One month after the earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, the Canadian Nuclear Association commissioned a professional, Canada-wide opinion poll to gain insight into what Canadians are thinking about nuclear.
The results are mixed – as was expected after a large event like the Fukushima accident in March 2011. But we did hear about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for our industry. For example, we learned that while Canadians were paying close attention to Fukushima and were concerned about its Canadian implications, Canadian operators and regulators were seen to be taking the issue seriously.
Since the tragedy, the nuclear industry – at home and around the world – has been working to share valuable lessons learned from the tragedy to ensure safety standards and policies reflect current findings. To date we have:
- Participated as a nuclear community to review and respond to the situation in Japan. Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) CEO – Tom Mitchell – was appointed by The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to chair a special 14-member, “Post-Fukushima” commission to review the lessons of this event and develop recommendations on an appropriate industry response;
- Outlined to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) a series of actions to verify the safety of our nuclear generating stations; and
- Been in regular communication with nuclear organizations around the world and has launched extensive fact-based communication initiatives to keep Canadians informed and assured about the safety our own nuclear facilities.
In addition, OPG released a preliminary report to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on lessons learned to date from the Fukushima event. Their overall conclusion is that OPG’s nuclear plant systems are robust enough to withstand significant emergencies. They looked carefully at Japan and identified opportunities where our industry can further improve. For example, they saw that irradiated fuel bays were an issue in Japan. They caught fire. OPG confirmed that its fuel bays would not experience such a failure.
Nevertheless, our industry is looking at ways to address even the most improbable events – like major flooding and major earthquakes and ensuing emergencies in their aftermath. We will continue to be open and transparent about our safety measures. We are also broadening the sharing of information and expertise with the rest of the industry worldwide – and continuing to support organizations like WANO, which are also dedicated to this goal. The nuclear energy industry is an international community with a shared body of professional expertise and operating experience. The more members share and communicate, the safer and more efficient our operations become.
Immediately following events in Japan, the Governments of Ontario and Saskatchewan both reiterated their commitments to nuclear energy and research. In fact, the Joint Review Panel for the Darlington New Nuclear Project took place in March and April 2011. The CNA was proud to be a positive intervener at the hearings to remind the Panel about our industry’s strong record of safety, and the many social and economic benefits the project will bring to both Ontario and Canada. During the hearings, more than 120 oral and written submissions were made in support of the project. Most of these came from the local community.
Here are additional highlights from the polling:
Support for nuclear declined post-Fukushima. National support for nuclear energy in general fell from 48% in January 2009, to 43% in August 2009 and March 2010, to 38% in April 2011.
There is strong support for nuclear research and development in all regions (even in Quebec – 55%) and at all income levels.
Opinion continues to be regionally polarized: support for nuclear energy is 53% in Ontario versus 17% in Quebec. Ontario support has held up fairly well post-Fukushima. After Ontario, the region most supportive of nuclear energy is Alberta (46% favourable).
- 63% think Canadian nuclear is “among safest in the world”
- 60% think it is “available and reliable”
- 55% think nuclear is “clean” and “brings benefits to all Canadians”
Over two-thirds think nuclear plant companies are taking the events in Fukushima seriously
Almost three-quarters agree regulatory agencies take nuclear safety seriously
Just over half support upgrading and refurbishing existing nuclear plants
Polling was conducted by Innovative Research Group, Inc.