Thursday, 30 May 2013

CBC: Probe into AECL contracts hushed up

Probe into AECL contracts hushed up: "Former employees at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited say they witnessed potential wrongdoing in procurement practices at the federal Crown corporation, with some senior managers receiving personal gifts from suppliers, favouritism toward certain suppliers and leaks of information to suppliers about their competitors' bids.
CBC News has also learned that an extensive, months-long investigation into procurement at the nuclear agency by auditing firm Deloitte has been kept quiet for nearly five years.
AECL has refused to comment on the investigation, which insiders say began in 2008 when Deloitte was asked to probe the company's procurement department.
It is unclear what prompted the scrutiny, but former employees say auditors looked into how contracts were awarded to some suppliers of nuclear parts.
"AECL does not want to be accountable to anyone. I have never seen such a secretive and elusive organization, either in a private or public role," said a former employee who wants the Deloitte report to be made public.
"The report would show what I experienced when I worked there — that there is a complete irresponsibility at the senior level at AECL for public monies."
CBC News spoke to several former employees at the company, which developed all the commercial nuclear reactors in Canada before its Candu division was privatized two years ago. All the former staff asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.
They said they saw certain suppliers get unusual preferential treatment — even when their bids were higher than equally qualified companies. The ex-employees said there was also a failure to protect sensitive bidding information from competitors, and bids were sometimes altered after the formal tendering process had closed.
"I saw on several occasions that after bids had closed, it was not unusual to get an unsolicited bid from the chosen supplier with a lower price that would get the job," another former AECL employee said.
The former staffers also allege some senior employees in the company's procurement department accepted gifts and inducements from suppliers of nuclear parts, such as golf games, a shared limo ride to a nuclear industry event and materials to renovate a cottage.
"People would get raw material for personal projects that came from suppliers. I'd seen that. I'd become aware of that. I was told that, in fact, by one of the recipients who chose to share it. Saw photographs of it," the former employee said.
"I'd see abuse of the rules, channelling work into companies that don't deserve it, in my view. And it's just wrong," the person said. "I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was wrongdoing there.… A secret is hard to keep. Keeping this out of the public eye, it's incredible.""

Saturday, 25 May 2013

CNSC's ground-breaking study on populations living near Ontario’s three nuclear power plants

"The CNSC has completed a ground-breaking study on populations living near Ontario’s three nuclear power plants. The most important finding of this study is no evidence of childhood leukemia clusters in the communities within 25 km of the Pickering, Darlington and Bruce NPPs."

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Transformation of NRC short-sighted, misguided and unbalanced

Perfectly described: short-sighted, misguided and unbalanced: Transformation of NRC short-sighted, misguided and unbalanced: "The federal government’s restructuring of the National Research Council to serve short-term industry needs ahead of basic research priorities is a major blow to Canada’s scientific progress, warns the organization representing the country’s academic researchers
“The government’s plan to turn the NRC into a concierge service for business is short-sighted, misguided and unbalanced,” said James L. Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. “This government has consistently ignored the evidence that good science doesn’t emerge from political diktats or by fettering research to immediate market needs. It comes from scientists being able to pursue what is scientifically important.”
Turk noted that many university and college-based scientists work with NRC counterparts and rely upon the Council’s facilities to conduct their research. With today’s announcements, many of these collaborations are in jeopardy.
“Basic research that forms the core of all scientific advances and innovation is under siege,” warned Turk. “It is disingenuous of Minister Goodyear to suggest that universities will pick up the slack left by the abandonment of basic science at the NRC because his government has drastically cut back funding for fundamental academic research.”"

The end for NRC

Well it looks the end for NRC is now publically announced: "Major changes that will shift the focus of the National Research Council from basic science towards more business-friendly research betray a serious misunderstanding of scientific progress, critics of the say.
“I’m not convinced that we have a government that understands how science works, and understands the value of it. They look at it as something you can pick off the shelf,” Carleton University Prof. John Stone said.
“If you don’t do basic research, you’re basically eating away at your scientific capital. You need basic research, it’s often … the foundation on which applied work is done.”"

