Investigation into Pickering nuclear alert will be made public

Investigation into Pickering nuclear alert will be made public

An investigation into a false alarm about the Pickering nuclear station during routine testing of Ontario’s province-wide alert system is being conducted and will be made public, says Ontario’s Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

“It is definitely unacceptable. I want to know exactly what happened on Sunday morning,” Jones told reporters Monday at Queen’s Park.

“I do not anticipate that this will be a long, drawn-out investigation,” she said, adding the findings from emergency management officials will be shared with Ontarians.

“This has never happened in the history of the tests that they do every day — twice a day — but I do want to know exactly all of the issues related to it, whether it was one human error or whether there were a series of things, I don’t want to guess.”

Thousands of Ontarians awoke to the 7:30 a.m. emergency alert on their cellphones — along with their radios and televisions warning of an unspecified “incident” at Pickering.

An emergency alert sent to cellphones through the provincial emergency reporting system around 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2020, was a "human error" sent during a routine training exercise, Ontario's solicitor general said.

The mass alert said emergency staff were responding to a situation at the plant but said “there has been NO abnormal release of radioactivity.”

About two hours later, a followup alert clarified there was no active emergency at the plant and that the previous message “was issued in error.”

Mayor John Tory told reporters Monday he has asked the province to include city of Toronto officials in its review of the province’s “poor showing.”

The probe should include “how anybody could possibly accidentally push the button to send out something like this that can cause great fear in people through to the wording of the notice that did go out,” said Tory.

“As usual, communication between provincial officials and city officials wasn’t what it should be,” the mayor said, adding in case of a real disaster the governments need “immediate” communication.

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, the local MPP for the area, emphasized the Pickering station has a good safety record and moved to assure Ontarians there was never any danger to the public.

“This was an error. Clearly, this was a surprise to many,” said Bethlenfalvy (Pickering-Uxbridge).

“In these times, it’s important to communicate. It’s important to be honest and accurate,” he said.

Bethlenfalvy said the Ontario Power Generation facility, which employs 4,500 people and supplies 14 per cent of the province’s electricity supply, is one of the “safest nuclear assets in the world.”

“It’s clean, it’s low-cost, and it’s safe. The safety record is the best in the world. It’s important to get that message out.”

Energy Minister Greg Rickford declined to stop to discuss the situation with the media as he headed into a Progressive Conservative caucus meeting.

The first alert said it applied to people living within 10 kilometres of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, which is five kilometres from Toronto’s eastern edge on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said “Ontarians were needlessly left anxious and worried fearing a nuclear incident without knowing what to do next after the government sent out this false emergency alert.”

“We have heard an explanation for how this incident happened, and only a full, independent, transparent investigation can validate that,” said Tabuns.

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“What we have not heard is any explanation whatsoever for the unconscionable two-hour delay in correcting the false alarm.”

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood) said Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé should probe what happened.

“This is a public safety matter,” Hunter wrote in a letter to Dubé.

“Residents must be able to rely on their government to be forthright and responsive when it comes to safety and they do not want the unnecessary panic and angst inflicted upon GTA residents during the time it took for a correction response to be issued.”

With files from David Rider

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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