Jon H. Jennekens (1978–1987)
Engaging the public and the battle to reclaim public trust
From 1978 until 1987, the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) was led by Jon Jennekens. During his time as president, Jennekens was faced with two of the world's most significant nuclear incidents in the history of the nuclear sector : Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Jon Jennekens was born in Toronto on October 21, 1932. He began his university career in Kingston, at the Royal Military College (RMC) in 1950, studying mechanical engineering. After graduating from RMC in 1954, Jennekens attended Queen's University and graduated with a degree in applied sciences in 1956.
Although Jennekens dedicated the majority of his career to the nuclear sector, he began as a commissioned officer for the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Association, serving with UN peacekeeping forces in South Korea. Jennekens' first posting within the nuclear sector was with the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories in January 1958.
Jennekens' career with the AECB began in 1962. Initially, he was an Assistant Scientific Advisor. Sixteen years later, Jennekens had worked his way up the ladder to become the President and Chief Executive Officer of the AECB. He would be one of the AECB's longest-reigning presidents.
As President of the AECB, Jennekens began and ended his presidency challenged with significant international nuclear accidents – events which dictated the tone of the AECB during this time. The incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl affected public perception of the nuclear industry, as worst-case scenarios were realized. In response to these events, the AECB shifted priorities, placing transparency and public outreach at the forefront.
In addition, themes presented in The China Syndrome, a film released just 12 days before the incident at Three Mile Island, presented additional challenges. In the film, operators of a nuclear power plant jeopardized the safety of the public in order to keep a nuclear plant operating. The China Syndrome depicted the nuclear sector in a manner which drew into question the trustworthiness of the nuclear industry and the competency of nuclear regulators.
When the accident occurred at Three Mile Island, a lack of information, and the inconsistency of the information, reminded people of themes presented within the film. Combined with the promotion of the film, the impact on the public was significant; 144,000 people evacuated their homes voluntarily within the span of one week. The number of participants involved in the voluntary evacuation was extreme. It demonstrated a growing fear within the general public.
Although the event occurred in the United States, the impact of the incident permeated throughout the global nuclear sector. As neighbours, Canadians were particularly conscious of this incident. In response, the AECB decided to re-evaluate strategies for public outreach, public communication and transparency. Under the guidance of President Jennekens, transparency and communication with the public took centre stage at the AECB. Revised public access policies, public consultation programs, the publicizing of regulatory agendas, issuing of policy statements for public comment and the appointment of an Access to Information and Privacy Coordinator, were among the list of initiatives undertaken to engage Canadians at that time.
The decisions that the AECB made to enhance public engagement changed the nature of the interactions between the Canadian public and the Canadian nuclear sector. Initiatives put forth during this time established a foundation which the AECB, now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), has continued to build upon. Consequently, in the face of the recent events at Fukushima, the CNSC has continued to persevere and provide Canadians with a safe, accountable and transparent nuclear sector.
Jon Jennekens faced some of the nuclear sector's most tumultuous times and navigated a route which helped establish the high standards for openness and accountability upheld by the CNSC today.
For additional information regarding Jon Jennekens' term as AECB president, or for a closer look at the CNSC's history, please refer to the 65th anniversary timeline.
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