Trudeau’s got to walk the talk on nuclear waste (Hill Times op-ed by Michael Harris)

The Hill Times
By MICHAEL HARRIS       APRIL 26, 2021

If the Trudeau government is doing more than virtue signalling in its most recent budget, if it is truly committed to making environmental issues top of agenda goals, there are two things that it should be leading on. 
Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured March 3, 2021, walking down Wellington Street in Ottawa to the Sir John A. Macdonald Building for that day’s press conference. The government should have condemned Japan’s nuclear dump into the Pacific Ocean—as both bad practice, and dangerous precedent, writes Michael Harris.

HALIFAX—Holding the Tokyo Olympics during a pandemic was always a bad idea.

Sending a national team to compete in Japan, which has just declared a third state of emergency for the Tokyo, Osaka region, is simply insanity.

With more than three million people dead worldwide, vaccine shortages, and several countries like India, Pakistan, and Brazil struggling with a third wave of this constantly mutating killer-virus, why would you?  In COVID Times, travelling and congregating are the new Russian Roulette.

With Earth Day fresh in everyone’s mind, there is another reason not to attend the Olympic Games in Japan. As I have recently reported in The Hill Times, after seven years of handwringing, Japan’s government has decided to dump radioactive waste water from the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. The toilet of last resort. The shit-show is set to begin in 2023, and go on for decades.

Three neighbours are glow-in-the-dark furious about Japan’s decision. Taiwan is livid. China called the announced nuclear dump into fishing grounds “unilateral” and “extremely irresponsible.” South Korea, a huge fish-consuming nation, said the move was “totally unacceptable.”

Don’t be surprised if these countries take counter-measures, including reconsidering their attendance at the Olympics. (North Korea has already opted out because of COVID).

There is another group profoundly impacted by this crime against the planet.

Japanese fishermen devastated by the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster at Fukushima, remain adamantly opposed to their government’s plan. They have struggled for eight years to rebuild their fishery.

That appears to have been the death march of futility. The market for Fukushima fish will be about as brisk as the demand for Chernobyl potatoes, or vacation packages to Montserrat, after the volcano erupted on the Caribbean Island.

What country that is truly committed to rescuing the environment from damage inflicted by humans, hopefully before Earth morphs into Mars, could attend an athletic contest hosted by a government that is deliberately poisoning the ocean with nuclear waste?

And not just a little radioactive water—a million tonnes worth. The now contaminated water was once used to cool the Daiichi nuclear facility at Fukushima. That was before an earthquake and 15-metre tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the installation. This caused hydrogen explosions, widespread contamination of land in and around the reactor site, and a huge public evacuation.

Now that contaminated water sits in a thousand storage tanks on the wrecked site. Every day, 170 tonnes of freshly contaminated ground water flowing into the installation is added to this dread inventory of nuclear sewage.

The Japanese government argues that it is not just dumping nuclear waste into the Pacific, but treated radioactive waste. It will only be somewhat contaminated.

And even though it won’t be able to remove any of the tritium in the treated toxic stew from Fukushima, tritium is the least harmful of all the radioactive elements. That’s because it’s only a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen, you see, trivial really. And besides it will be diluted, and it will meet global standards of practice, blah, blah, blah.

And who will be in charge of this operation? The Tokyo Electric Power Company, the same company that built and operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and is now in charge of the 40-year recovery plan for this catastrophic property.

Feel comforted? Who will ever know if they “treat” and remove all the radioactive iodine and strontium 90 from the ocean-bound contaminated water? The fish I guess.

The International Atomic Energy Agency clearly doesn’t seem concerned. Rafael Grossi, the agency’s Director-General, tweeted this endorsement: “I welcome Japan’s announcement on how it will dispose of the treated water stored at Fukushima nuclear power plant. @IAEA will work with Japan before, during, and after the discharge of the water to help ensure this is carried out without an adverse impact on health and environment.”

A further statement from the IAEA reinforced the director general’s glad-handing.

“Today’s decision by the government of Japan is a milestone that will help pave the way for continued progress in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.”

