For immediate release
Chalk River consortium gets 10-year licence
Nuclear regulator confirms its reputation as a rubber stamp organization
Decision paves the way for a giant radioactive dump at Chalk River, a new generation of subsidized reactors and growing stocks of toxic long-lived radioactive waste that Canadian taxpayers will be on the hook for
(Ottawa/Montreal, 4 April 2018) In a clear attempt to avoid public scrutiny, just before the Easter weekend the CNSC gave a consortium of multinational corporations based in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, an unprecedented 10-year license to run the Chalk River Laboratories. The licence gives the consortium free rein to advance its nuclear business at the federally-owned facility, located on the Ottawa River 200 km upstream from the nation’s capital, using billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
The new license sets the stage for SNC Lavalin and its consortium partners to build and test a new generation of small nuclear reactors at Chalk River, and to create a giant radioactive dump on the surface that would leach radioactive waste into the Ottawa River, a primary source of drinking water for the residents of Ottawa, Gatineau, Laval, Montreal and other populations downstream.
Canada’s Auditor General has noted that SNC Lavalin and other members of the consortium operating Chalk River received at least $866 million in federal money for contractual expenses in the 2016–2017 fiscal year alone. The federal allocation for fiscal year 2017-2018 was also close to a billion dollars.
In 2013 SNC Lavalin was banned from bidding on any international engineering projects funded by the World Bank for 10 years, because of fraudulent practices. That same year, CH2M, another consortium member, was convicted of criminal fraud-related charges in the USA. SNC Lavalin also faces criminal charges for multimillion dollar bribes in connection with the building of the Montreal Superhospital.
The questionable past activities of some of these corporations, the unprecedented licence duration, the elimination of vitally important licence conditions, the billions of dollars in federal subsidies, and the inevitable exposure of millions of Canadians to radioactive pollutants were among the concerns raised by First Nations, citizens’ groups and independent experts at a three-day January 2018 public hearing.
Citizens’ groups charge that the CNSC completely disregarded thorough and well-documented concerns and recommendations on the licence proposal presented by dozens of intervenors, including former Chalk River scientists, at the January hearings. This confirms critics’ views that Canada is in urgent need of a credible, responsible nuclear authority that puts protection of health and the environment ahead of the convenience of the nuclear industry. CNSC shows all the signs and symptoms of a “captured regulator”.
The Chalk River licence, signed by CNSC President Michael Binder on the 39th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, eliminates numerous safety compliance criteria that were previously included in the licence to govern operations at the Chalk River facility. The previous 17-month Chalk River licence had 2020 words and was accompanied by a 257-page “Handbook”, with licence compliance criteria “written in mandatory language”. The new licence has 590 words and its Handbook is only 61 pages long. Prepared by CNSC staff, the new Handbook replaces most of the previous explicit compliance criteria with references to standards that have been prepared by the nuclear industry.
“There is an urgent need for responsible, credible, public interest-driven management of Canada’s nuclear industry and its ever-growing waste problem,” says Dr. Ole Hendrickson of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. “In particular, there is a policy vacuum at the federal level when it comes to the long-term management of highly toxic post-fission radioactive wastes, other than nuclear fuel wastes.”
The Government of Canada carries an eight billion dollar liability on its balance sheet for the waste generated by past operations at Chalk River and other federal nuclear sites. The Trudeau government, far from showing leadership in addressing this waste problem, recently launched a campaign to champion a new generation of nuclear reactors. It plans to promote nuclear power as “clean” and “NICE” (Nuclear Innovation – Clean Energy) at a May 22-23 Clean Energy Ministerial meeting in Scandinavia, without public consultation or parliamentary debate.
Incredibly, the licence indicates that no financial guarantee is required from the multinational consortium for possible damages arising from its operations. It states that the federal government, as ultimate owner of the Chalk River Laboratories and its assets, is responsible for any resulting liabilities.
“The cozy relationship between the nuclear industry, the CNSC, and the political class has been hidden from the public for too long,” says Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR). The CCNR and other citizens’ groups are calling for reform of nuclear governance, including (1) widespread public hearings to establish guiding principles for long-term nuclear waste management; (2) suspension of existing plans to abandon nuclear wastes beside major water bodies; (3) removal of the CNSC from playing a decisional role in environmental assessments, and (4) a thorough review of Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
In the 17-year history of the CNSC, the Commissioners have never once refused to grant a licence requested by the nuclear industry.
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Dr. Gordon Edwards, 514-489-5118
Dr. Ole Hendrickson, 613-234-0578,
Hearing transcripts and interventions: http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/hearings/documents_browse/results.cfm?dt=2018-01-24
Record of Decision: