Tuesday 18 November 1997
Mr John Ahearne
SELECT COMMITTEE ON ONTARIO HYDRO NUCLEAR AFFAIRS
Chair / Président
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea PC)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights L)
Mr Sean Conway (Renfrew North / -Nord L)
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce PC)
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland PC)
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron PC)
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights L)
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt ND)
Mr John R. O'Toole (Durham East / -Est PC)
Mr Derwyn Shea (High Park-Swansea PC)
Clerk / Greffière
Ms Donna Bryce
Staff / Personnel
Mr Lewis Yeager, research officer, Legislative Research Service
Mr Richard Campbell, consultant
Mr Adam Chamberlain, legal counsel
The Chair (Mr Derwyn Shea): We are prepared to proceed this afternoon with a number of items. The witness before us today is John Ahearne, the past chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Welcome to the select committee. I'm so pleased you could accept our invitation.
Just before we begin, I mention to the members of the select committee that what we'll do is deal with the testimony of our witness and then, at the conclusion of that, we will go into an in camera session to deal with some business affairs, not the least of which will be perhaps some reordering of any of the business of this committee for the next week. As we know, we are almost at the tail end of the hearings and are about to give our attention forcefully and promptly to the writing of our report, and hopefully we should have that done within the next week to 10 days or two weeks at the outside, as we've agreed, and so we'll proceed in that direction. But we'll come back to that in a few minutes.
The Chair: In the meantime we will begin by welcoming John Ahearne. For the purpose of Hansard, perhaps you'd be good enough to simply identify yourself and then we are in your hands. We'd like you to make whatever opening comments you'd care to make. We welcome you.
Mr John Ahearne: I am John Ahearne. In the past I have been chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As I made clear to your counsel, Mr Chamberlain, my detailed knowledge of the Canadian situation is 10 years old and I did not want to mislead you into believing I'm a current expert on that. I have not kept up with Ontario Hydro, nor with the AECB. My knowledge of the shutdown only comes from the trade press and the material Mr Chamberlain sent me. However, I do have a couple of comments.
First, in this report where the list of minimally acceptable items are categorized for the Ontario Hydro plants and Ontario Hydro, the report mentions minimally acceptable as safe, but with so many things minimally acceptable, if this is accurate, then they should have been shut down to regroup.
There are separate questions when you address nuclear operations. The first is the question of design. Let me point out that a major question we in the nuclear community have been having with designs of Russian reactors has been that the designs are unsafe in many cases. The Chernobyl reactor is a classic example. The Candu design, as far as I know from every study I've seen, is a solid, robust design. Like all designs, there are some problems that are maybe unique. In some of the early Candus, because of the material used in the pressure tubes, there were problems, but those are resolvable problems.
The second issue is operators. The critical question clearly is whether the operators are well trained and understand what they're doing. In the United States, the major accident at Three Mile Island occurred because the operators did not understand what they were doing.
The review appears to say that the operator training is quite good. I've one slight question, a slight puzzle because in part of the review it mentioned that Ontario Hydro staff at every level are reluctant to ask difficult questions of themselves and others, and fail to establish a questioning attitude. Operators have to have that questioning attitude, so it's not clear exactly how well trained they are if that isn't there.
The third element after the design and the operators is management. From what I've read, there was really a breakdown in management. In running nuclear power plants, one has to recognize that it's not only management at the top, but experience at least in the United States has been that the plant manager, the actual person at the plant who has the full management responsibility is the most critical person, and with this large list of minimally acceptable items it appears at least at first blush that those people had fallen down on their jobs.
The final issue is the regulatory side. From the material I was sent and the material I've read in the trade press, the regulatory side was invisible. The United States is not immune to these problems. Millstone is a more recent classic example, and since Mr Chamberlain said you were interested in perhaps the current relationship or current process in the United States, I thought I would read you a few extracts from some recent views, and this is this year, done by our General Accounting Office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
"Part of the problem is that the NRC does not precisely define safety, and thus has difficulty measuring the safety conditions of the plants it is required to regulate. Instead, the NRC presumes that plants are safe if they operate within their approved designs and in accordance with NRC's regulations. NRC allows the licensees repeated opportunities to correct their safety problems, often waiting for a significant problem or series of events to occur at a plant before taking tough enforcement action."
The NRC's inspector general reviewed the problems at the Millstone plants, and I mention Millstone plants because they seem to be characteristic of the similar kinds of problems found in Ontario Hydro. The NRC's inspector general found: "Millstone's change in program initiatives and management reorganization lulled the NRC staff into allowing an excessive amount of time for proposed corrective action to take effect. The Millstone sporadic improvements neutralized the NRC staff willingness to take prompt action."
As an example, there was a leak in a valve. The workers tried 30 times to fix the leak over 74 days. Finally, they broke the valve and the plant had to be shut down to fix it. The NRC's senior resident inspector recommended a shutdown early on when he saw all these problems. He was overruled by regional management who believed there wasn't a regulatory basis for shutting down the plant.
An independent audit by the state of Connecticut, in which the plants are located, concluded, "Concerned about the need to trim costs in the face of future competition, the managers chose to manage close to the regulatory margin. This decision translated into deferring maintenance, allowing corrective action backlogs to grow, eventually creating a situation that led to a shutdown."
The review of the plant by a consultant last year said:
"NRC advised the licensee had seen limited success in resolving significant performance concerns about procedural adherence, work control and tagging, ineffective communications and teamwork between organizations, continued weaknesses in correcting identified problems, poor self-assessment and quality verification and inappropriate response to employee safety concerns.
"The review revealed weaknesses in the ability to identify the units' problems, delayed or inadequate corrective actions for known deficiencies, problems in tracking corrective actions etc."
Why then didn't the NRC do anything if all of these problems existed? The consultant said that the licensee's nuclear organization had been mismanaged for the past 10 years, but it concluded the NRC had been too permissive and trusting in its dealings with the licensee.
In the United States, when I wrote a report 10 years ago comparing the Canadian system of regulation and the US system, the US system had been very prescriptive. Over the intervening years, the NRC tried to relax and give licensees more flexibility, more opportunity to solve the problems themselves, and as evidenced in this case of these reactors in Connecticut, the licensee in that case deliberately, it appears, allowed many things to go unfixed, tried to get away with deferred maintenance, didn't pay any attention to people within the system who were trying to raise objections.
The result when the final reviews came in was that in addition to those three plants being shut down -- they've been shut down now for a year and a half and when they will get started keeps slipping -- there were a number of NRC people who were removed from their positions and, as a result, the NRC has now gone back to a very prescriptive, by-the-regulations approach because they were really badly burned. There had been a movement to go to what they call performance-based, risk-based regulation. That clearly is on hold at the moment.
When I wrote an article eight years ago comparing Canada and United States, I described Canada as, "We are a family; let's sit down and talk this out," and contrasted it to the United States, "I'll see you in court." The family may have retired. They may have got too old and they may have broken up. Complacency may well have set in. The Canadian-run Candus were recognized around the world as having some of the best operating performances. But in reading these reviews, it really seemed to come home that a number of the weaknesses I had seen in the past in the regulatory system were certainly there; that is, there did not seem to be any kind of strong oversight.
Since the province owns Ontario Hydro, there's no reason why the province can't have its own nuclear oversight committee. At the time I did the reviews, Ontario Hydro did not have such a committee and I don't know if they have one now; if they did, where was it? I also am not sure what happened to the AECB on site staff because they had, at least when I reviewed it, a lot more authority than NRC on site staff, and it's not clear to me how these growing problems could have existed for this long, except in the United States 10 years of Millstone had occurred.
Those are my opening comments. I'll be glad to try and answer any questions you might have.