A must read: "At the bottom of the Canadian Royal Coat of Arms is our national motto: A mari usque ad mare — from sea to sea. As the Conservative government introduces so-called “business friendly” changes to the National Research Council (NRC), the country’s top research and development organization, that motto might be in need of revision.
Might I suggest the following: Efficiency, Productivity and Shortsightedness? The new mantra will fit well with a government and a council who have forgotten the scientific and social value of the freedom of creativity, and who through the pursuit of technocratic narrow-mindedness will do a disservice to both Canadians and industry in the long run.
Naturally, the NRC should aim to serve the long-term well being of Canadians, rather than funding business solutions for companies who could pay for those solutions themselves. Corporate welfare is one potential danger of these changes, though it’s not the most hazardous potential outcome. There are essential partnership opportunities between government and industry. After all, the obscure territory between private and public goods is a minefield; quite often advances in industry serve the country and the world, and public-private endeavours often produce benefits that neither sector could achieve on its own.
The disconcerting bit of these changes isn’t that industry now seems to be in charge of the NRC; such a claim is probably overstated. The problem with this approach is that it will be, contrary to government expectations, less effective at serving Canadians. The government has directed the council to focus on practical applications suited to industry — applications that will produce results for clients. Council president John McDougall has gone as far as to suggest that the council “will measure our success by the success of our clients.” But that’s not how science works best.
The true foolishness of this new approach will only become clear down the road. As the government intervenes, heavy-handed, in the affairs of scientists — a government with a dismal record on this front — and introduces the insidious and vague language of clients, producers, efficiency and synergy into the mandate of the NRC, it defines what’s good for Canada as what’s good for business and focuses on short-term marketability over long-term breakthroughs.
Such corporate-speak, recognized by all and understood by few, conjures up images of pristine laboratories with bubbling beakers of substances unknown to all but the greatest minds and assembly lines quickly and reliably sending goods out to the market as grey-haired patricians shake hands in the foreground while wearing hard hats. Although the images are alluring, what they obscure is what’s lost in the gold rush to productivity, growth, job creation and international competitiveness: a commitment to creativity and freedom, two things that have consistently served humankind.
More than 300 years ago, with no industry advancements in mind, Isaac Newton inserted needles into his own eye socket to test Descartes’ theory of light. He was challenged and inspired by not only the courageous career of the French philosopher, but also by the potentially suicidal work of Galileo, who risked both his life and by some accounts his mortal soul while defending heliocentrism. In 1905, Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity while scribbling away at a desk in the Swiss Patent Office, not too bothered by the then-absent applicability of his research. Later in the same century, the eccentric Steve Jobs obsessed over design and usability, experimenting freely on technologies with dubious potential returns or uses.
What drove these world-historical minds, and scores of others, wasn’t a desire for maximal productivity, industry efficiency, or global competitiveness — even if some of these outcomes were eventually achieved. What fuelled the engines of their astounding minds were creativity and the space and freedom to let their imagination wander freely, going where it may, and finding what it might. What they discovered changed the course of history, and we continue to benefit from their work.
Ultimately, the government’s role in research should be to fund the best minds, to give them the freedom to let their ingenuity and resourcefulness uncover the secrets of the universe; to provide broad oversight while ensuring ethical standards are maintained; and to fill in the gaps between private interests and the public good. To do otherwise would be to do a disservice to the people of Canada in the long run. Perhaps the government would be best served if it took a page from its own philosophical playbook and kept government intervention to a minimum."