The United States gave its own PR pat on the back to Japan’s mind-numbing decision, claiming that the approach being taken appeared to be in line with global standards, “without an adverse impact on human health and the environment.”

Not a thing to worry about. Whenever something truly awful happens involving the nuclear industry, or a terrible decision is made by government, the watch words of the day are “downplay,” “minimize,” and “deny.”

The plain fact is that energy produced from nuclear plants has a fundamental flaw that no one in the nuclear industry has been able to solve: there is still no safe, long-term way to dispose of the nuclear waste that these plants produce.

The U.S., for example, still doesn’t have a deep depository dump for all the radioactive waste from 70 years of being in the nuclear weapons business.

They tried for decades to sell Nevada on making Yucca Mountain the permanent storage site for America’s nuclear waste. They failed because no rational population wants a product that retains its chemical toxicity for millennia to be stored in their backyard.

That might have something to do with what happened at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2014. A drum containing radioactive plutonium and americium waste blew up deep in the mine.  Plumes of radioactive foam contaminated 35 per cent of the installation.

The radioactive waste had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Not the boys in shipping and receiving. The best in the business. And it still ended in catastrophe.

If the Trudeau government is doing more than virtue signalling in its most recent budget, if it is truly committed to making environmental issues top of agenda goals, there are two things that it should be leading on.

First, the government should have condemned Japan’s nuclear dump into the Pacific Ocean—as both bad practice, and dangerous precedent.

Second, before investing any more public money in the nuclear route to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including small modular reactors, they have to have a safe, long-term option for handling Canada’s growing heap of nuclear waste.

Having that contaminated waste stored at nuclear reactor sites in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick is merely an “interim” solution. Those sites are rapidly running out of space. Besides, the dry containers that hold the nuclear waste are designed to work for fifty years. The contamination persists for 250,000 years.

Japan wants the world to come to the Tokyo Olympics in the middle of a deadly pandemic, despite its dreadful decision to dump nuclear waste into the ocean, and a COVID emergency in that country. For both of these reasons, Canada should not attend.

Who wants to spread a plague to watch someone win a hundred-yard dash? And who wants a Radioactive Earth Day somewhere down the road?

Michael Harris is an award-winning author and journalist. 

Hendrickson: Council can do more to protect the Ottawa River from radioactive leaks (Ottawa Citizen)

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ plan for a radioactive waste landfill and a nuclear reactor disposal facility upstream from Ottawa must be rethought. Our local politicians should insist on it.Author of the article:Ole HendricksonPublishing date:Apr 13, 2021  •  

An aerial view of Chalk River laboratories on the shores of the Ottawa River.
An aerial view of Chalk River laboratories on the shores of the Ottawa River. SunMedia

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is planning a radioactive waste landfill and a nuclear reactor disposal facility near the Ottawa River, upstream from Ottawa and many other communities.

CNL claims these plans would be an improvement over the status quo. How credible is that claim? While a landfill might help in the short term, exposing wastes to extreme weather events is risky. In the longer term, CNL’s own reports suggest that our descendants could be living downstream from a leaking and disintegrating pile.

CNL says 10 per cent of the landfill’s radioactive waste would be imported. That would mean 100,000 tonnes of a total of one million tonnes: 50,000 tonnes from other contaminated federal nuclear sites in Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec; and another 50,000 tonnes of commercial wastes from across Canada.

Ottawa’s environmental protection committee recently heard from dozens of groups and individuals opposed to CNL’s plans. The committee passed a motion urging CNL to stop transferring radioactive waste from other provinces to the Chalk River federal site.

The remaining waste would be buildings and soil contaminated by nuclear operations at Chalk River since 1945, and waste containers already stored there. Once in the giant landfill, the containers would rust and disintegrate. The concentrated radioactive wastes in them would mingle with the soil and other materials. The result: a radioactive mess where it’s impossible to tell what’s what or to ever separate or extract the more toxic elements if things go wrong.

Meanwhile, the landfill would release large amounts of tritium which, when swallowed or breathed in, increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

One way it could go wrong, described in CNL’s own report, is called the bathtub scenario. The top cover of the landfill is breached, the base fills up with water from rain and snow, and the now-contaminated precipitation overflows downhill to the Ottawa River a kilometre away.