Mrs Helen Johns (Huron): This is my old age coming in. I just missed the last five words, "Except the NRC had 10 years of" --
Mr Ahearne: Problems at Millstone. My point was that it's not clear why the AECB residents did not catch these problems, but then I pointed out in the United States the NRC's people apparently didn't catch them either.
The Chair: With that confession of your age, Ms Johns, we will thank you, Dr Ahearne, very much for your opening comments. What I'll do is the process here is to move by caucus in rotation, as you know, and we'll do five minutes per round to keep going around to allow as many members as possible to have a chance to ask you questions and to receive your answers. I'll begin with Mr Laughren.
Mr Floyd Laughren (Nickel Belt): Mr Ahearne, welcome to the committee. I'm wondering if you have any experience about what happens to plants when they're shut down for a period of time and then reopened. Do you have any experience in that?
Mr Ahearne: Yes. In fact I'm on the nuclear oversight committee for two reactors in the United States which were shut down for a little over a year and one of them has now just come up. A lot depends on whether one can change the attitude of the people running and managing the plant, because these kinds of problems that were listed here are functions of attitude. If you can change the attitude and then begin to make corrective actions, you have a good chance of getting back on the right path.
But one should never expect a plant that has been down for six months to a year to start up easily. The experience we've had in the United States is that there are problems that show up as soon as they start. They usually will be started for about a week, some problems will show up and they're shut down. It may take a month to fix those problems and start up again. There's a fit and start. It's like shaking down a new, large piece of complicated equipment and it may take six months before it can get running effectively.
Mr Laughren: What if it was shut down for two, three, four or five years?
Mr Ahearne: I think two years is about the limit in the experience we've had in the United States and effectively started a plant up again. Once you go beyond that, there really is a question of are you able to keep all the equipment in good shape. Three Mile Island was shut down for about that length of time and they had a lot of problems when they restarted it.
Mr Laughren: Is it technical? Is it the equipment that's the problem at that point?
Mr Ahearne: Yes.
Mr Laughren: Even though you do maintenance during that --
Mr Ahearne: Well, you do maintenance, but a reactor in some ways is like a large chemical plant. The equipment is made to be running and to have flow through all of the system. When you stop all the flow in the system and you stop running the equipment, then fields can dry out, you can get crud forming in some of the pipes, that kind of problem.
Mr Laughren: We're always worried about the crud.
Mrs Barbara Fisher (Bruce): Welcome. I'd like to start by asking you as a member of the regulatory authority in the US, how many refurbishings and retrofits were you involved in as a member of that board; on the retrofit and the refurbishing ones as opposed to the brand-new, spanking-new, up and coming --
Mr Ahearne: In the United States there is no reactor built that was ordered after 1974. I was made chairman right after the Three Mile Island accident, so most of my time on the commission was spent trying to figure out what went wrong in a major accident, where were the weaknesses in the operating practice of the utilities, where were the weaknesses and the oversight problems of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and then what changes would have to be made in reactors to allow them either to continue to run or what changes ought to be made to allow the small class of reactors that were like the TMI reactor to run.
Mrs Fisher: As you know, Mr Andognini is overseeing the restructuring and refurbishing of the nuclear units in Ontario now. I don't think I should speak for everybody here, but I can speak for myself and our community. We have certainly been impressed with the work he's provided in terms of what is necessary and in some cases what the handicaps to recovery might be in terms of timeliness.
I will ask you, in your American experience, are they all one-reactor sites or are they multiple-reactor sites?
Mr Ahearne: Most sites in the United States are either single or double reactors. We only have one site that has three reactors. We have no sites like yours with four and eight reactors.
Mrs Fisher: In your experience, have you overseen anybody undertaking the refurbishing of so many reactors at once, under one body, if you will?
I'll give you an example. We have 20 units -- I'm sure you know that -- and one is more permanently laid up than the rest but I don't think it's written off the chart yet. So let's say we have 19 and we're looking at refurbishing 12. There's a 12-16-20 program that people are talking about. To get there we're looking at putting seven units in a layup state and refurbishing 12 to the utmost excellence. I'm wondering right now, given what you just said, is it possible that one person or one unit or one body could be responsible for so much?
Mr Ahearne: I don't mean to be facetious but most governments in the world, even those that are very large, end up having one person at the top. So the fact that you have only one person at the top of something is not that distressing. It's not upsetting. It depends upon the quality of the people who are working for the man or woman at the top and how clearly identified are the steps that have to be taken. For a large group of people to accomplish a lot, there has to be a fairly well laid out plan of what they're going to do.
Mrs Fisher: In the US model, then, just to do a comparison here to make sure my comfort level is where it is anyway, if you were to critique the need for repair, would it be system wear-down or would it be a human resource problem in terms of the highest need of point of recovery?
I'll pre-empt that by saying why I'm asking that question. In reading the IIPA, I'm sure you've recognized that the human resource problem is being tagged as the major problem, and the management decision-making and the ability to manage that many people, that type of thing. It almost appears like money could be secondary, especially if you look at the opportunity of having private-public partnerships.
Although we had one head of this undertaking, would it be possible to consider that if we had other human resources -- and I might cite rehires from Hydro layoffs that we think strategically were done improperly in the past, or British-experience workers who right now are on layoffs because they finished their refurbishing and they have apparently an abundance of somewhere around 200 of these people, or even some American staff. I like to buy in Canada first, but if we have to shop outside there's nothing wrong with that in terms of support. Could one person manage if we had the right, appropriate bodies in place for full recovery? It scares me when you say that if you lay them up for a period of time, the bringing up of the units again is a problem. I happen to agree with you, by the way. It bothers me a little bit, though, if we think we can do it any differently than anywhere else. If we were able to manage that and have those bodies there, could you see it being done?
Mr Ahearne: Yes. It all depends, as I said earlier, on the quality of the people. In reading the material, it seems to me that a lot of it was management and attitude-related problems. That means those are people problems and to fix those you need good, qualified people. You need people who can get across what it is to run things correctly, what it is to have sound maintenance, what it is to have a questioning attitude, what it is to make sure that things are accomplished in order when they have to be accomplished.
Mr Sean G. Conway (Renfrew North): Mr Ahearne, thank you for joining us today. I just want to ask a couple of questions. Shortly after you did your work for Dr Hare here in Ontario in 1986, our federal regulator, the Atomic Energy Control Board, began, we now discover -- and the committee has had some very interesting documentation provided by AECB. From about 1987 onwards, it's very clear from the documentation provided by the Canadian regulator of nuclear reactors that there was an ongoing decline in the operating standards and safety attitudes around many of our plants here in Ontario. I think all of us on the committee were struck by how, after a few years, like some of the examples you cited from your American experience, notwithstanding pretty vivid and repeated testimony and concern and complaint from the regulator and a lot of good intentions from the licensee, nothing much changed.
With that as a backdrop, what I want to ask you is, on the basis of your experience in the United States -- I'm thinking now of the management culture, because Andognini and his group here in Ontario have said "a really serious management cultural problem." What are the ingredients of success in turning bad nuclear management cultures into better or much improved nuclear management cultures?
Mr Ahearne: The experience with that has happened in the United States. You need a set of people who understand what it takes to run nuclear plants efficiently and safely: a great attention to detail, an understanding of what is important and what is secondary, and a willingness to identify who is not accepting those strictures and following them and an ability to get rid of them.
Mr Conway: The impression one gets in Canada, and certainly in Ontario, thinking now about Ontario Hydro, is that this was a very successful construction and design company; did wonderful works, produced a robust technology, got it up and running, and then kind of either lost interest in the discipline that comes with the operation or never really developed the different interest that is required to move from design and construction to ongoing operation. Thinking now about some of the uniqueness of the Ontario operation -- two or three sites with a large cluster of large reactors, and apparently, accordingly to Andognini, not a strong operational ethic in this utility -- what should this committee be thinking about and be recommending in terms of your experience in helping build a much stronger operational ethic around safety and related matters?