Another good read: "The National Research Council’s “new” focus on commercial applied science, as opposed to pure science, may look sensible enough on its face, given the federal agency’s $900-million annual budget and the limping economy.
Surely there are enough wild-haired scientists with Buddy Holly glasses doing blue-sky research in Canadian universities; and surely the NRC could put more brainpower at the disposal of industry? Never mind trying to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Get cracking on the next BlackBerry.
But this is one time the Conservatives would have been cleverer to execute their reforms quietly — secretively, if you will — rather than bellowing them to the rooftops, as Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear did Tuesday. For, as is increasingly the case in Stephen Harper’s Ottawa, context and backstory are everything. To the extent ordinary Canadians pay attention at all to the continuing transformation of the NRC, the government spin may hurt rather than help it. And that’s assuming the changes are good, fundamentally — which many would argue they are not.
Simply put, the messaging plays into the solidifying opposition narrative that the Conservatives are anti-intellectual, anti-scientific gnomes, bent on transforming Canada into a nation of soul-less econo-bots.
Appearing alongside NRC president John McDougall, Goodyear waxed enthusiastic about the re-tooling of the NRC as a servant of business. “If Canada is going to continue to compete internationally, we must do it through new ideas, new products and opening new markets,” the minister said. “The NRC will now focus on the identified research needs of Canadian businesses. It will be customer pull.”
This direction is in keeping, to a point, with recommendations of the Jenkins review in 2011. Software executive Tom Jenkins’s panel urged the government to establish a new Industrial Research and Innovation Council that would be tailored to help business, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises. Though the NRC retains its old name, it de facto now becomes that council. Business “stakeholders,” will be pleased — at least initially.
The pitfalls will emerge when bureaucrats begin sifting through the requests they’re likely to receive — Goodyear cast a wide net Tuesday, inviting every business in Canada, regardless of size, to henceforth consider the NRC as a kind of benevolent, wise helper, like Q in the James Bond films — and toss many in the trash.
Who will choose the recipients of the NRC’s largesse? This is a large, powerful agency, with 4,000 employees and an annual budget of close to a billion dollars. It operates 50 research facilities nationwide. Presumably federal research support will make the difference between success and failure for many companies. The potential for noses to get rubbed out of joint, let alone cronyism and abuse, is huge. Yet the minister and the NRC president were both very vague about the logistics of how it will work. Are companies to apply for help, like artists applying for a Canada Council grant?

The NRC has always been primarily an applied science body – but one whose work was led by scientists. Its notable historical successes, noted in the minister’s media kit, include the invention of the pacemaker (1940s), canola (1950s), computer animation (1970s) and the space shuttle’s Canadarm (1980s). That begs this question: Can the system that produced these innovations be so fundamentally flawed, that it needs to be reinvented?

One benefit of paying smart people to invent and develop technologies they think will be useful, as opposed to business managers requesting help with their research and NRC staff having to choose among these requests, is simplicity. Another benefit of pure research, obviously, is that scientists bent on furthering knowledge have often reached breakthroughs that only later proved to have commercial applications. I’m thinking of Crick and Watson and their discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. There are other examples too numerous to mention.
But there’s a greater risk in this for the Conservatives: That is, that their habit of recasting every possible area of government along absolutely utilitarian lines, as they see them, is getting old. Whether it’s foreign aid, aboriginal affairs, the environment or science, the Conservative response is the same: Jobs, jobs, jobs. Is it a matter of time until questions of justice, too, will be cast in purely economic terms? Murder is terrible. Think of the impact on GDP.
The Harper Conservatives have made a virtue of being hard-focused on the economy. They’ve been so good at it for so long that the opposition parties have adopted much of their focus. They should remember, though, that universal adoption of any value set is two-edged: It comes to be viewed as a given. Canadians will soon be asking, if they’re not already: “We know you’re focused on the economy. So is everyone else. What else you got?”
Right, wrong or indifferent, the Conservatives increasingly need an answer. The pending cabinet shuffle, presumably, is where it will be found."