CNL claims the landfill’s liner is good for 550 years. Many are skeptical of this claim. But eventually it is certain to fail.

Even after hundreds of years, the landfill would contain radioactive forms of plutonium, radium, polonium, uranium, thorium, chlorine, iodine and more. These radioactive substances take thousands to billions of years to decay. The landfill would also hold dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, arsenic and lead.

Nearby, CNL plans to “entomb” the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor that was shut down in 1987. Instead of removing the reactor, it would fill it with cement and grout. Like the landfill idea, this would leave no option for removing wastes once they start to leak into groundwater and the Ottawa River.

Both the proposed landfill and the NPD reactor site are on fractured bedrock with high rates of groundwater movement into the river.

In my presentation to Ottawa‘s environment committee I outlined a better approach:

• Stop transferring wastes from other federal nuclear sites to Chalk River;

• Dismantle (do not entomb) the NPD reactor;

• Upgrade the existing Chalk River groundwater treatment facilities to fully capture plumes of pollution coming from areas where wastes (even reactor cores) were dumped in the past;

• Remove the wastes that are the sources of these plumes, analyze them, repackage them, record the results, and put the packages in above-ground storage units as an interim measure; and

• Find a site well away from the river with stable, solid rock for an underground repository that can isolate long-lived radioactive wastes from the biosphere.

Ottawa’s environment committee has recognized this potential threat to our drinking water by requesting a regional impact assessment of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley. This would fall under the federal minister of environment and the 2019 Impact Assessment Act.

Let’s hope city council agrees and claims a place at the table as decisions are made that will affect countless future generations of Ottawa residents.

Ole Hendrickson, PhD., is an environmental scientist living in Ottawa.

Reforms needed at Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ~ Hill Times letter to the editor

April 12, 2021

Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says it’s the “World’s best nuclear regulator” on its website. That “self-image” of the CNSC’s is inconsistent with statements made in recent years by international peer reviewers, high-ranking Canadian officials, international nuclear proponents and others.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reviewed Canada’s nuclear safety framework. It identified numerous serious deficiencies including: not following IAEA guidance on nuclear reactor decommissioning, failure to justify practices involving radiation sources, inadequate management systems for transporting nuclear materials and allowing pregnant nuclear workers four times higher radiation exposures than IAEA would permit.

In testimony before the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in November 2016, Canada’s Environment Commissioner said:

“the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission… was quite difficult to work with… I would say that the commission was aggressive with the auditors.”

In April 2017, the Expert Panel on reform of environmental assessment, in its final report noted that it had heard many concerns about lack of independence at the CNSC:

“There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities (CNSC and NEB) promote the projects they are tasked with regulating…The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities.”

Counter to Expert Panel recommendations, the CNSC is the agency responsible for making environmental assessment and licensing decisions for three controversial radioactive waste disposal projects on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers. 

The nuclear industry publication, Nuclear Energy Insider, recently touted Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” as a reason for SMR developers to come to Canada to experiment with and promote “small”, “modular”, nuclear reactors.

Globe and Mail article in November 2018, revealed that CNSC officials had engaged in backroom lobbying to exempt small modular nuclear reactors from environmental assessment. 

A June 2020 briefing session for MPs and media,“Sham regulation of radioactive waste in Canada,” by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and other NGOs, outlined several ways in which the CNSC was creating “pseudo regulations” to benefit the nuclear industry and allow cheap and ineffective nuclear waste facilities to receive approval and licensing.

A recent petition to the Auditor General from our respective public interest citizens’ groups and Quebec colleagues, entitled “Nuclear governance problems in Canada,” noted that the CNSC has a mandate to protect health but lacks a health department.  A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it.

We believe the CNSC is in need of serious reform if Canadians want it to become a world-class nuclear regulator that prioritizes the health of Canadians and the environment over the health of the nuclear industry. The Government of Canada should address regulatory capture and other serious problems at the CNSC as soon as possible.

Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Anne Lindsey, OM, MA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba


The images below are screen shots from the CNSC website, on April 13, 2021, illustrating that the word “health” does not appear on the organizational chart, despite the fact that CNSC’s primary legal mandate is to protect the health of Canadians from the adverse effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.

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 “responsible authority” under the old Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and would hold a licensing hearing at an undetermined date in the future. 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 nuclear waste disposal. 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.

Who will fix Canada’s nuclear governance gaps?: citizens’ groups (Hill Times)

The following letter to the editor was published in the Hill Times, March 3, 2021

Our respective public interest citizens’ groups from Manitoba and Ontario along with colleagues in Quebec submitted Petition 427 to the federal auditor general in June 2019 to flag serious problems in Canada’s nuclear governance regime and recommend solutions. The concerns raised in our petition are shared by many other groups from across Canada.

Our research into nuclear governance was sparked by a desire to understand why and how substandard radioactive waste projects have come to be planned for sites on the Winnipeg and Ottawa Rivers. OECD documents allowed for comparisons between Canada and other OECD countries on many aspects of nuclear governance.

Canada came up short on many metrics. For example, Canada has:

  • Weak and outdated primary legislation with purposes that do not explicitly aim to protect the public from the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation;
  • No legislation dealing with the vast majority (by volume) of nuclear reactor wastes in Canada;
  • Delegated almost all nuclear oversight to one agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, resulting in a lack of checks and balances found in other OECD countries;
  • A serious and ongoing perception of regulatory capture of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, reported by the Expert Panel on environmental assessment reform. The CNSC promotes the projects it is tasked with regulating;
  • A serious conflict of interest in the reporting relationship of CNSC to the minister of natural resources, who has a mandate to promote nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act;
  • Delegated to a nuclear industry group, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), the job of developing strategies for radioactive waste, counter to guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
  • A serious policy vacuum on radioactive waste and nuclear reactor decommissioning, currently being addressed but with problems that include leadership by the minister of natural resources who has a conflict of interest as noted above, and delegation to the NWMO, counter to IAEA guidance.

Why does it matter that Canada has one of the least robust systems of nuclear governance in the world? The nuclear business comes with risks of catastrophic accidents and produces dangerous and potentially deadly wastes. There is no safe level of exposure to the radioactive substances produced in nuclear reactors. These materials remain hazardous for many millennia. Robust nuclear governance is needed to protect humans, other life forms, and the environment from these risks.

We believe that Canada’s weak nuclear governance regime is a root cause of the substandard proposals to build a giant radioactive waste mound upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau and to entomb highly radioactive nuclear reactors in concrete beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers.

In our view, Canada’s weak nuclear governance regime also makes federal funding for new nuclear reactors risky and liable to compound serious existing nuclear waste problems and liabilities in this country.

Remedies are offered for many of these problems in Petition 427, but to our knowledge, no one in government is considering them. A letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 11 months ago, on April 3, 2020, requesting urgent attention to these matters and others raised by a recent IAEA peer review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework has gone unanswered. It appears that no one is minding the shop.

It’s a vexing conundrum: in a country with a weak nuclear governance regime consisting of a “one-stop shop,” “captured regulator” that reports to a minister responsible for promoting nuclear energy, who will take responsibility for fixing Canada’s nuclear governance gaps?

Anne Lindsey, OM, MA
Winnipeg, Man., Concerned Citizens of Manitoba

Lynn Jones, MHSc
Ottawa, Ont., Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

How would the “Near Surface” Disposal Facility leak? Let us count some of the ways

 REVISED and UPDATED, February 23, 2021

by Dr. Ole Hendrickson, PhD

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) – run by a consortium of profit-making multinational  companies – is proposing to build a“Near Surface Disposal Facility” for a  million cubic meters of radioactive waste at its Chalk River facility along the Ottawa  River. CNL’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) describes several ways that contents  of the proposed “engineered containment mound” of radioactive waste could leak into the Ottawa River. 

During operation… 

1. Wastes being added to the mound would be exposed to the elements. 

Rain and melting snow would leach radioactive contents down through the mound. Different  radioactive elements would leach at different rates depending on how strongly they were  bound to the wastes. Radioactively contaminated leachate would be collected in a system of  pipes and pumped uphill to a water treatment plant. Some but not all radioactive contaminants  would be removed prior to releasing the treated leachate into adjacent wetlands (for part of the year) or directly into Perch Lake, which drains into the Ottawa River via Perch Creek. Table 3.4.2-2 on page 3-58 of the final EIS shows levels of different radionuclides in leachate that would be discharged from the water treatment plant. 

2. Tritium as radioactive water would leach in very large amounts from the  mound.

Tritium – a radioactive form of hydrogen with a half-life of 12.3 years – is readily taken up by living organisms and incorporated in body tissues. When tritium decays it emits  “beta radiation” damaging to DNA and other cell constituents. Tritium is part of the water  molecule and cannot be removed by water treatment. The EIS estimates that the tritium in a liter of leachate would emit 140 thousand beta particles per second.  After passing through Perch Lake and Perch Creek, water containing roughly 7 thousand beta particles per liter per second (the current Ontario drinking water standard) would be released into the Ottawa  River, be incorporated in fish and other aquatic life, and enter downstream drinking water supplies. Large amounts of tritium would also be released from the mound and Perch Lake as water vapour. 

3. Other toxic substances such as PCBs leaching from the mound would be only partially removed by water treatment.

Table 3.4.2-3  on pages 3-59 and 3-6 of the EIS indicate that leachate from the mound would include a very wide range of  non-radioactive toxic compounds such as arsenic, mercury, lead, chloroform, ethylene dibromide, PCBs  and dioxin. Measurable amounts would be released to the environment. 

4. Heavy storm events could erode the mound’s surface and wash toxic  substances into low areas.

The EIS proposes an elaborate system of contact water ponds, non-contact water ponds, surface water management ponds, drainage ditches, and culverts.  Highly contaminated water washing off active dumping areas would flow into a contact pond and be pumped to the water treatment plant. Water washing off “inactive” areas (but contaminated by dust from active dumping areas) would flow into non-contact water ponds, be pumped to a perimeter ditch and three storm-water management ponds.  These ponds would discharge to adjacent wetlands that are already contaminated by existing nearby leaking radioactive waste areas.

5. The capacity of storm-water ponds would be exceeded during extreme  rainfall events or snowmelts.

The EIS (page 3-76) says that “when the probable maximum precipitation flow will exceed the surface water management ponds attenuation capacity,” adjacent emergency outlet structures “will be able to convey this flow.”

6. Clearing 34 hectares of mature forest and discharging waste water would  impact wetlands.

The existing forest recharges adjacent wetlands. Loss of the forest’s infiltration  and recharge capacity would tend to dry out these wetlands and expose their radioactive contents  (such as tritium, strontium-90 and carbon-14) to erosion. The EIS notes (page 5-278) that waste water discharge to adjacent wetlands and Perch Lake “may cause changes to water levels, flows, and channel and bank stability, and scouring of the wetland, affecting water quality at downstream locations.”

7. Other possible ways the facility might leak during operations

(not described  in detail in the EIS) include pump failures during extreme storm events with loss of electrical power,  improper installation of the base liners, puncture of the base liners by heavy or sharp materials, melting  of liners by radioactively hot materials, and blockage of the leachate collection system. 

After closure… 

1. Wastes in the mound would be re-exposed to the elements when the top  cover fails.

After waste dumping ended the leachate collection system and water treatment plant  would be shut down, and a top cover placed over the wastes. The EIS acknowledges that the top cover would inevitably fail with “normal evolution” through forces such as erosion, extreme storms,  burrowing animals, root penetration, etc.  It proposes the “conversion of a largely undisturbed, mature forested area to a permanently fenced, turf-grass habitat that is highly modified (i.e., mown, fertilized and maintained as tree-free to avoid the disruption of roots to the cover structure)” (p, 5-509).

