a Nuclear Reactor as the loaded chamber, and he gambled that it would not melt down while he is still in office. Sure, those odds are in his favour but thats not the question, the question is, Did the Nuclear Reactor meet safety standards and the answer is no, and not only no, it had been given many opportunities to correct the problems and failed to do so counting on its political friends to convert science into political hot air. Now, he wants to "stand by" his politician, that HARPER told what to say. The reality is that HARPER is the real mouth piece for any and all statements from the present government. He runs a very tight ship when it comes to public statements but, if he sees any possible risk, he gets a potential scape goat, his minister to make the statement, that way if things really go wrong, he can fire the minister and keep his own reputation intact. That may fool most of the public most of the time but not everyone all the time and thats were educated informed readers become voters. Harper could have and knew what the responsible thing to do was, Harper did not care about the possibility of a Chernobyl in Ontario, he was like a third world corrupt dictator wanting political popularity at the expense of one of endangering the world to an unacceptable risk that just happens to be 180 Kilometers away from Ottawa. Whats next, reopening the Bunker at Carp? www.OttawaMensCentre.com


  1. Ottawa Mens Centre.com, from Ottawa, Canada wrote: Harpers Ministry for Propaganda is hard at work. I notice some regular Harper writers slapping up posts in this commentary section. Fact is, the reactor seriously failed safety standards for a long period of time and were given many opportunities to resolve the problem but they chose a deliquent solution of using political relationships to solve a scientific problem. That does not work. You cant fix a Nuclear Reactor with "Political Grease", it may paint the Nuclear Reactor with a nice paint job but, Harper is now in a fight for his political life, He knew the Reactor was unsafe, he chose a short term politically popular decision obviously planning how to deal with the "Political Fallout" if it backfired and backfire it has. Anyone with half a brain knows a Nuclear Reactor that seriously fails safety standards needs to be shut down for the reason of public safety despite any short term inconvenience and or loss of production be it medical isotopes. Harper is now using a fire hose of public announcements to "hose away" the "Nuclear Political Fallout" and hopefully, he will hose himself out of office in the process. He KNEW it was wrong, He Knew it was endangering society, He CHOSE to endanger society for political point scoring on a gamble that the Reactor would not go bang. But, he knew continued failure to meet safety standards posed an unacceptable risk and he chose an unacceptable risk and now wishes to place all the blame on the director of the independent agency to save not just his own skin but the skin of his appointed fall guy. Harper has betrayed his fiduciary duty as a public officer to Canadians and now attempts to treat us all as mushrooms. www.OttawaMensCentre.com



  1. Ottawa Mens Centre.com, from Ottawa, Canada wrote: Thanks Jennifer Menna for your informative post. As Jennifer Menna pointed out, The facts are Linda Keen did her job and was obviously placed under the most incredible political pressure to sacrifice her principles and public responsibility. Linda Keen deserves a medal, "The Order of Canada" for starters. She stayed couragous under the most incredible political heat and political pressure. Now, Harper wishes to destroy her for having principles. We need someone with principles like Linda Keen to be running Canada and not prime minister who wishes to treat us like mushrooms in a way that would do Gobels proud. When you know those facts, Linda Keen makes a very good candidate to be a recipient of some form of appropriate recognition for her courage and devotion to the safety of Canadians and that means, a seat in parliament and the Order of Canada. www. OttawaMensCentre.com