Open Letter ~ Cleanup of Chalk River radioactive wastes

April 29, 2022

Dear Mayors, Reeves and Councillors of Renfrew County and the City of Pembroke,

Elected officials in the Ottawa Valley have been lobbied to support the “NSDF,” the giant Chalk River nuclear waste landfill for one million tonnes of radioactive and hazardous waste. The final licensing hearing for the facility begins on May 30, 2022.

Chalk River Laboratories has been the second largest employer in Renfrew County for many years. It is understandable that elected officials wish to support Chalk River Laboratories and keep the funding and jobs going. However, supporting the NSDF could be a serious mistake for Renfrew County. Consider the following:

  • The radioactive waste at Chalk River, described in a 2011 Ottawa Citizen article “Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy,” needs to be cleaned up. It represents the lion’s share of a federal nuclear waste liability that is by far the largest environmental liability on the books of the Government of Canada. If done properly, to international standards and according to plans developed by AECL in 2014, the cleanup would cost roughly $16 billion and take several decades.
  • In an effort to speed things up and cut costs, a multinational consortium was contracted in 2015 under a public-private partnership and given ownership of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).  The consortium, “Canadian National Energy Alliance,” is comprised of SNC Lavalin and two Texas-based multinationals, Fluor and Jacobs. Their contract says they will quickly and cheaply reduce the federal nuclear liabilities.
  • CNL has proposed the NSDF as the way to clean up the Chalk River Laboratories site and reduce the federal nuclear liabilities. The estimated cost for the NSDF is $750 million. CNL is proposing to put materials in the NSDF that should never be put in a landfill such as plutonium
  • CNL is importing commercial and federal nuclear wastes to Chalk River for disposal in the NSDF. These shipments are happening despite a specific request from the City of Ottawa for cessation of radioactive waste imports into the Ottawa Valley.
  • Critics of the NSDF proposal, including retired senior scientists and managers from AECL, say the facility is poorly sited and fails to meet  international safety standards. CNL’s own studies show that the NSDF would leak and disintegrate long before radioactive components like plutonium decayed to a harmless state. The Assembly of First Nations and more than 140 municipalities, including Pontiac County, Ottawa, Gatineau and Montreal have passed resolutions of concern about the proposed project.
  • If the NSDF is approved, we will get one substandard leaking facility for $750 million, instead of $16 billion spent over many decades. If approved, the leaking radioactive mound will pollute the Ottawa River, adversely affect property values, and pose health risks to current and future generations in the Ottawa Valley.

This does not seem to be fair treatment for Ottawa Valley residents who have lived with radioactive pollution from Chalk River Laboratories for close to eight decades. Surely we deserve world class facilities that we can be proud of and that will keep radioactive wastes out of our air and drinking water. In-ground concrete vaults and rock caverns on sites further from the Ottawa River would provide better waste containment and better protection for the river.

It should concern our elected representatives that costs to Canadian taxpayers have quadrupled since the public private partnership began in 2015. The consortium is being paid more than $1 billion annually up from the $327 million AECL received in 2015. A 2016 access to information request revealed that nine senior CNL executives were paid an average of $722,000 per person per year and twenty-eight senior contractors were paid an average of $377,275 per year per person. Almost all of these senior executives and senior contractors were non-Canadian.There has been no decrease in the federal nuclear waste liabilities since the consortium took over control of Chalk River Laboratories.

Donations from CNL to charitable causes in the Ottawa valley have been reported in the media recently. No doubt these are valuable donations to the recipients but they are tiny drops in the bucket of the more than $1 billion the consortium is receiving annually from Canadian taxpayers, much of it going to foreign shareholders, foreign senior executives and foreign contractors. We question whether it is appropriate for our tax dollars to be used by foreign corporations to garner support for the NSDF.

Saying “no” to the NSDF would not mean an end to nuclear industry jobs in the Ottawa Valley. The wastes are not going anywhere and need to be cleaned up. The nuclear waste liability is a multibillion dollar industry. Why not further develop our Canadian expertise and become world leaders in nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management?  A commitment to world class cleanup would bring more funding over a longer period, more jobs, protection of health and the Ottawa River, greater peace of mind and the respect of our international partners. 

Yours sincerely,

Lynn Jones, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Johanna Echlin, Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association

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