Amherstburg fire chief calling for province to step up assistance for nuclear emergency planning

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A recent report from Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk highlights many of the issues that officials in Amherstburg have also been raising about the town’s needs in relation to nuclear preparedness.

The town’s fire chief and community emergency management co-ordinator has also taken notice of the report and is further pressing the province to help out.

Bruce Montone said Amherstburg receives $25,000 from the Fermi II nuclear facility in nearby Monroe, Michigan. However, Montone is calling for the province to do much more and help contribute to the town’s planning needs and training as he stated the $25,000 from Fermi II is not nearly enough.

“Frankly, it barely pays for our public alerting system,” said Montone.

Montone was pleased that the auditor general’s report validates many of the concerns Amherstburg has with regards to living next door to a U.S.-based nuclear facility. He said he is not looking for a “Cadillac emergency response plan” but wants increased funding and resources to assist the town should a nuclear emergency happen.

“It’s a provincial responsibility, not a municipal responsibility,” the fire chief stated.

Other costs that have to be covered include the KI pills, equipment, ongoing training, public education and research.

“I could go on and on and on,” said Montone.

The town is even battling over the size of the “primary zone” in case of a nuclear emergency. He said it is currently 23 kilometres but face a recommendation to reduce that to 16 kilometres. The reason for that, Montone was told, was “that’s what it is in the U.S.”

Reducing the size of the “primary zone” impacts hundreds of people, he added.

Montone compares Amherstburg with Kincardine with Kincardine being near the Bruce nuclear facility. Kincardine receives $105,000 annually from the province, said Montone, and additional resources from the plant itself.

The Fermi II nuclear power plant, pictured last Sunday afternoon from the side of Front Road South, gives $25,000 to support annual emergency planning efforts in Amherstburg. However, fire chief and community emergency planning co-ordinator Bruce Montone is calling for help from the provincial government.

“Who is coming to help us?” said Montone. “Nobody is coming. That’s who is coming.”

Other municipalities such as Windsor aren’t in a position to offer additional help, the chief added, because they would be busy assisting their own residents.

There has been “zero” progress with the Ontario government, Montone continued.

“We have been in communication with the Premier’s office, the ministry’s office and staff from the province,” said Montone. “All we get is lip service and ‘we’ll talk to you soon.’ I’m done talking and the auditor agrees with us.”

Montone added that “we need help” and that “we are going to keep pushing until we do.” He encouraged others to contact area MPP’s to highlight this issue and make sure the Ontario government moves forward to ensure protective measures are in place.

According to the auditor general’s report: “Some neighbouring U.S. states have nuclear power facilities that could require an emergency response within Ontario. Yet Ontario municipalities that may be affected by the nuclear power facilities receive little assistance from the Province, in contrast to Ontario municipalities that may be affected by nuclear power facilities located inside the province — even though such assistance is a requirement of the Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan.”

It adds: “Municipalities located near in-province nuclear power facilities receive assistance with the pre-distribution of thyroid blocking pills (KI pills), practice tests, and funding from the nuclear power companies to assist with their emergency management programs and response training. While the nearby U.S. power company provides some funding to one municipality, the municipality does not think it is adequate to support its nuclear emergency program. In addition, the municipality told us that EMO also does not provide much support or assistance with regard to nuclear emergencies. As a result, it and other municipalities located near out-of-province nuclear facilities are left to fund much of their own emergency preparedness and response activities, even though off-site nuclear emergencies are the Province’s responsibility.”

The recommendation contained in Lysyk’s report states “that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services through the Provincial Emergency Management Office use independent nuclear expertise at all times to assess nuclear risks, plans and response strategies; develop agreements with the Ontario nuclear power companies that state the requirements and deliverables for all parties; develop agreements with the U.S. nuclear power companies that state the requirements and deliverables for all parties; and provide the same level of support and assistance to municipalities regardless of whether a nearby nuclear facility is located inside or outside the province.”

The provinces response states that “(t)he Ministry agrees with the Auditor General’s recommendation, and recognizes the need for independence and clarity in its arrangements with the nuclear power companies, and for the need for all municipalities affected by nuclear facilities to receive the same level of support from the Province. To improve the independence of its nuclear expertise, the Ministry has staffed the Senior Scientist position. The Ministry is in the process of updating the Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan, and as part of the development of the site-specific implementing plans will develop agreements with ministries, Ontario and U.S. nuclear power companies, and affected municipalities. These agreements will outline clear deliverables, support, outcomes and performance measures.”

In June, town council passed a motion that called for the province to supply similar levels of public safety and funding that other municipalities in the province with Ontario-based nuclear plants receive as well as having the Ontario government fund the distribution of potassium iodate (KI) pills to where they are needed within Amherstburg as well as those who want them.

Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace, was at that June meeting along with Theresa McClenaghan from the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). Stensil told the RTT last Thursday that the report was validation of the town’s concerns as well as the concerns of Greenpeace.

“This shows the concerns of Amherstburg and Greenpeace are valid and it shows the government isn’t doing its job to protect residents,” said Stensil. “I think when you read between the lines, it’s quite damning.”

There are problems with compliance and with a lack of resources within the ministry, Stensil believed. He hoped the report will “push the province out of its complacency” and get action for local residents. He said that support should be sustainable and not just a “one-off” for Amherstburg.

Stensil also called on residents to press elected officials and staff with the province to ensure more gets done.

“We need to watchdog our own government to make sure it does its job,” said Stensil.

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