Canada setting a terrible example for nuclear decommissioning, citizens’ groups say

(Ottawa, October 4, 2017) Experts from around the world are meeting in Ottawa this week, October 3-5, to discuss decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear facilities.  Delegates to the meeting of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Working Party on Decommissioning and Dismantling, cohosted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) will exchange information about decommissioning policy, strategy and regulations.

Responding to promotional material for the upcoming meeting, Citizens’ groups were quick to point out that Canada is an excellent place to come to see examples of how not to do decommissioning.

Three badly-flawed decommissioning projects are currently on the table in Canada: the widely criticized proposal to construct a giant radioactive landfill at Chalk River, Ontario, and two proposals for “entombment” of old reactor facilities, one on the Winnipeg River and the other on the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario.  According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “entombment” is only supposed to be employed in exceptional circumstances such as after a severe accident. “Entombment” and above-ground landfilling of long-lived radioactive wastes are being promoted by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), a multinational consortium contracted by the previous Conservative government to cut costs for nuclear decommissioning in Canada.

Retired scientists and citizens have slammed CNL’s three proposals for being unsafe, irresponsible, and badly out of sync with international guidance and best practices.

“There is great irony in the hosting of this meeting by CNSC and NRCan, since there is a virtual absence in Canada of polices and strategies for wastes arising from decommissioning” according to Dr. Ole Hendrickson, researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. On September 21, 2017, Concerned Citizens along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association submitted a petition to the Auditor-General on gaps in policies and strategies for dealing with non-fuel, post-fission radioactive wastes, which are the main challenge in decommissioning nuclear facilities.

A letter sent to Prime Minister Trudeau last month by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, also called attention to Canada’s sloppy handling of non-fuel, post fission radioactive wastes. “The absence of any policies or strategies for dealing with these wastes, many of which will be hazardous for more than 100,000 years is a serious problem”, said Edwards. “This must be addressed as soon as possible in consultation with the Canadian public and aboriginal groups.” Edwards’ letter was co-signed by 35 leaders of organizations and First Nations in Canada.

Co-host of this week’s international meeting, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, is presently embattled in its dual role as regulator and environmental assessment (EA) authority for the aforementioned decommissioning proposals from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, all three of which have set alarm bells ringing and elicited serious criticism from retired scientists, citizens’ groups and First Nations.

A petition to the government of Canada, House of Commons e-petition 1220, asks the government to suspend the EA’s of the three decommissioning projects and strip the CNSC of its decision-making role in environmental assessment as recommended by the Expert Panel on EA reform in April of this year. The Expert Panel noted that the CNSC is not sufficiently independent of the industry it regulates to be responsible for EA decisions about nuclear projects. The e-petition has been signed by Canadians from ten provinces and two territories.

Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association notes that nuclear decommissioning is faltering badly in Canada at present. “The take-away message for international delegates to this meeting is clear”, said Echlin. “Do not do what Canada has done and hand control of decommissioning and radioactive waste to a multinational private sector consortium, in the absence of policies and strategies that ensure safety. This has been a disaster for us”.

A visit to Chalk River Laboratories, site of the giant proposed radioactive landfill, is on the agenda for the visiting international delegates. “I hope their eyes are wide open and they will not be fooled by this proposed quick, cheap and dirty fix to Canada’s non-fuel radioactive waste” said Echlin.  “Our international guests must know that an above ground landfill is only acceptable for very low-level radioactive waste and entirely inadequate for wastes that will endure for a hundred thousand years”, she added. “The proposed Chalk River mound would contaminate the Ottawa River and drinking water for millions of Canadians downstream for millennia. This is a terrible example to set for the world.”

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