Mr Ahearne: A couple of comments. First, I didn't like the possible implication that after Ken Hare and I did our report, safety declined.
Mr Conway: I don't think that there's any conjunction other than --
Mr Ahearne: I'm not sure what the committee can do so much as ensuring that there are the right people running the system. You're right in the sense that it takes a large commitment to disciplined operation, which is quite different from designing a reactor and is quite different from building the reactor, which takes dedication etc, but running the reactors requires a disciplined system.
In the United States it actually ended up taking the Three Mile Island accident to shake up the whole system, to make them recognize that they had allowed that discipline to disappear. Certainly you've had a big enough shake-up, but now you have to try to make sure you're putting in place the kinds of people who understand how to bring the discipline, how to bring the focused attention, how to ensure that the operation now reaches the level of importance that -- utilities in the United States had tended to view nuclear power plants as easy to run, co-plants easy to run and nuclear power plants as just another way of generating electricity. It's different. It's a much more demanding technology.
Mr Laughren: When the national or federal regulatory agency came before this committee, they said on several different occasions -- my colleagues will correct if I heard it wrong -- that their job was to regulate the industry but not to run the plants, which is understandable, even if they have people in the plants at all times.
What occurred to me when they were talking like that, I couldn't help but wonder to what extent any regulatory agency can micro-regulate the nuclear industry. It seemed to me it was getting away from the federal regulator; the behaviour or the way in which they were being run was getting away from them. I don't know why, because we saw pictures of the plants and the terrible conditions in some parts of the plants and so forth. A lot of it was maintenance stuff, but as you indicated, you've got to really pay attention to detail because what may appear to be a maintenance problem can be bigger than that. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on that. To what extent can the federal regulator police these large nuclear plants sufficiently?
Mr Ahearne: Let me give you more from my perspective in the US. That's the same point the NRC has made regularly. The NRC's responsibility is not to run the plants, it's the utility's responsibility to run the plant and the NRC's responsibility to make sure those plants are run safely. The regulator's responsibility is to understand what safety requires, and when the plant begins to get into a condition such that safety can be challenged, then to raise that issue strongly with the utility management, and if changes aren't made, at least in my country, to shut the plant down.
The regulator cannot get involved, at least that's my sense, in trying to run the plant. They don't have the responsibility, they don't have the people, and in most cases they really don't have the knowledge.
Mr Laughren: You made reference to a nuclear oversight committee. Ontario Hydro set up at the board level a nuclear oversight committee but -- and these are my words, not anybody else's -- at the end of the day they threw up their hands and called in Carl Andognini and said, "Tell us what the hell is going on." I'm wondering whether it's possible for a large organization to police itself on something like that.
Mr Ahearne: The only thing a large organization's nuclear oversight committee can do is to raise those questions such that the management then takes action. From what you said, I don't know whether the call to bring in the outside person was the result of the oversight committee's dismay at the conditions. If so, then that was the correct action.
Mr John O'Toole (Durham East): Thank you very much for your presentation. I'll start off with a very light-hearted question. Looking at your profile here, "...Research Society, and is an adjunct scholar with Resources for the Future," perhaps you could tell us, what are the outlooks for the resources of the future? Is nuclear the option or is it natural gas? It's not meant as seriously as it sounds.
Mr Ahearne: I'm on the energy R&D study for our president and I chair the nuclear portion of that. We have just produced a report for Clinton pointing out that if one is going to make serious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, at least in the United States and much of the world, nuclear has to be kept as an option.
Mr O'Toole: A good answer. That's kind of what I expected. I would like to focus on a few things here. In your position during the period 1978-81, did you ever exercise the right to close down an operational facility?
Mr Ahearne: We closed down a number right after Three Mile Island.
Mr O'Toole: You were the regulator and you actually closed. You took the key out of the switch and said, "That's it."
Mr Ahearne: That's right.
Mr O'Toole: That's the role the AECB would have. Is that the analogy you drew with your report, that there was somewhat of a parallel regulatory authority?
Mr Ahearne: I couldn't find that the AECB at that time really seriously thought it had that kind of authority.
Mr O'Toole: That's what we found as well. I would ask you also, are you familiar with the members or have you ever worked with members of the Andognini team?
Mr Ahearne: Since the team had 75 people and I don't know who they are, I can't tell you.
Mr O'Toole: How about the top five or six? We've met with the top people. You've probably reviewed some of the materials or may even have spoken -- have you spoken to any of those people in the last while?
Mr Ahearne: You'll have to tell me who they are.
Mr O'Toole: Carl Andognini was the main presenter here, but there was another fellow, the nuclear operations guy. We'll get that for you. I really was trying to get to a question of their credentials and do we indeed have the experts of the world.
Mr Ahearne: All I can say is that in the US nuclear trade press they describe the team as highly qualified.
Mr O'Toole: We've been told that they're the turnaround management team. I guess that's an overarching expectation.
Mr Ahearne: There are a number of groups who have described themselves as that. The energy people who went to Maine Yankee said they were. The people who have been hired to put Millstone back on track say they are. There are a number of people who have the credentials that they've managed to take problem plants and get them back up and running well.
Mr O'Toole: Very good. I appreciate that. I've just got a couple of more points. I really wanted to emphasize: You listed really three particular aspects of design, operation and management. Just looking at the management aspect, we are talking about the turnaround team. The current chairman of the board and a few others, perhaps Maurice Strong and others, talked of the kind of decay within the management structure, using different terms. Some referred to it as a cultural malaise. Would you think, having the experience you have, that there is in the technology in itself, in this very highly specialized knowledge, a cultural phenomenon in the management team?
Mr Ahearne: Sir, I don't really understand your question.
Mr O'Toole: Are there common characteristics that could be described as cultural characteristics among the managers of nuclear facilities?
Mr Ahearne: I can't say that from my experience across a large number of them. No, I haven't. The only thing that I think distinguishes them is a belief that nuclear power is good. Beyond that, some are extremely highly technically qualified; others are on a management operational side and just have a basic understanding of nuclear power; some are highly disciplined, authoritarian and some tend to take a more relaxed attitude.
Mr O'Toole: Good. We don't get that much time each round, so it may be my only real opportunity and I thank you for your candour. The most important observation, you mean, in this management approach to problem resolution is what you've called or defined as a questioning attitude. How does that translate into top-down decision-making? Is the operator, for instance, the kind of middle manager at the front of the computer console, the person who should have the right and responsibility to flip the switch or whatever is necessary?
Mr Ahearne: That's an issue that has been debated heavily within both the operating and regulatory systems: When should someone have the authority to shut a plant down? An operator should have that authority when he or she sees the plant getting into a regime that they know could be unsafe. That's very near-term. On the longer-term basis, practices are beginning to erode. At that stage it's a plant manager who should have the authority, but the questioning attitude is that anyone in the plant should be able to raise that as an issue. It should not be squelched if they do.
Mr O'Toole: I'm just going to repeat one of the recommendations. I have a summary of the recommendations of your report, and I'm referring specifically to recommendation number 12, and this is dealing with regulations. Briefly, it says to enforce this mandate, "the licensing of the staff qualifications process are sufficient for its purposes, provided that they are fully and promptly used. Periodic requalification of operator staff should be considered." Does that, to your knowledge, occur today, where they could be moved off-site if they failed one of their operators --
Mr Ahearne: I don't know, in your system. In my system, yes, they have to requalify, and if they don't pass the requalifing examination, they are not allowed to be on-site.
Mr Monte Kwinter (Wilson Heights): Mr Ahearne, I apologize because I don't know exactly which of the recommendations you made to the Hare commission were accepted and which weren't, but I do know that in the recommendations of the Hare commission they talk about the role of the Environmental Assessment Act and that it should have had greater input into the design of the new system; and also, to quote, "While there are no new nuclear projects on the horizon in Ontario, significant changes to the current system may warrant such public hearings."
A week ago yesterday we had municipal elections. One of the questions on the ballot in Pickering was whether or not there should be an environmental assessment before any of these reactors are fired up again. That got overwhelming support from the electorate. My question to you is, and again I apologize about whether or not you had a part in that recommendation: In your experience, is there a practical application of environmental assessment on an existing facility as opposed to looking at a facility that is a greenfield one?
Mr Ahearne: At least in the United States, for any major federal action you need and environmental assessment. Restarting a reactor that has been down for a while certainly should have public participation. That's my own personal view. My experience in a whole host of activities in the United States is that in a democracy you need to have the people who are going to be most directly affected to have a chance to understand what is happening and get their advice.
Various systems have different ways of making decisions, who is fundamentally responsible. I'm not sufficiently familiar with what an environmental assessment is in the Canadian system. In the United States system, an environmental impact statement can take two or three years to prepare, and in most cases for the restart of a reactor that would not be necessary. But for the restart of a reactor, there usually would be required an opportunity for the public to comment on whether that should be done.
Mr Kwinter: Thank you. The other thing I'd like to really get your views on is, when you read the NRC report on Millstone, you could have just transferred Ontario Nuclear to the name of Millstone and got exactly the same responses. One of the findings of the Andognini report is that there was a failure of management to communicate, there was poor maintenance, all the same things that happened at Millstone. My question is, is this indicative of a situation that cannot be controlled? It seems to be too much of a coincidence that two disparate facilities, not owned by the same organization, have exactly the same problems. Is this endemic to the nuclear industry? Is this something that is just coincidental? What is the story behind it?
Mr Ahearne: It's not endemic to the nuclear industry. We have 104 other reactors and at least in the reviews I have seen, both the industry reviews and public reviews, do not indicate that those kinds of problems afflict the other reactors, so I don't think it's endemic to the industry. It's always a potential. That's what I've tried to stress many times. There is a real difference in trying to run nuclear operations from running fossil operations. Running nuclear operations just requires much greater constant attention to detail. It is easy to forget that and at time utilities have slipped away from that. Then they get into the kinds of troubles that Millstone got into and apparently Hydro got into.
Mr Kwinter: Are there nuclear facilities in the United States that are sort of the model, that have started from day one and have operated efficiently and safely without any of these problems?
Mr Ahearne: The Duke facilities are pretty much a classic model. Duke Power has, I think, seven reactors. They are all about the same size as your reactors. They built their own. They had their own construction teams. They have run their reactors very efficiently, very well, by constant great attention to detail. On the other hand TVA, which in many is analogous to Hydro -- it's a public corporation and has about 34,000 employees -- made a miserable job of its nuclear operations.
Mr Laughren: Have there been new -- I probably should know this, but I don't -- nuclear plants built in the US in the last few years?
Mr Ahearne: The 1974 order was the last plant that was ordered and actually built. There was a plant completed last year but that took 22 years to build.
Mr Laughren: Which one was that?
Mr Ahearne: That was Watts Bar, the last TVA plant.
Mr Laughren: The reason I asked that question is that I get the impression from all sorts of people that the nuclear age is gone -- this is my spin on it -- because they are too expensive to build. We here built Darlington, eight units, which was supposed to cost $4 billion and ended up costing $14 billion, and that's reflected in our rates.
Mr Doug Galt (Northumberland): Only four units.
Mr Laughren: Sorry. Four large units, yes. Anyway, they ended up with this huge overrun.
I don't know whether it's just my thinking or whether there's some legitimacy to it, that given the potential cogens, natural gas, turbines and so forth the nuclear age is gone. I don't know that. Is that your sense? You say that nuclear will have to be an option, but if the costs are not reasonable, how can it be?
Mr Ahearne: Combined-cycle gas beats nuclear, hands down, on cost. Construction costs are enormous on nuclear plants if they take eight, 10, 12 years to build. The largest plants, 1,200, 1,300 megawatts, advance reactors that have been built in Japan in the last couple of years, the same kinds of design that are built in the United States, took a little less than five years to build. As I recall, the last Candu that was built overseas took about five years to build. So they can be built in a much shorter period of time.
When that happens, then the capital costs are quite competitive in those areas that don't have much in the way of natural resources. Japan clearly is a good example. In the United States, in the study I just ran we concluded that no one we found thought there was any chance of another nuclear power plant in the United States for at least 20 years.
Mr Laughren: But you say that it must remain one of the options.
Mr Ahearne: It must remain an option because that's it. If there is a very serious requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that will require drastic cuts in coal-burning and it actually may end up adding on sufficient cost that gas is not feasible. That's why I say we conclude it has to be an option if it really ties to how serious a requirement is going to be placed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Laughren: What is happening in the States now? There must continue to be a demand --
Mr Ahearne: At the moment, gas is the option of choice.
Mr Laughren: And they're building those.
Mr Ahearne: Yes.
Mr Laughren: Thank you.
Mr Galt: I'm just curious. How well do you know Andognini?
Mr Ahearne: I don't.
Mr Galt: You don't know him?
Mr Ahearne: I do not.
Mr Galt: Gee, you spoiled the rest of my questions.
Mr Ahearne: I'm sorry.
The Chair: Got another question?
Mr Galt: I've got a couple of others in a new direction.
Mr Ahearne: We have 30,000 people in the United States involved in nuclear.
Mr Galt: I thought it was a pretty small club. It seems like it's been called a cult, a nuclear culture in Canada, kind of like a small group, and I thought you'd probably all know each other.
As you were moving along through your presentation, you sort of shivered when you came to this role of "minimally acceptable." I almost had the feeling you didn't quite believe it, that you were really questioning that you could get so many in a row that were minimally acceptable.
Mr Ahearne: What struck me was, I looked at the table of all these minimally acceptables and then I read the material that said it's still safe. That led me to puzzle about how safe the plants are if you hit all these minimally acceptable levels. Of course it wasn't clear what criteria they were using, because they mention that industry standards are defined to include not only the nuclear safety aspects but the cost competitiveness. I'm just not clear as to how to interpret "minimally acceptable" on that.
Mr Galt: You'd kind of wonder that some things wouldn't have been a little better and some of the others might actually have failed rather than all coming in --
Mr Ahearne: I would have expected there to be some in the "satisfactory" category. I was surprised to see nothing in the "satisfactory" category.
Mr Galt: In the area of deterioration you talked about the family sort of way we handle things as Canadians and that in the States you'd see them in court, a different sort of approach to handling things. Could that explain why we evolved in the direction we did with this problem we have at Ontario Hydro?
Mr Ahearne: There are two pieces to that. First, you took the general approach to regulation, which is the English approach, which tends to provide more of a general framework.
What I found when I went through this review years ago was that everybody really did know each other very well. They had worked together. There was none of the arm's-length attitude I was familiar with in a regulatory environment. The people in the AECB, the people in AECL and the people in Ontario Hydro really did seem to be just one close group. As I saw many times when I'd be discussing with them, they'd say, "If we get a problem, we'll just sit around the table and talk it out." This is a collegiality aspect that is not common, at least in the United States regulatory systems. That's what I was struck by.
When you have that kind of collegiality, it can be very useful when you're moving forward in a new endeavour. As long as everyone keeps a high attention, a high focus on your goals, that can work reasonably well. You can certainly get over problems more quickly. But if after a while complacency were to set in, "Things are running well; let's cut a little cost here; why keep worrying about that?" then this collegiality could break down. I don't know whether that happened.
Mr Galt: This may explain why in the IIPA report they're talking about that there should be a more authoritative style of management compared to what we've had. I really questioned it at the time from some of the other things in that particular report. Do we have the right person in Andognini to straighten this mess out?
Mr Ahearne: As I said, I don't know him. He has a good reputation. I certainly would not want to hazard a judgement.
Mr Galt: You say "a good reputation." Did some of the projects in the States that he has helped to recover turn out well?
Mr Ahearne: The trade press, when he was identified, had identified a number of things he had been involved with and they said he and his team were certainly extremely competent people. That's all I know about it.
Mr Conway: To pick up on the earlier points about the regulatory environment, because I think what you say is quite important and quite believable, that the American nuclear community is obviously a much larger one than the Canadian one, I think those of us, and we've been doing some site visits in the of course of this inquiry, were struck -- I know I was at the Bruce facility -- about just how these onsite people functioned.
To be perfectly frank, it is a very difficult situation in which they find themselves because it's a small environment, much smaller than the US. I kept thinking as I walked around in that plant: "All right, if you wanted to be tougher than they have been, and I think many of us have come, I know I've come to the conclusion that they ought to be tougher, it's not going to be an easy thing. You're going to have to abandon any notion of collegiality because it's just not going to work. You are going to be the SOB who is going to have to be much more willing to call the bluff and say: "It's over. We're going to shut this thing down because you just haven't performed."
Just as a practical matter, it's like people who come to Parliament, to the British parliamentary situation, and often think they want to bring in a kind of boy scout camaraderie and they fail to understand that the system is fundamentally adversarial. You may not like it, but that's the basic informing notion and you get into real trouble if you think you're going to be a boy scout in something that's that adversarial.
What I want to get from you is, given the small size of the family, how might we proceed away from something that's too collegial to something that is going to be more meaningful and necessarily more adversarial?
Mr Ahearne: You do it in Parliament. People in the regulatory system have to realize that their job is not to be a buddy, it's to be a regulator. Yes, it is difficult. We have resident instructors in the plants in the United States and some find it very difficult. We have had to remove some of them because they've gotten too friendly with the licensee. They are not there to be the technical onsite adviser; they are there as a representative of a regulatory agency to ensure that regulations are followed.
Mr Conway: One of the things you said earlier that really gave me a lot of concern, and I forget what the specific example was -- oh, I know. You were talking about how the Americans in the intervening years, from the mid-1980s through to the mid-1990s, had moved away from prescriptive to more relaxed, and now they're moving back because the more relaxed the regulator became the more the utilities, looking down the road at a deregulated and competitive marketplace, started to operate at the margins. Those are my words, not yours.
Mr Ahearne: I think that is what the NRC feared was happening. I don't think that really happened. As I said, Millstone was a 10-year-old problem. Even when I was on the NRC there were some questions being raised whether Millstone was being operated well. I think that was more endemic to the people who were running Northeast Utilities and carrying this attitude down through. I've had an opportunity to talk to a former senior person at Northeast who ended up being forced out because he was trying to make the kinds of changes that should have been made. I don't think that's what happened throughout the industry, but the NRC -- the term I used -- got burned. They came under very harsh criticism for allowing Millstone to keep happening.
When it turned out that issues had been raised and, as I mentioned, the regional director had said he didn't think there was any solid regulatory reason to shut them down -- in previous instances, previous regional directors had taken the attitude: "The plant is a serious problem. I'll shut it down and we'll see whether the court agrees I was right."
Mr Conway: The other question that was interesting for me, that came out of something you said earlier, was that this business about running a nuclear operation is not like running a fossil plant. In this province we are looking at a competitive marketplace. There are already some announcements about disaggregating the vertically integrated public utility that we've had.
Thinking now about a generation company that's got some serious ongoing troubles with the nuclear side -- and 63% of this public utility on the generation side is nuclear, but we've got fossil, we've got hydroelectric -- is there an argument to say that, given the particular characteristic of nuclear power, within generation there should be disaggregation, that nuclear should be set apart and run as a discrete nuclear company and let the hydraulic and fossil people run their enterprises because they are sufficiently different breeds of cat?
Mr Ahearne: The issue of deregulation or deregulatory environment and separation, those are areas on which I am not an expert.
Mr Conway: I know that.
Mr Ahearne: It does make sense, and all of the larger utility companies follow this, that the nuclear operation is a separate unit and the fossil operation is a separate unit. Even in the company I'm most familiar with now, which only has two nuclear power plants and about seven fossil plants, they are two operating branches. Every utility with which I'm familiar that has nuclear power plants separates and has nuclear operations and fossil operations headed by a vice-president, a senior person, so they don't try to mix the two.
The Chair: Mr Conway, having now trashed my boy scout image of the parliamentary system, let me just see if we can now move for one final round of this, beginning with you, Mr Laughren, and then we'll be able to bring this to a conclusion.
Mr Laughren: He may have trashed you but I thought he paid a compliment to Mr Galt.
The Chair: He did indeed.
Mr Laughren: Mr Ahearne, we won't embroil you in the local politics here. I was struck by the difference in the two communities we visited in the last couple of weeks that have nuclear facilities. One was a relatively remote area where people love their nuclear plant, if I can exaggerate it a bit, and were very, very worried about its imminent shutdown. The other place we went to, where it's humming along, is a community where they are demanding an environmental assessment, and there was no great love expressed in that community -- there may be some there, but it wasn't expressed to us -- about that facility. Is it common in communities that you'll get one community that wants to hug its nuclear plant and another one that wants to kick it? Is that common?
Mr Ahearne: My experience in the US is that if the nuclear plant is a major portion of the tax base or the employee base, they love the plant. If it's peripheral to the tax base or the employee base, then the people who are strongly interested are those in opposition.
Mr Laughren: Has opposition at the local level ever led to a major change or even a shutdown of a plant?
Mr Ahearne: Yes. Not so much a shutdown, but the plant that was planned on Long Island never went into operation because of the strong local opposition.
Mr Laughren: What about the opposite of that? Did very strong support for a plant ever lead to actions like, for example, reopening one that wasn't intended to be reopened?
Mr Ahearne: No. In the United States, once a plant has been built, its operation or non-operation is essentially determined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and they go by concerns about safety as the issue. The plant that was not allowed to operate did not get its operating licence because the local community, backed up by the governor, refused to approve an emergency plan, and that was a requirement --
Mr Laughren: Which you would have to have.
Mr Ahearne: Yes.
Mrs Johns: I just want to ask you some questions about the strengths and the weaknesses of the Canadian system and what we can do to beef it up. The government in Ontario has just introduced a white paper which talks about the future of energy, and it has been highly praised. One of the things this white paper has suggested is that we need to put more teeth, if you will, into our regulatory authority.
I was interested in some briefing notes we got from our consultants here that you talk about the strengths and the weaknesses of the Canadian and the American systems. I'm sure you haven't seen this in a long time, so let me just review. Some of the strengths you talked about were: "The system is very flexible, more rational from an engineering perspective, and the design envelope is developed more readily to address the question, 'How safe is a reactor?' from a variety of perspectives." Those were the strengths you suggested were important in our regulatory authority.
Some of us who have been sitting on this committee for up to eight weeks, I think, see some of those right now as some pretty big weaknesses in the system. We find that it was so flexible that in fact problems that were recognized had slid through the process for 10 years, it would seem. The engineering perspective is what Andognini sees as somewhat of a problem, that they need better managers and not so much engineering base.
From that standpoint, I guess I'm looking for some information from you that you would recommend to this committee, that we could put in our report, about how to give a regulatory authority more teeth. What do you think we need to give it teeth?
Mr Ahearne: I have to start by saying I am not familiar with how the AECB has evolved.
Mrs Johns: I understand that. You can use the American system and apply what you think we need to do from the American system.
Mr Ahearne: One point I think has to be clear: The local residents are not cooperative people involved in running the plant. They are representatives of the regulator. The regulator has to be able to have the authority and evidence the willingness to be at arm's length from the licensee, from Ontario, and be willing to force the licensee to take action when the regulator concludes that action is necessary on the ground of safety.
Mrs Johns: What powers should they have that will be the stick, if you will?
Mr Ahearne: The three sticks are (1) to be able to shut the reactor down, (2) to be able to be very public in their criticism, and (3) to be able to make them pay a lot of money.
Mrs Johns: Fines would be the last. Okay.
Mr Ahearne: In the United States the biggest stick turns out to be the publicity.
Mrs Johns: So they are arm's length. They have to be able to wield power, I guess. Anything else you would recommend that we give this board?
Mr Ahearne: The regulators end up being torn. Sometimes the engineering staff in particular believe their job is to make sure the reactors run. The regulators' real role is to make sure the reactors are safe.
Mrs Johns: How about the regulators? Should the regulators have any expertise? What kind of expertise should we demand --
Mr Ahearne: Of course.
Mrs Johns: I understand that "of course" would be the answer. What kind of expertise should we be looking for?
Mr Ahearne: They have to understand a nuclear power plant. They have to understand the difference between a safe operation and an unsafe operation. They have to know what is good operating practice. They have to be knowledgeable. Otherwise, all they will do is attempt to interfere with the operations and they can actually make it unsafe.
Mrs Johns: Tell me the kind of people you think we need to have in this regulatory body to make sure we have knowledgeable people. Just help us out; we're politicians here. Do we need a nuclear physicist? Tell us what we need here.
Mr Ahearne: Not a nuclear physicist. Nuclear engineers are the people you need. They're the ones who understand nuclear reactors. I will say that 10 years ago the lower staff people I met in the AECB were knowledgeable and they understood reactors. I didn't find a weakness in their knowledge. It was the system didn't allow them and didn't force them and require them to use it.
Mrs Johns: If people are going to be regulating private companies -- and we've never had the experience of that in Ontario -- and maybe they won't be nuclear admittedly, but they're going to be regulating the energy, is there some requirement we would need from the regulator from that perspective that maybe we haven't thought about?
Mr Ahearne: Not that I know of. In the US they regulate both private companies and public companies and there wasn't any difference.
Mrs Johns: Will the private company be deterred from shoddy operations through the same public disclosure, fines and that kind of thing?
Mr Ahearne: It depends on how they make their money. If they make their money in such a way that public disclosure makes it more difficult for them to make the money, yes.
Mrs Johns: I just want to ask one more question. Mr Conway was touching on this. I guess the last concern comes from regulation again. We're going to have one dominant partner in the marketplace because we have Ontario Hydro, which at the beginning will have 80% of the market, and it will go down of course as different generation comes in. Are there some specific regulatory things we would need because we have a dominant market player?
Mr Ahearne: I'm really not an expert in market shares, market control. My approach on regulating a system wouldn't make any difference whether it was through a multiple or single; you'd still have to have the same level of regulation, the same discipline, the same knowledge etc.
Mr Conway: Mr Ahearne, I take it that in the prescriptive regulatory framework of the NRC there are clear benchmarks, clear standards that are understood, advertised and applied with some degree of rigour.
Mr Ahearne: There are clear benchmarks. They are understood. The application is what was being questioned in some of the reactors then.
Mr Conway: In the latest phase, how are your successors at the NRC applying those standards?
Mr Ahearne: What they attempted to do in the last five years is shift to using the performance of the reactor and a risk base. For example, instead of saying in the technical specifications for the reactor operation there might be 50 different requirements, the issue would be look at all 50, decide which ones are most important for reducing the potential risk of an accident and concentrate on making sure that those are followed explicitly and not put as much attention on the others. Instead of looking at the about 20 different regulations that affect the scram system, look at how many times you have an automatic scram, which is the automatic shutdown of the reactor.
They were trying to shift more to application of risk analysis, the application of performance, and then when Millstone came along they have fallen back to, "Let's just make sure everybody follows every regulation."
Mr Conway: I take it that when you looked at the Canadian or the Ontario reactor scene 10 or 12 years ago it was much more of a kind of a fog. There didn't appear to be any clarity or any real definition to standards or benchmarks.
Mr Ahearne: That's right. There was this very broad envelope document and a few consultative documents but beyond that it was primarily a set of operating agreements between the AECB and Ontario Hydro.
Mr Conway: I think the average citizen reading the documentary evidence that the federal regulators supplied to this committee, now a month ago, would be just left incredulous: good people, smart people, well-intentioned people at both the regulatory side and the utility, both agreeing on serious, worsening, ongoing problems that were beyond their collective ken to fix. You just scratch your head and say, "What is in the air of the place that makes good people incapable of addressing a problem" in an area which -- I tell you, I suspect that if some of this stuff had ever been made public in 1990, 1991, 1992 or 1989 it really would have changed the climate in which the nuclear expansion was occurring.
That, again, is a backdrop and I come back now to, say, Duke Power. You just used a very good set of examples. The impression I got was that Duke Power has had quite a good ongoing operational and performance record, and TVA over much of the same period just struggled in the best of the Ontario Hydro troubles. What was it about Duke Power, beyond what you've said, if we look at Duke specifically? It was just better leadership and a better culture, better recruitment, better ongoing training, better --
Mr Ahearne: All of the top people I've met at Duke Power were very knowledgeable on how to run nuclear reactors and how to lead people.
Mr Conway: When you contrast that with --
Mr Ahearne: TVA was a political organization. The TVA commissioners were a set of political appointees. They were never chosen for having any understanding of operations. As a result, when you went down through the system, there was no sense that, "We have to concentrate on competence first."
The system grew, it got enormous. It got so bad in TVA that for the engineering staff to make a recommendation to the operating staff they ended up coming to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and asking us to make a recommendation because it took them so long to get it up to the top and come back around on the other side.
Mr Conway: That may be just the right place to end my questions.
The Chair: Dr Ahearne, I thank you very much for attending upon the committee today and for your evidence. I had one question to ask, only in terms of your experience in overseeing decommissioning.
Mr Ahearne: We have really not yet decommissioned a major reactor. We decommissioned some very small ones.
Mr O'Toole: Is Three Mile Island still smoking?
Mr Ahearne: Three Mile Island is still --
The Chair: Mr O'Toole, I wonder if we can just let Dr Ahearne respond to my questions.
Mr Ahearne: The real problem we're facing in the United States in decommissioning is whether there's going to be enough money in the funds that were originally set up to decommission the reactor. It's relatively easy to shut the reactor down, take the fuel out and put it into a fuel pool. But now what do you do? You have to have some place eventually to store that fuel. We in the United States don't have any place to put it. One wants to dismantle the reactor eventually. The costs that were originally estimated, which were in US dollars, between $100 million and $150 million now look like they're going to be more like $400 million to $500 million.
The Chair: That's US?
Mr Ahearne: US. The funds that were being put in place for the reactors aren't going to generate that amount of money. In particular, if some reactors are being shut down 10, 15 years before their expected lifetime, then that fund certainly isn't going to be full enough. So we're facing questions about how we're going to fund that decommissioning.
The Chair: Is that $4 million to $5 million to restore to greenfield conditions?
Mr Ahearne: That's at least to restore to brownfield.
The Chair: I think I'd like to have you now make the definition.