Science Is in Deep Trouble: "Today Conservative incompetence met Conservative narrow-mindedness.
The re-launch of the National Research Council hosted by the M
inister for State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear shows science is in deep trouble in this country. By choosing to shift towards industry-driven applied research at the expense of scientist-driven basic research, the Conservatives continue to undermine scientific progress - and these policies will adversely impact all of us, including the very industry they purport to be servicing.
It is now clear the Minister of State has lost control of this file and his flailing mismanagement threatens to impede the growth of Canada's knowledge economy. Not only has laying off scores of top NRC researchers severely damaged morale within the organization, NRC production peer-review and patent production has severely dropped since Conservative tinkering began. Not only does the government have an alarming track record of muzzling its own scientists and stifling dissent, by shutting the door on basic scientific research at the NRC that truly leads to scientific breakthroughs, the Conservatives' short-sighted approach will in fact hurt Canada's longer-term economic growth.
At the re-launch press conference, the Minister of State unveiled what the Prime Minister's Office deems "the most significant transformation to the NRC in 100 years" - a shift away from discovery science and towards what industry deems as commercially viable. Before today, the National Research Council was still Canada's most venerable scientific research institution.
However the Minister of State seems to forget that the NRC's greatest resource is not buildings or equipment, but its people. The advancement of science is the NRC's raison d'être and the scientists who make up the NRC its beating heart. But to look inside the NRC now is to see an organization with a devastated morale: internal polling documents show only 2% strongly agree that the leaders of the NRC are making the right decisions for the success of the organization. In contrast, 43% strongly disagreed.
It's not difficult to see where that dissatisfaction comes from.
First, the Conservatives have a penchant for secrecy, and the shadowy NRC redirection into what Minister Goodyear has in the past called a "1-800... concierge service" has left not just parliamentarians and the press in the dark, but the scientists themselves. Meanwhile, all around them, colleagues receive pink slips and labs shut down.
Throughout this process, the Conservatives continue to refuse to table any plan, mission statement, goals, objectives, or metrics by which to measure success or failure. This has taken place internally as well. In the midst of this major transformation no one thought to ask the NRC scientists themselves where they envisioned the future of their organization.
Second, the Conservatives simply dislike those who conduct basic research. Today Minister Goodyear and the NRC President described those who would be heroes in other countries as only "following their own interests," and being too "introverted" and "insular." Aside from being an insult to the hearth of scientific innovation and the people who dedicate their lives to furthering the frontiers of knowledge, it also brazenly displays an ignorance of how revolutionary, ground-breaking advancements are actually made - through fundamental research.
Inevitably, these secret changes, layoffs, and attacks have resulted in lower production from NRC scientists. Since the Conservatives took office, NRC publications have plummeted from 1,991 in 2006 to just 436 in 2012. In the same time, NRC patents have dropped from 53 in 2006 to a mere 3 in 2012. The message this sends to talented early career researchers considering working for the NRC? Apply your skills elsewhere.
Since becoming Official Opposition Critic for Science & Technology, I've heard from and met hundreds of scientists across Canada concerned about the direction this government has taken in regards to scientific freedoms, including the muzzling of scientists, and the gutting of basic research capacity in Canada. I have yet to hear one scientist in this country voice their support for the government's approach. Angus Reid polling suggests 68% of Canadians trust scientists most to decide how public money dedicated to scientific research should be spent. In contrast, only 8% trusted politicians to do the right thing for science. Scientists serve no partisan agenda and their sole cause the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge for all of us - but under this government, being an independent voice that speaks to the evidence, and not to ideology, makes you a threat.
The dissonant policies betray this Conservative government's lack of understanding about how scientific advancements actually take place. The undermining of scientific freedoms, systematic defunding of basic research capacity and environmental research, and dismantling of the NRC constitute attacks on the foundations of science in Canada. It is disappointing that despite sustained outcry from the scientific community, the Conservatives still fail to grasp the adverse, concrete impacts of their decisions on innovation and growth. Despite this, and recognizing the stakes, we must all continue our push to put our country back on the right track.
The NDP stands up for science and researchers in Canada. Unlike the Conservatives, we realize that in order for Canada to be home for groundbreaking revolutions in science, scientific researchers must be able to depend upon stable long-term funding. At our recent NDP policy convention we passed a motion to consult widely with scientists, researchers, businesses, postsecondary institutions, and provincial, territorial, and First Nations leaders to develop a Made in Canada National Science Strategy and that we would move to increase the percentage of GDP invested by the public and private sectors in research and development (GERD) to make Canada more competitive with other global leading countries such as the United States.
That is the kind of commitment to science Canadians want and it is the type of commitment we need if we are going to grow our knowledge economy."

Canada to Convert NRC Into 'Toolbox' for Industry: "After 2 years of flogging the need to transform Canada's National Research Council (NRC) into a toolbox for industry, the Conservative government announced today that the 97-year-old agency is "open for business" under its new philosophy.
"If Canada is going to continue to compete internationally, we must do it through new ideas, new products, and opening new markets. In other words, through innovation," Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear told a press conference in Ottawa. "The NRC will now focus on the identified research needs of Canadian businesses. It will be customer pull."
NRC has for decades been the government's primary in-house performer of research in perceived areas of national need, including radio astronomy and agriculture. Its successes include the pacemaker, canola, the crash position indicator to locate downed airplanes, and the Canadarm, which deploys payloads for the space shuttles and the International Space Station.
Those innovations were the fruits of curiosity-driven research. But under the new policies, NRC scientists will tackle questions raised by individual businesses, while more basic research will be shuffled off to other departments or abandoned altogether.
It's not clear what that change will ultimately mean for the roughly 4000 employees at about 50 facilities across the country with an overall budget of $900 million per year. Goodyear indicated that NRC's existing divisions, which he called "institutional fiefdoms," will be restructured around specific economic sectors. An agency press release notes that there are now 12 "industry-themed entry points" such as "automotive and surface transportation," "security and disruptive technologies," and "human health therapeutics." However, the list also includes one umbrella category called "national science infrastructure."
Opposition leaders wasted no time in condemning the new approach. "Conservative incompetence meets Conservative narrow-mindedness," said New Democrat science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart in a statement. "They don't want research driven by researchers themselves or public funding for science going towards actual scientific advancement. Their short-sided approach will in fact hurt economic growth in the long run because it shuts the door on the long-view fundamental research that truly leads to scientific breakthroughs."
As early as March 2012, Goodyear had deplored NRC as a "loose federation of institutes." He said then that the government expected John McDougall, a petroleum engineer appointed NRC president in 2010, to reshape it into an industry-driven organization. Toward that end, the government provided $67 million in its fiscal 2012 to 2013 blueprint to affect the transformation. Last month's federal budget contained $121 million over 2 years for NRC to "help the growth of innovative businesses in Canada."
Goodyear told today's press conference that the government was implementing the recommendations of an expert panel, led by OpenText chair Tom Jenkins, which had been asked to review federal support of research. Its report envisioned the revamped NRC as "a constellation of large-scale, sectoral collaborative R&D centres involving business, the university sector and the provinces." It said NRC's public policy-related research should be shifted "to the appropriate federal agencies."
McDougall told the press conference that NRC is eager to focus on industrial needs. "Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value," he said. "We are committed to being a strong partner for innovation, and … we will measure our success by the success of our clients.""

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Nuclear plants to shave $7.2 bn off Turkish energy imports

Nuclear plants to shave $7.2 bn off Turkish energy imports:
Turkey's future nuclear plants, expected to be in operation in 2019 and 2023 respectively, will help the country cut 7.2 billion dollars off its energy imports.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Belgium's BR2 isotope reactor steps up to the plate

Belgium's BR2 isotope reactor steps up to the plate: note that NRU is also down for scheduled maintenance until May 15: "Belgium's BR2 reactor is to run an additional production cycle to guarantee supplies of vital medical isotopes while the Netherlands' HFR reactor remains out of action due to unforeseen problems.
The extra cycle runs from 25 April to 15 May, said BR2 operator SCK-CEN. This will produce mainly molybdenum-99, which is used in hospitals to produce the technetium-99m used in 80% of medical examinations using radioisotopes. It will also produce various isotopes used in cancer treatments during the period, guaranteeing supplies to hospitals in Belgium and other countries in cooperation with radiopharmaceutical company Covidien.
Eight reactors around the world are the main producers of medical isotopes, but the short-lived nature of the materials themselves means that a constant supply is vital. HFR, at Petten in the Netherlands, normally supplies some 60% of Europe's molybdenum-99 but this was shut down for scheduled maintenance in November 2012 and has been kept off line after of an anomaly was discovered in its water cooling system. Operator NRG currently does not anticipate restarting the reactor before the second half of May.
Most of the world's main molybdenum-99 production reactors have been operating since the 1960s or, in the case of the Chalk River NRU, the 1950s. Australia's Opal, which started up in 2006, is a notable exception. The implications for security of supply of unexpected or extended outages was illustrated in 2010: at the same time as Canada's NRU research reactor was off-line for urgent repairs, it became clear that HFR was also in need of major maintenance. The unavailability of two of the world's major isotope production reactors at the same time led to a worldwide shortage of the vital isotopes and the postponement of many thousands of medical procedures. "

