First Nations and environmental groups call on International Atomic Energy Agency to investigate Canada’s radioactive waste management

Ottawa, April 23, 2018—Five First Nations and 39 Canadian environmental and citizen groups today are calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate radioactive waste abandonment plans in Canada. They charge that Canada is “grossly deficient” in failing to formulate stringent policies for managing radioactive waste other than irradiated nuclear fuel.


In a letter to the IAEA Director General, the groups say that Canada is failing to meet its commitments under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. Five First Nations chiefs are delivering this same message at UN Headquarters in New York.


“Canada has a policy vacuum when it comes to managing its most voluminous radioactive waste, which is not irradiated nuclear fuel,” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. “This waste contains long-lived radionuclides like plutonium, and Canada is irresponsibly planning to abandon them at insecure sites beside major water bodies – sites chosen for convenience rather than for long-term safety.”


The letter to the IAEA points out that Canada’s classification of nuclear waste allows highly dangerous radionuclides like plutonium to be classified as “low level” and not isolated from the biosphere for 240,000 years as is needful.


The letter also notes that three current proposals for abandoning the federal government’s radioactive wastes are “completely out of alignment with IAEA guidance.” The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is currently assessing proposals for:


  • An above-ground landfill at Chalk River, Ontario, beside the Ottawa River, for the permanent storage of 1 million cubic metres of radioactive waste  including significant amounts of long-lived alpha and beta/gamma emitters;
  • Entombment of the radioactive remains of the NPD nuclear power reactor 100 metres from the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario; and
  • Entombment of the radioactive remains of the Whiteshell-1 nuclear reactor beside the Winnipeg River in Manitoba.


The letter informs the IAEA that the CNSC has dismissed warnings from scientific experts, including ex-AECL staff, about the three proposals, and charges that the CNSC has given “incomplete and misleading information” to the Joint Convention.


The letter is signed, among others, by the Anishinabek Nation and four other First Nations, as well as the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Friends of the Earth Canada, Nature Québec, Sierra Club of Canada, Eau Secours!, Greenpeace Canada, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, le Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.


Today’s announcement in Ottawa, followed by a rally on Parliament Hill, coincides with a special event taking place at the 17th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City. This afternoon, Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation and four Chiefs of the Mohawk Nation attending the UN event will cite the letter to the IAEA and will ask the UN to determine whether Canada’s radioactive waste plans are in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which calls for “free, prior and informed consent” when toxic materials are stored on indigenous lands.


WEBCAST: “Radioactive Waste and Canada’s First Nations” will take place April 23 at 1:15 PM at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York and will be webcast live on the United Nations web site:


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Chalk River Nuclear Waste Dump:


NPD reactor entombment and other news:


Fact sheet on disregard of IAEA standards

Ten Things Canadians need to know about the Chalk River Radioactive Mega-dump

Ten MORE things Canadians should know about the Chalk River radioactive mega-dump

Nine quick facts about the NPD reactor “entombment”


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