Mr Ahearne: The definition is, brownfield leaves it in a way that's zoned for industrial use; greenfield is completely residential.
The Chair: It would not pass an EA for the greenfield condition.
Mr Ahearne: That's right.
The Chair: The final question I had goes back to some earlier questions concerning the future. A number of members of the committee were asking you the question of nuclear versus natural gas. Your sense of the fuel cell and its positioning in the future would be what?
Mr Ahearne: I try to stick to those areas in which I really have spent a lot of time studying. Fuel cells are not an area that I've spent a lot of time on.
The Chair: I appreciate that response. Dr Ahearne, I really do appreciate your attending upon the committee and your forthright answers. We appreciate that so much. If we have need for any further information, I hope we can call upon you again. Thank you so much. You are excused.
The Chair: Members of the committee, there are several other items to go through and we can do that in a moment. I will remind you that there will be a vote in the House at 5:45, I believe, so we will have to respond to that when the bell rings. I want to go over the agenda for this week to make sure we're all -- Mr O'Toole?
Mr O'Toole: I'd like to explain to our guests that it isn't St Patrick's Day in Canada.
Mr Conway: I thought you might want to elaborate on your point about, "Is Three Mile Island still smoking?"
Mr O'Toole: No, but it isn't St Patrick's Day in Ontario.
The Chair: Thank you so much, Mr O'Toole. We appreciated that intervention.
In terms of the agenda for the remainder of the week, I will ask you to take note that in open session tomorrow afternoon, and particularly as well for our viewers, at 3:30 pm, Donald Macdonald, the former chair of the Macdonald commission, will be reporting and standing here along with us. You will see other deputants who will be with us to witness; 4:30 to 6 pm is still to be confirmed. There may be some comments from members of the committee about that. Open session on Thursday with the Ministry of Finance and open session on Thursday afternoon with Ontario Hydro and McGill University Centre for Climate and Global Change Research. That almost winds up all the witnesses for this committee.
Mr Conway: The Ministry of Environment?
The Chair: Dr Galt, I think, wanted to get my attention on that.
Mr Galt: Of course on Monday Mr Farlinger will be with us. That's confirmed, is it?
The Chair: The clerk is just telling me Monday or Tuesday. Do you have any preference?
Mr Galt: No, I don't; it was more a question than a comment.
The Chair: I'm in your hands. I'm happy to bring him forward for Monday.
Mr Galt: Whatever.
The Chair: Let's just check here for a second. I've just been advised that we have one little glitch, and that is that our legal counsel may not be able to be here. As you may recall, this committee had asked that our legal counsel head off for the first half-hour with Ms Clitheroe. He will not be able to be with us for Thursday afternoon so we may have to put Ms Clitheroe over to Monday. We're trying to restructure that. That's why I was a little hesitant to give which day we're about, Mr Galt. Do you have any suggestions other than that?
Mr Galt: No. I just wanted to comment on the environmental issue that we were struggling with yesterday. I'm pleased to see on Thursday from 5 to 6 the Centre for Climate and Global Change Research. I think that's an ideal one to have there.
As it relates to the ministry, there's really not that much we can question them on. I would suggest we ask for them to give us the regulations and the status of Ontario Hydro so we have that in the record. I would like to suggest we invite Patrick McNeil, who's in charge of alternative fuels, and that we be able to question him on their plans rather than trying to question ministry people on some assumptions. I think that would have more value, and then get in hard copy from them the regulations and the status of Ontario Hydro, how they've been meeting the acid rain countdown and that kind of thing.
The Chair: When would you propose Mr McNeil come before the committee?
Mr Galt: Soon.
The Chair: All right. Let me go to Mr Laughren for a moment and then to Mr Conway.
Mr Laughren: First of all, can I make a personal pitch on the Monday thing? I don't know what you've got planned and I don't expect the committee to function according to my whims, but I have enormous difficulties on Monday. I appreciate the fact that the committee has to meet even though I can't be here, but I would appreciate knowing as soon as possible what the intentions of the committee are on Monday, because if it's environmental stuff I'd ask a different colleague to come than if it was something else before the committee. I just leave that plea with you.
Second, I'm not sure what Mr Galt's saying, but I think he's speaking as PA to environment when he makes his pitch. Speaking as a member of the committee, it seems to me that we want the Ministry of the Environment here to answer questions. I like the group that's coming from the university, I think that's a good idea too, but I think that has nothing to do with the fact that we want the Ministry of Environment folks here.
Mr Conway: I agree. I think the McGill group is excellent. But one of the most significant and I dare say controversial aspects of the recovery plan is the nature and the extent and the cost of the replacement power. We are going to be facing a considerable public debate, just as the previous witness said, about greenhouse gases and all of the rest.
I really do think, because the recovery plan apparently is going to commit Ontario's public utility to generating and purchasing a lot of additional fossil-fired electricity, that we have an obligation as a committee to invite and to cross-examine both the provincial and the federal environment ministries, which have presumably some kind of mandate and regulatory function in the public interest on those matters. That to me is self-evident.
The environment ministries both provincial and national are going around telling people who run chicken coops and run car plants and all the rest of it --
Interjection: Pig farms.
Mr Conway: -- pig farms, about what they can and can't do, what they should and shouldn't be doing with respect to air quality. If we're going to take the position as a committee that the recovery plan, with its commitments for increased fossil-fired electricity, and we're not going to have them here -- if they don't want to come, if they refuse to come, that's one issue, but I think it's absolutely essential that we have ideally both, because there are transboundary issues that I would like to hear from Environment Canada about.
Mr O'Toole: I support the importance of the environmental concern, but I think the ministry has a guideline or sets some standards on emissions control. I think most certainly, whether I'm addressing the technical ministry responsibility but certainly Patrick McNeil from Ontario Hydro, we need to say now that it's clear, as you said, that the environmental conference, the clean air conference that's coming up in Canada, make it very clear what their expectations are for the use of fossil as part of replacement fuel. That's my understanding. I think he's very definitely a witness I would like to revisit and challenge some of those assumptions that were made for the emissions and buying back credits for emissions, recognition of the environmental importance for sure.
What is the sequence here between -- are we thinking of them for next week? This week we're going to talk to the McGill Centre for Climate and Global Change Research. We can raise those questions, we can bring those reports to their attention and have them explain it.
Mr Conway: John, the other thing is, we've heard from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. I want to hear from the Ontario Ministry of Environment. I want an opportunity to cross-examine them on some of the very serious testimony presented by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. Remember, McNeil is the proponent. He's a good guy and I'm happy to have him back, but he's with the people who want to do the recovery plan and I expect he's going to behave like a proponent. I would like to get somebody from an environment ministry to say, "Have you got any views on any of this stuff?"
The Chair: Let me just remind us where we're at. Wednesday, the 4:30 to 6 slot is still available. We had directed the staff to try to make arrangements with the consortium to be here. There's no further information about that available. We're talking about Clitheroe being slipped out of the Thursday 3:30 to 5 pm slot into Monday. Then to wind up the arguments, all the witnesses, the last one would be Mr Farlinger, is how I gather the committee is moving. That would be on Tuesday, which I gather is the date he would be available. That would be all that's available at that point.
Mr Laughren: We've got Monday evening as well.
The Chair: Or Monday evening if he's available. That would also help collapse the time frame a little bit for the committee. I'm aware of the need to keep us on track.
Mr Galt: As part of the thinking in putting this forward, I had the opportunity last Wednesday to tour the Lennox generating station. What I was hearing there was the recovery plans are different in that station from what we were hearing earlier as it relates to the sulphur level in the oil they're buying, as it relates to the gas coming on stream. It's now coming on earlier than we had previously been led to believe.
Therefore, I think it's important that we start looking at the priorities of who we get in. We can get all the information from the Ministry of the Environment that we need in hard copy. They'll come in and we'll start asking about assumptions; they won't have any answers about assumptions, whereas we can bring in somebody like Patrick McNeil, who we can query on what their real plans are. We haven't heard what their real plans are: sulphur level of coal or oil, or what plants are really going to come on with gas. It's changing by the moment from what I can gather, having been at the Lennox generating station last Wednesday morning.
That's why I'm encouraging that we get somebody we can cross-examine and inquire as to what their plans really are. We've got the information from the Ministry of the Environment very simply in print. We've got to get some priorities here and get on with writing this report. December 1 is only 10 days away now.
Mr Laughren: I understand what Mr Galt's saying, but at the same time we have been told what Ontario Hydro intends to do in its recovery plan. They gave us the numbers on sulphur emissions and they were right at the limit that's been voluntarily agreed upon with the Ministry of the Environment. That's what Hydro tells us. I remember that quite clearly. It went right into, some years it was up and some years it was down a bit and so forth.
I want the Ministry of the Environment people here to talk to them about Hydro's plans. I don't want to talk to Hydro about their plans any more. They've got their plans; they've told us what they are. They told us what they're going to start up and what the levels will be. I know that. I don't need to be told again. What I want to know is the Ministry of the Environment's views on this whole thing as we go down the road, because I think that's important. Out there in the public, we may end up with a bigger debate on that issue than we do with some of the other issues that we've been preoccupied with. I don't know that, but I wouldn't be surprised, as the debate around emissions and global warming heats up. I think we need the Ministry of the Environment here.
Mr Conway: We as a committee are obligated to write a report based on the evidence the committee has heard. I've been to lots of interesting places. I've been to Lennox and I've been here and there and everywhere, but the committee hasn't. It's completely ridiculous for me to come in here and say, "I want the report to reflect a very interesting visit I had to" -- because you weren't there; we weren't there.
As it stands now on the environmental question, we have heard relatively little. We heard some very strong testimony from Jack Gibbons and the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. If nothing else, I'd like to give the Ontario Ministry of the Environment some opportunity to come in here to speak to some of the very serious matters raised in that testimony and to give the committee an opportunity -- that was very good testimony we heard this afternoon from Ahearne. I learned some things I wasn't expecting to learn, and I'm happy we had that opportunity.
I can't believe, given the sensitivity of the environmental issue generally and what we know about what the recovery plan commits us to -- if we don't make some reasonable effort to have somebody from the Ministry of the Environment for the province of Ontario come and speak their piece about the recovery plan, I think we will look foolish.
Mr O'Toole: With all respect, I recognize the importance of the environmental issue myself. I say that for the record. I also believe we talked about having the federal ministry people here. They're the ones who are going to be speaking for Canada's conformity to emission standards at the Kyoto conference. It's my understanding that there have been discussions with the provincial ministers of the environment in Canada to develop a Canadian position on this. So I'd be very pleased to hear from the federal people. We had kind of agreed to that.
I suspect, from the discussion, that Mr Galt will probably go back and make it clear that -- you see, my understanding is that there are emission standards today. What we're really trying to do is to draw some kind of regression between what their forecast use is and whether they meet or exceed those guidelines that the ministry will indeed enforce. So the ministry can't come in and all of a sudden change those guidelines to suit this particular situation.
It would be my understanding to say, "These are the guidelines." As Mr Galt says, those could clearly be given to us. We could then have staff translate those into, are they exceeding those guidelines and what reactions or response will the ministry take to enforce or ensure that they don't exceed those standards? I think that's a fair question, personally. I wouldn't expect the ministry to come in and say, "Are you going to redraw those guidelines today?" So what can they say, really, until they see some breach of those commitments to the ministry's guidelines?
I do want to hear from the federal government, though. For the record, through the Chair, can we?
The Chair: I want to make sure I'm very clear: You want to hear from the federal but not from the provincial?
Mr O'Toole: I didn't say that.
The Chair: I just want to be clear, Mr O'Toole, that's all.
Mr O'Toole: Yes, for clarification, that's what I did say. I didn't say "Not the provincial," for the record.
The Chair: For the record, did you say you want to hear the provincial?
Mr O'Toole: Yes, I'm interested in their position.
The Chair: You want to hear from the provincial as well as the federal.
Mr O'Toole: Sure.
The Chair: Thank you. That's what I wanted to hear.
Mr Kwinter: I just wanted to reinforce what we had discussed the other day in that it isn't really a matter of getting from either the federal or the provincial environmental authorities what their acceptable levels are. We know what they are. What we really want to know is their impression of this recovery plan and how that is going to impact on the environment, both from a federal perspective and a provincial perspective, and I think the federal people should also be able to tell us what studies they have done to see what the results would be from fossil fuel generation in the United States that could be feeding into the grid.
I think it's critical that we have that kind of opportunity to investigate and get their impression, get their concerns or their endorsement or whatever it is, so there is a comfort level in this report about what the implications of this alternative fuel program are going to be from an environmental point of view. That's basic, and I thought we had already decided that.
The Chair: My function is to facilitate the matters of the committee to the best of my ability. To that end, I'm trying to determine what you'd like to do. We have two time slots that are available: They are Wednesday afternoon 4:30 to 6 and now Thursday, 3:30 to 5, where we have shifted Clitheroe over to next week. I have had suggestions from two and a half caucuses that we hear from federal and provincial, but I've heard from the lead of the government caucus that he would prefer to hear from certainly one group.
What I need to do is simply put this to some kind of a question to facilitate matters for the committee. I don't want to be distressful and I don't like going beyond a straw vote, if I can, to start with, so Dr Galt, if you'd care to phrase some business for the committee, let me put it to a vote to make sure we're very clear. It's a matter of, would you care to hear from the Ministry of the Environment people or not?
Mr Galt: I'm putting forth the motion that we should call Patrick McNeil for environmental issues and to discuss the use of alternative fuels in the fossil generation plants.
The Chair: Let me just put that to the test, first of all. All in favour of that?
Mrs Fisher: May I have a question before you do that? Does he still have the responsibility for the alternative fuels?
Mr Galt: That's my understanding, yes.
The Chair: Can I just pause for a moment? To facilitate matters for the committee, before I take any votes, maybe I could ask if you'd take a moment to confer. I want to make sure we're very clear on this. I'm trying to facilitate matters for the committee and I don't want to be troublesome for you.
Mrs Fisher: I just want a point of clarification before we do that. I understand he attended the meetings two weeks previously with regard to the financial recovery plan. My understanding is that he has moved from under Mr Fox's domain over to Mr Farlinger's domain. I would like clarification as to whether he is still responsible for alternative fuels. If he is, I will support having him here. If he's not, if you want to bring him here on finance, it's another issue.
Mr Galt: May I ask for a five-minute recess, Chair?
The Chair: You may indeed take a five-minute recess. Can I just be very clear: Government members, please note the time. When the bells in the House start to ring, whether we like it or not, that is the end of the committee activity for the day. Are we clear about that? We'll take a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 1744 to 1746.
The Chair: We're back in session, if you can do it in one minute.
Mr Galt: Very quickly, Mr Chair, we would like to propose that we invite from Ontario Hydro the person who is in charge of alternative fuels for these fossil fuel plants, just in case Patrick McNeil is not the right person. I would so move.
Mr Laughren: Chair, we're not going to get through this in time to do the vote.
The Chair: I will have to take that as a notice of a suggestion; we'll have to pick this up again tomorrow, defer this until tomorrow. The committee will stand adjourned until the appropriate hour tomorrow, and we will now adjourn to the House for the vote.
The committee adjourned at 1747.