the meltdown in public safety

Late last year, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission discovered Atomic Energy of Canada had violated the terms of its licence at its Chalk River…

Late last year, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission discovered Atomic Energy of Canada had violated the terms of its licence at its Chalk River nuclear facility.

Atomic Energy said it had hooked up two battery-operated starters on the reactor’s water pumps. It hadn’t.

When the nuclear safety commission discovered that it had failed to comply with the terms of its licence, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. voluntarily shut down its Chalk River reactor.

That caused problems.

Specifically, it deprived the world of much-needed medical isotopes. Chalk River is the largest producer of those isotopes in the world. It produces more than half the world’s supply.

The shutdown of Chalk River embarrassed the Harper government.

And Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn blamed the shutdown on safety commission president Linda Keen.

The government overruled Keen, ordering the facility reopened, despite the lack of the battery-operated pumps.

Now, we learn that Lunn sent a missive to Keen on December 27 threatening her with termination for her role in shutting down the facility.

The letter was leaked to the Ottawa Citizen.

Keen’s 27-page response was subsequently posted on the commission’s website.

“Your letter does not contain a single allegation of personal misconduct on my part, or even any allegation that my actions fell below what is expected performance standards,” wrote Keen, who has served the commission for seven years.

“Rather the threat of removal is entirely and exclusively based on an assessment of the steps taken — and not taken — by the (commission) in respect of the extended shutdown of the NRU reactor.”

Keen goes on to accuse Lunn of interference in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, an agency that is supposed to be, in the interest of public safety, protected from political meddling.

She also accuses Lunn of interference in the administration of justice.

“I believe strongly and am deeply committed to the role of and independence of administrative tribunals in the administration of justice.

“I would therefore ask you to carefully consider the significant chilling effect your recent actions could have on the practices and decisions of other tribunals who are responsible for important work on behalf of Canadians.”

Keen won’t be bullied. She’s vowed to fight any ouster in court.

Canadians should applaud her.

The affair raises serious concerns about Lunn’s competency in his post.

Rather than investigating Atomic Energy’s safety concerns, he’s threatened to sack the messenger.

As Keen notes, that sets a dangerous and chilling precedent.

The government has appointed experts empowered to speak out and act to safeguard public safety.

Politicians shouldn’t be able to bully those experts in the interest of political expediency and profit. (RM)