OTTAWA, February 22, 2022 – Citizens’ groups from Ontario and Quebec provided Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) President Rumina Velshi with a searing critique of CNSC’s case to approve a giant radioactive waste mound alongside the Ottawa River in advance of a February 22nd hearing.
If approved, the giant landfill would stand 60 feet high and hold one million tonnes of mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes. Some of the contents would remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, but the mound itself is only expected to last a few hundred years according to studies produced by the proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, owned by a consortium of multinational corporations. International safety standards prohibit disposing of long-lived radioactive wastes in landfills.
The citizens’ critique of key licensing documents found eleven critical flaws ranging from a failure to provide detailed information about what would go into the dump, as required under the Nuclear Safety and Control Regulations, to a failure to note serious deficiencies in the siting process for the facility.
“You couldn’t find a worse site for this dump if you tried,” said Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, one of the groups that co-authored the citizens’ critique. “The site is on the side of a hill, and is surrounded on three sides by wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River, a kilometre away. The water table is just inches under the surface at that location and the bedrock is highly fractured.”
The site of the proposed facility is also of concern to downstream communities who take their drinking water from the Ottawa River, including Ottawa, Gatineau and Montreal. The three cities are among the more than 140 municipalities that have passed resolutions of concern about the proposed dump. The Assembly of First Nations has also passed a resolution opposing the facility.
Ole Hendrickson, a scientist and researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area said there are a number of serious errors in the licensing documents including a 1000-fold overestimate of radioactivity in nearby uranium ore bodies. “That gross overestimate is used by the proponent and the regulator to make the case that the giant mound would be less radioactive than surrounding rocks after a few hundred years,” Hendrickson said. “In fact, high-radioactivity waste containers in the dump would exceed levels in surrounding rocks for thousands of years.”
The Quebec-based Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive contributed a number of findings to the critique. The group is very concerned about the presence of cobalt-60, which alone will provide 98% of the initial radioactivity in the dump, even though its radioactivity will decline rapidly thereafter. Used cobalt-60 sources require lead shielding because they emit intense gamma radiation that endangers workers.
Physicist Ginette Charbonneau, a spokeswoman for the Ralliement, says that only low-level cobalt-60 sources could be accepted in an above-ground mound and that the criteria for accepting such waste in the dump must be tightened.
“It is also out of the question that long-lived radioactive substances like plutonium be disposed of in a landfill,” Charbonneau said. “This is simply a senseless proposal, which is not in line with international standards at all,” she added.
The citizens’ groups say the case to approve the giant radioactive landfill, called the NSDF by the proponent, is so seriously flawed that CNSC Commissioners cannot make a sound licensing decision based on the contents of the documents. They have asked that the citizens’ critique be distributed to Commissioners at the hearing on Feb 22 and that all of the flaws, errors and omissions be fully addressed before the Commission is asked to make a decision on the license for the dump.
The licensing hearings for the giant radioactive waste dump will take place in two parts. Part 1 will take place February 22. Part 2 will start on May 31, but is expected to take several days as it will include presentations from Indigenous communities, municipal representatives, NGOs and members of the public. Requests to intervene in the hearings must be submitted in writing to the CNSC by April 11, 2022. See Notice of Public Hearing for details.
– 30 –