Six reasons to STOP the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

March 22, 2021

The Ottawa River is a Canadian Heritage River that flows past Parliament Hill. It has untold value as a beautiful natural and historical treasure. The river is sacred for the Algonquin People whose traditional territory it defines.

The Ottawa River is threatened by a giant landfill for one million tonnes of radioactive and other hazardous waste. A multinational consortium (SNC-Lavalin, Fluor and Jacobs) plans to build the seven-story mound on the grounds of the Chalk River Laboratories, northwest of Ottawa, directly across the Ottawa River from the province of Quebec.

Independent scientists and the public have not had a formal opportunity to comment on this project since August 2017 when hundreds of critical comments were submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. CNSC is the sole decision maker about wether or not to license the dump. An Expert Panel  recommended in 2017 that the CNSC not be in charge of environmental assessment for nuclear projects. The panel also noted that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a captured regulator.

The Assembly of First Nations and more than 140 Quebec and Ontario municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the Ottawa River nuclear waste dump.

Here are six reasons to STOP this project:

1. The proposed site is unsuitable for a dump of any kind. The site is less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec. The river is a drinking water source for millions of Canadians. After passing the Chalk River Laboratories, it flows downstream through Ottawa-Gatineau, past Parliament Hill, and on to Montreal. The site is tornado and earthquake prone; the Ottawa River itself is a major fault line. The site is partly surrounded by wetlands and the underlying bedrock is porous and fractured.

2. The mound would contain hundreds of radioactive materials, dozens of hazardous chemicals and tonnes of heavy metals. Radioactive materials destined for the dump include tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium (one of the most dangerous radioactive materials if inhaled or ingested), and up to 80 tonnes of uranium. Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in the reference inventory for the mound are long-lived. This suggests the dump would remain dangerously radioactive for 100,000 years. 

A very large quantity of cobalt-60 in the dump would give off so much intense gamma radiation that workers must use lead shielding to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be stored underground.

Dioxin, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and hundreds of tonnes of lead would go into the dump. It would also contain thousands of tonnes of copper and iron and 33 tonnes of aluminum, tempting scavengers to dig into the mound after closure.

3. The mound would leak radioactive and hazardous contaminants into the Ottawa River during operation and after closure. Many ways the mound would leak are described in the environmental impact statement. The mound is expected to eventually disintegrate in a process referred to as “normal evolution.”

4. There is no safe level of exposure to the radiation that would leak into the Ottawa River from the Chalk River mound. All of the escaping radioactive materials would increase risks of birth defects, genetic damage, cancer and other chronic diseases. The International Atomic Energy Agency says radioactive wastes must be carefully stored out of the biosphere, not in an above-ground mound.

5. International safety standards do not allow landfills to be used for disposal of “low level” radioactive waste. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that only Very Low Level Radioactive Waste (VLLW) can be put in an above-ground landfill-type facility. Canada would be shirking its international obligations as a member state of the IAEA and a signatory to an international nuclear waste treaty if it allowed this dump to be licensed.

6. The giant Chalk River mound would not reduce Canada’s $8 billion federal radioactive waste liabilities and could in fact increase themThe giant pile of leaking radioactive waste would be difficult to remediate. Remediation costs could exceed those of managing the wastes had they not been put in the mound.

11 thoughts on “Six reasons to STOP the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

  1. I am against the dump, the technology is there so we have clean energy just need a wise person to run it and know how, and right now it doesn’t seem we are paying the right people.


  2. Can I get a letter of support for us in Northwestern Ontario against NWMO Igance location. I am one of the Walkers against Nuclear Waste and really desperately need help to get them Out of Our Waterways. We need letters from other Sites as well.
    Racism has hit IgnaceTownship hard with discrimination against Indigenous Rights and Water Protection.


  3. Many, many thanks for this (and for your forty years, and counting, of work in the face of the most daunting odds!) My Ontario house is just south of Renfrew County in Ompah, also in Algonquin territory and the Ottawa River watershed. I’m living mostly in NL now, and we’ve just learned of the threat of a nuclear waste dump in Labrador! Our Council of Canadians Avalon chapter received this from Ann Pohl, and will follow up in some way. Stay safe and well!


  4. The sad truth is that there is nowhere on this earth that should be sacrificed for the holding of radio active waste. It is sharply more frightening if it is near settlements and near our much needed water however. Many of us support an end to nuclear energy , period, and a move to less dirty sources which are also becoming less costly in monetary terms. With you.


  5. Do you know all the waste is already there? It has been sitting above the ground for years. What has been taken down is now in sea cans not designed to withstand the elements, and what has not is in buildings, surrounded by contaminated land which cannot be remediated until the building is taken down. By blocking the “waste dump” you end up ensuring that it does leach into the river, because it is uncontained. You also prevent further clean up of the site due to the lack of anywhere safe to put the contaminated material. Request a tour of the site, go see it all for yourselves.


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