Muzzling Science: How Tories Control The Message

Muzzling Science: How Tories Control The Message: "The Harper government’s iron grip on communications has been acutely felt in federal agencies and departments that engage in scientific research, resulting in a dramatic drop in press releases, the muzzling of scientists, and, in one department at least, a process that flags “negative” interview requests from news media, often leaving them unanswered or denied, internal documents show.
Since the Tories formed government in 2006, the clampdown and centralization of communications by the Privy Council Office (PCO) – the bureaucratic arm that serves the Prime Minister’s Office – has been well documented, from directives to use the term “Harper Government” on official Government of Canada communications to tightly stage-managed press conferences.
But documents obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal just how politically charged government communications have become at the departmental level, especially when it involves federal scientists.
A survey of 290 media requests for interviews with scientists at the National Research Council (NRC) between June 28, 2010, and Sept. 19, 2012, found that communications staff rank each request according to the expected tone of the article, using designators of “positive,” “informational,” or “negative.” (The NRC is a Canadian government agency that conducts scientific research and development, and partners with industry to bring new technologies to market).
Of the total requests for interviews, 10 were deemed negative. Of these, only two led to an interview. The rest were either denied or the reporter was given only an email response.
Even those reporters who actually get an interview may end up talking to a scientist who has been well-coached on government messaging, insiders say.
John Stone, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who ran the NRC’s climate research program until 2005, said his colleagues’ freedom to speak has been sharply curtailed in recent years.
“We were encouraged to talk with the media [in the past], and we were quite proud to do that. And now there seems to be an era where that’s possibly discouraged,” said Stone, now a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“Their responses, if they’re allowed to respond, are carefully scripted,” he said, “particularly in the area of climate change, but generally in the areas where that science would seem to, in the views of the government, not be helpful for some of their policy agendas.”
The communications clampdown regularly stymies reporters like Tom Spears, the Ottawa Citizen’s science reporter. A March 1, 2012, request from Spears for an interview with someone at the NRC was held up for more than six hours, blowing his deadline. The story dealt with research by scientists in Canada and at NASA into snowfall patterns in southern Ontario. The NASA interview requests were granted within 15 minutes, according to a column Spears wrote after the incident.
Spears ran the story without NRC response. He then submitted an access to information request to find out what happened to his media request. What he got back was a 50-page package of documents full of emails bounced between 11 NRC employees.
“The federal department never agreed to an interview. It sent an email instead, with technical details on equipment but without much information on the nature of the project,” Spears said in a column about the experience.
“It never even explained the study’s topic. Before sending even that modest response, however, it took a small army of staffers – 11 of them by our count – to decide how to answer, and dozens of emails back and forth to circulate the Citizen’s request, discuss its motivation, develop their response, and ‘massage’ its text.”
NRC spokesperson Émilie Archambault rejected suggestions that the department has clamped down on communications.
“Our scientists regularly converse with the media: in fact, they do so almost every day,” she said an e-mail. “We record some 200 media requests each year.
“At this time, researchers and scientists employed by National Research Council Canada are required to report the interview requests they receive; this requirement has not changed in recent years.”
John McDougall, president of the NRC, denied claims of censorship and noted there’s been more media coverage of his agency in recent years.
“To my knowledge we really haven’t been muzzling scientists,” he said. “There’s been a high level of engagement, there’s been lots of interaction. Our media coverage during our last few years has actually roughly tripled I think, so I would argue that it’s not really an issue here.”
But McDougall concedes the NRC has been circumspect about its own strategic direction, which is undergoing a major transformation under his leadership.
Since 2011, he has shifted the department’s focus away from basic research toward science that will attract industry partners, generate revenue and spur economic development. The change was first detailed in a staff memo revealed by the journal Nature.
McDougall, who took the reigns of the department in 2010, oversees 4,000 permanent staff, about 1,400 visiting workers and a budget of $900 million. His memo said much of the NRC’s research budget would be centralized and focused on economic development. (He later clarified that the Council does not want to duplicate the research efforts of universities).
When a reporter asked for an interview about the new direction back in 2011, the request was denied and few details have emerged since.
“It’s undergoing a major restructuring, and mostly in secret. There’s no plan to look at, there’s no consultation happening with employees at the NRC,” said NDP science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart.
McDougall and the NRC only recently began granting interviews about the new strategic direction, including to The Huffington Post.
He confirmed the agency wants to target research at Canadian problems that matter to “clients” not just individual researchers. Clients can include business, a government department, a regulator or a non-profit — “someone who is actually going to put it to use,” he said.
“When you’re working through a change process, you’re really focused internally,” he said, explaining why the NRC hasn’t been more open about the changes.
“It’s not something that you do in a public environment, if I could put it that way. You’re focused internally... . You end up leading to more speculation than to real understanding.”
Asked how the scientists under his employ have responded to the changes, McDougall said, “Scientists are like anybody else.
“When you try to make somebody accountable and accountability has been relatively loose, everybody will object. I mean I would love it if everybody just gave me my paycheque every year and just said have a good time and come back next year and I’ll give it to you again, right? I mean that’s a pretty nice way of living. The reality is, especially if I’m using the public’s money, I ought to be accountable to the fact that I’m giving the public value back.”
While the NRC says its media engagement is high, what cannot be denied is that the flow of press releases from the agency and other federal science departments has slowed considerably in recent years.
The change began in earnest in 2008, when a memo was sent out to federal government communications employees stipulating that all press releases were to be run through the PCO.
“This was extremely unusual,” said Carolyn Brown, who worked at the time as the manager of the scientific journals program at the NRC’s Research Press.
Before the directive, press releases were put out by government departments and cleared by the top communications staff, which was the highest level of approval needed, said Brown.
While the PCO directive applies to all government departments, the impact on science departments is particularly destructive, Brown said.
It makes sense for government departments dealing with matters of purely a policy nature to mull over news releases, she said, but “science is supposed to be objective and neutral and free of policy kind of considerations.”
An analysis of the number of press releases issued by federal science departments shows a dramatic drop in communications since the Tories formed government in 2006:
•Environment Canada put out 71 news releases in 2012, compared with 110 in 2005, a decrease of more than 35 per cent.
 •The Department of Fisheries and Oceans put out 128 news releases in 2012, compared with 243 in 2005, a decrease of 47 per cent
 •The National Research Council put out 14 news releases in 2012, versus 33 in 2005, a decrease of 58 per cent
 •Natural Resources Canada put out 154 news releases in 2012, compared with 176 in 2005, a decrease of 13 per cent
Everything has to be vetted through communications departments and the red tape is essentially keeping scientists out of newspapers, NDP science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart said.
“Especially if it’s in areas that perhaps clash with policy initiatives that the government’s undertaking,” he said.
“If the government doesn’t want to deal with climate change, they don’t want research on climate change. So what you’re finding, really, is the people who are getting hit the hardest are physicists and biologists especially. If you want to run pipelines through streams, you don’t want people looking at ecosystems. So you just make sure that research is harder to do, and, if you do it, it’s impossible to talk about.”
A February 2013 report from Democracy Watch and the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria documented the many policies that muzzle scientists.
Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has launched an investigation stemming from the report and targeting seven federal departments and agencies, including Environment Canada and the National Research Council.
“We’ve seen examples ... where the approved (media) lines are actually being written for scientists without the scientists’ ever seeing them,” said Calvin Sandborn, a professor at University of Victoria who helped compile the findings.
The 128-page report documents specific instances when scientists weren’t allowed to grant interviews and found a pattern of muzzling when the scientific research or opinion runs counter to government policies on matters such as environmental protection, oil sands development and climate change.
At Environment Canada, for instance, public servants working in media relations must consult with the minister's office on journalists’ requests for interviews on any subject other than the weather, the report found. The PCO must vet media requests if the subject matter relates “to climate change, wildlife, water quality and supply” or to government processes “to protect species such as the polar bear and caribou,” the report notes.
“We became aware of the policies, and particularly the skewed policies on anything that seems to affect the major oil industry interests,” Sandborn said.
Among other examples of muzzling documented by Democracy Watch and others:
•Environment Canada scientist David Tarasick was prevented from talking to media about a research project he had worked on that had discovered the largest hole ever found in the ozone layer in 2011. When responding to a reporter who asked for an interview, Tarasick replied, “I’m available when Media Relations says I’m available.”
•Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller was forbidden from talking about a virus affecting salmon in B.C. Her research on the topic was published in the prestigious science journal Nature, but interview requests about the research were denied. When she testified about her findings in August 2011 at the Cohen Commission – a review of a decline in Fraser River salmon populations – she said she believed it would have been useful to talk to the media when her findings were published.
 •Ottawa has been accused of trying to get international status removed from Dr. Frederick Kibenge’s salmon health laboratory at University of Prince Edward Island after it revealed infectious salmon anemia in B.C., something that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency denies exists on the West Coast.
•Last year when federal scientists attended a polar ice conference in Montreal, they were assigned media minders before they could be interviewed by reporters.
It all adds up to what Sandborn calls an “absolutely indefensible policy” governing scientists.
“Government doesn’t want scientists talking to the public about science and about facts,” he said, “and everything is controlled to ensure that a certain political point of view is carried forward.”"

AECL must testify in U.S. lawsuit, Ontario Court of Appeal rules

AECL must testify in U.S. lawsuit, Ontario Court of Appeal rules: "The Ontario Court of Appeal has ruled that officials from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. can face questioning in a U.S. lawsuit involving the Crown corporation’s 2009 emergency shutdown of its Chalk River nuclear reactor.
In a decision released Monday, the Ontario appeal court overturned a lower-court decision last year that ruled AECL did not have to comply with a U.S. court order seeking documents and oral testimony from executives about its decision to shut down the Chalk River reactor in Ontario for 15 months in 2009 and 2010.
Chalk River produces medical isotopes that are sold to various commercial suppliers, and the closing of the reactor left companies in the lurch with no immediate replacement supplier.
The appeal court said AECL should be subject to questioning in the case, and cannot rely on legal rules that generally make the federal government – and, by extension, government-owned Crown corporations such as AECL – immune from legal action for its decisions."