Last Tuesday, the Federal Court decided not to overturn an environmental assessment of a plan to extend the life of four aging nuclear reactors at the Darlington site on the shore of Lake Ontario.

The ruling was in response to a legal challenge brought by Greenpeace, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Northwatch. The groups, represented by lawyers from Ecojustice and CELA, had argued that the environmental assessment was unlawful due to non-compliance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Why did Ecojustice get involved?
The groups asked the Court to overturn the project’s environmental assessment on the grounds that it violated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In particular, they singled out the following omissions:

  • Failure to examine potential effects on Lake Ontario’s fisheries and water quality;
  • Failure to examine the potential for major nuclear accidents; and
  • Failure to examine how nuclear waste will be stored and managed in the long-term.

What does the ruling mean?
Despite the unanswered questions, Ontario Power Generation can proceed with its plan to rebuild the Darlington reactors in 2016.

The groups that brought the legal challenge are reviewing the Court’s reasons for judgment and have not yet decided whether they will pursue an appeal. But until they make their decision, there’s another update about our work on the nuclear energy file that I’d like to share with you.

Update on Darlington Nuclear New Build appeal
In addition to extending the life of the existing reactors, Ontario Power Generation had submitted a proposal to build up to four new reactors at its Darlington site. An environmental assessment of that proposal failed to examine the environmental effects of radioactive fuel waste, a severe nuclear accident leading to large radiation releases, and hazardous emissions.

Because those concerns were not addressed, a requirement under Canada’s laws, Ecojustice lawyers worked with CELA to represent Greenpeace, CELA, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Northwatch, who challenged the environmental assessment in court.

In May 2014, the Federal Court agreed with our clients’ argument and revoked the project’s licence. The Court also said the project cannot be reconsidered until the environmental assessment meets the conditions set out in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. However, in June 2014, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Attorney General of Canada, and Ontario Power Generation appealed the ruling.

Last Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, we filed our written arguments with the Federal Court of Appeal. Those are arguments are our response to submissions from the three appellants. Up next is an appearance at the Federal Court of Appeal, where we will ask the Court to uphold the May 2014 decision.

Nuclear power plant ©Martin Lisner via Shutterstock