Saturday, 26 March 2011

Shooting the messenger: the Nuclear Safety Commission

PM inflamed isotope crisis, says document
Prime Minister Stephen Harper inflamed the Chalk River isotope crisis by calling Canada's nuclear safety watchdog a "Liberal-appointee," says a government document.

Harper's remarks turned a few days of bad press into a full-blown saga akin to the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, says a briefing note prepared for Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt.

"It is clear that what might have been a relatively low-profile, or at least short-lived, medical isotope supply story became much more than that by political events, specifically, the prime minister's characterization of Linda Keen as a `Liberal-appointee,' and the subsequent demotion of Ms. Keen," it says.

... The 52-year-old reactor was closed for a few days in November 2007 for routine maintenance. During that time, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission discovered emergency backup power wasn't connected to two pumps which prevent a meltdown.

The shutdown lasted nearly a month until Parliament voted to bypass the regulator's order.

The prime minister insisted there was no risk of a nuclear accident.

"The government has independent advice indicating there is no safety concern with the reactor," Harper told the Commons in December 2007.

"On the contrary, what we do know is that the continuing actions of the Liberal-appointed Nuclear Safety Commission will jeopardize the health and safety and lives of tens of thousands of Canadians."

Atomic Energy's then-chairman, Michael Burns, resigned after the fiasco, and the Conservative government later fired commission head Keen for her refusal to authorize the restart.

Keen later sued the federal government over her dismissal.

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