Two nuclear waste dumps threaten the Ottawa River

A multinational consortium wants to build two nuclear waste dumps alongside the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau, one at Chalk River, Ontario and the other at Rolphton, Ontario. Both dumps disregard international safety guidelines and would leak radioactive materials into the Ottawa River, endangering drinking water for millions of Canadians living downstream.

Background:

In 1944 Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) were established to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Starting in 1952 the Labs were operated by “Atomic Energy of Canada Limited” (AECL).  Besides producing plutonium, the labs established a prototype nuclear power reactor (NPD) upstream of Chalk River at Rolphton, and extracted “medical isotopes” from irradiated fuel. These activities and two serious accidents created large quantities of dangerous radioactive wastes. Cleanup costs are estimated at $8 billion.

The Harper government radically restructured AECL in 2015, creating a subsidiary called Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and contracting a multinational consortium including SNC Lavalin, to operate the subsidiary and reduce the federal government’s nuclear cleanup liabilities quickly and cheaply. All four consortium members face or have faced criminal charges for fraud and corruption*. Annual costs to taxpayers tripled shortly after restructuring.

In 2016, CNL proposed to construct a giant, above-ground mound of radioactive waste (NSDF) at Chalk River and to entomb in concrete the NPD reactor at Rolphton. Both proposals disregard International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and would permanently contaminate the Ottawa River with radioactive materials such as plutonium, caesium, strontium and tritium, some of which will be remain hazardous for over 100,000 years.  CNL is also moving to bring thousands of shipments of radioactive waste (including highly toxic used fuel rods) to Chalk River from other federal sites in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.


Independent experts, retired AECL scientists, Citizens’ groups, NGOs, 140 Quebec municipalities and several First Nations have been sounding alarm bells about the projects via written comments, resolutions, press conferences, and protests including a boat flotilla on the Ottawa River in August 2017 and a Red Canoe March for Nuclear Safety through the streets of downtown Ottawa in January of 2018.


In April 2018, CNL was granted a 10-year license despite widespread concern over license changes that would make it easier for the consortium to get its nuclear waste projects approved. Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), granted the new license.  The CNSC is also in charge of environmental assessment (EA) and licensing for nuclear waste projects. The CNSC is perceived to be a “captured” regulator that promotes projects it is charged with regulating, according to Canada’s Expert Panel on EA reform. The CNSC’s mishandling of EAs for the consortium’s nuclear waste projects is described in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada.

* The consortium, known as Canadian National Energy Alliance, includes: SNC-Lavalin,debarred by the World Bank for 10 years and facing charges in Canada of fraud, bribery and corruption; CH2M agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle federal criminal charges at a nuclear cleanup site in the U.S.; Fluor paid $4 million to resolve allegations of  financial fraud related to nuclear waste cleanup work at a U.S. site; Rolls-Royce PLC,  parent company of consortium member Rolls-Royce Civil Nuclear Canada Ltd., recently agreed to pay more than CAN$1 billion in fines for bribery and corruptionin the U.K., U.S. and Brazil. **NB** since this post was first published, membership in the consortium has changed. Rolls Royce is no longer listed as a consortium member on the CNEA website and Texas based Jacobs Engineering has recently acquired CH2M.

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