Citizens groups, First Nations and nuclear scientists decry plan to entomb a nuclear reactor beside the Ottawa River, endangering drinking water

(Ottawa, Ontario, March 20, 2018) Retired nuclear scientists, citizens’ groups and First Nations are shocked by plans to “entomb” a defunct nuclear reactor, by covering it with cement and grout, beside the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario. The site of the proposed “entombment” is upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal, and directly across from the Province of Quebec. The so-called “Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) Closure Project”, advanced by a multinational consortium, was roundly criticized during a recent public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement for the project.
“NPD will remain a radiological hazard for tens of thousands of years …It is absurd to conclude that cement grout, a reinforced concrete cap above the reactor vessel, and an engineered barrier…over the building footprint will protect the public for that period of time” according to a retired senior manager from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Dr. J. R. Walker, one of several retired nuclear scientists who submitted detailed briefs during the recent public comment period.
According to Dr. Ole Hendrickson, researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, “entombment” is only supposed to be used in emergencies according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  “If approved, this project would set a very bad precedent” Hendrickson said.
First Nations raising concerns about the NPD entombment project include the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, the Métis Nation and the Algonquins of Ontario. A review of the hydrogeology in the vicinity of the proposed site, done on contract for the Algonquin Anishinabeg First Nation Tribal Council, is highly critical of the field investigation of the surrounding fractured bedrock, calling it “rushed” and “woefully inadequate”.
“This is a crazy proposal,” according to Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association. “Proposing to abandon long-lived radioactive toxins 100 metres from a drinking water source for millions of Canadians is unbelievably irresponsible,” Echlin said. “It’s totally out of alignment with international guidance and the radioactive waste treaty that Canada signed in 1998.  These types of long-lived radioactive wastes are supposed to be kept in stable rock below the surface and away from water bodies”.
Federal agencies and the Ontario environment ministry submitted over 200 comments noting inconsistencies and missing information in the environmental impact statement. Additional concerns raised by public commenters are that the Ottawa River is a major fault line; lead, mercury, dioxins and PCBs may enter the river; the inventory of radioactive waste is deficient; and that entombing the defunct reactor will make it more costly and difficult for future generations to fix problems that may arise in the future.
The Environmental Assessment process will continue with internal discussion between the proponent and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), widely perceived to be a “captured regulator”.  A CNSC decision whether to approve and license the project is expected in December 2018.
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