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Nuclear plant workers fired over alleged drug use

A look inside the simulation training room at the Pickering nuclear plant.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Eleven employees at a nuclear power station in Ontario have been dismissed with cause for allegedly using drugs on the job.

Ontario Power Generation issued a statement Monday evening, saying it took prompt action to ensure that neither the safety nor security of the nuclear plant was compromised after allegations of the drug-related activity were made.

The employees were support staff with no role in operating or controlling the Pickering nuclear station, located on the shores of Lake Ontario east of Toronto. Nevertheless, in an industry where safety is a top priority, the revelations come as a blow for the province's Crown-owned electricity utility. Its six reactors at Pickering produce 3,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city of 1.5 million people.

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The utility disclosed the alleged drug use by the unidentified employees after opposition members accused the government of a cover-up.

Energy Minister Chris Bentley said Monday evening that he spoke to OPG chief executive officer Tom Mitchell, who assured him that the utility took immediate action and that it is co-operating with police.

"I want to assure Ontarians that the safety and security of Ontario's energy facilities is my top priority," Mr. Bentley said in a statement.

OPG spokesman Ted Gruetzner said the company conducted an internal investigation, co-ordinated with the police and dismissed the employees with cause on Nov. 18.

OPG was initially tightlipped about the circumstances surrounding their dismissal, saying only that they were accused of violating the company's code of business conduct.

Progressive Conservative energy critic Vic Fedeli called on the government during Question Period on Monday to "lift the shroud of secrecy" and urge OPG to reveal the nature of the violations.

"Certainly, any conduct that would result in dismissal at a nuclear facility is of grave concern to the public and they have a right to know," Mr. Fedeli said in the legislature.

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Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who was acting premier during Question Period, said it would be inappropriate to comment because of the potential for lawsuits.

His response did little to satisfy Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

"I think we need to make sure the public knows, to put faith in our nuclear system, what exactly happened…" he said. "Don't cover it up."

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