2. Failure of the top cover while the more protected base liners remain intact  would initiate a “bathtub scenario”.

Rain and melting snow would again leach the  radioactive wastes, but the leachate collection and pumping system would no longer be operational.  Contaminated leachate would be trapped by the bottom liner and accumulate in the space between the  mound and the surrounding berm. Leachate levels would rise and spill over along the low point of the  berm.  A different scenario involves failure of the bottom liner, releasing leachate into groundwater.

3. Radioactive wastes would flow directly into Perch Creek and the Ottawa  River less than 1 kilometer away, essentially forever.

Long-lived radioactive elements  such as plutonium and uranium, exposed to wind and water erosion, would flow into the river for  thousands to millions of years. Table 5.2.3-8 on page 5-155 of the draft EIS estimated that, under the bathtub scenario, plutonium (Pu)  isotopes (Pu-239 and Pu-240) would exit the dump at 21.4 million and 32.4 million Becquerels per year.  Eventual failure of the bottom liners would also allow radionuclides to move through groundwater,. These details were removed from the final EIS, but it is clear that the Ottawa River would be permanently contaminated by radioactive waste, and countless  generations of people drinking its water would be exposed to increased cancer risks.

How Do I Know if I Have a Leaky Gut? | The Wholesome Heart

What would go into the Chalk River Mound? (Ottawa River radioactive waste dump)

December 2020

Canadian taxpayers are paying a consortium (Canadian National Energy Alliance) contracted by the federal government in 2015, billions of dollars to reduce Canada’s $16 billion nuclear liabilities quickly and cheaply. The consortium is proposing to construct a giant mound for one million tons of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau. The proposed dumpsite is partially surrounded by wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River less than one kilometre away. 

There is considerable secrecy about what would go into the mound; the information that follows has been  derived from the proponent’s final environmental impact statement (EIS) (December 2020) which lists a partial inventory of radionuclides that would go into the gigantic five-to-seven story radioactive mound (aka the “NSDF”). The EIS and supporting documents also contain inventories of non-radioactive hazardous materials that would go into the dump.

Here is what the consortium says it is planning to put into the Chalk River mound (according to the final EIS and supporting documents)

1)  Long-lived radioactive materials

Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in Table 3.3.1-2: NSDF Reference Inventory and Licensed Inventory are long-lived, with half-lives ranging from four centuries to more than four billion years.

To take just one example, the man-made radionuclide, Neptunium-237, has a half-life of 2 million years such that, after 2 million years have elapsed, half of this radioactive substance will be present, together with its radioactive decay products such as Uranium-233. At the time of closure of the mound, the neptunium-237 will be giving off 17 million radioactive disintegrations each second, second after second.

The mound would contain up to 80 tonnes of Uranium and 6.6 tonnes of thorium-232.

2) Four isotopes of plutonium, one of the most deadly radioactive materials known, if inhaled or ingested.

John Gofman MD, PhD, a Manhattan Project scientist and former director of biomedical research at the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, stated that even one-millionth of a gram of plutonium inhaled into the lung, will cause lung cancer within 20 years. Sir Brian Flowers, author of the UK Royal Commission Report on Nuclear Energy and the Environment, wrote that a few thousands of a gram, inhaled into the lungs, will cause death within a few years because of massive fibrosis of the lungs, and that a few millionths of a gram will cause lung cancer with almost 100% certainty.

The four isotopes of plutonium listed in the NSDF reference inventory are Plutonium-239, Plutonium-240, Plutonium-241 and Plutonium-242. According to Table 3.3.1-2 NSDF Reference Inventory and Licensed Inventory from the EIS, The two isotopes 239 and 240 combined will have an activity of 51 billion Bq when they are emplaced in the dump. This means that they will be giving off 51 billion radioactive disintegrations each second, second after second. These plutonium isotopes could constitute a significant hazard to workers during emplacement of plutonium wastes and plutonium contaminated debris in the mound.

3) Fissionable materials 

Fissionable materials can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The mound would contain “special fissionable materials” listed in this table extracted from an EIS supporting document, Waste Acceptance Criteria, Version 4, (November 2020)

4) Large quantities of Cobalt-60 

The CNL inventory includes a very large quantity of cobalt-60 (91 quadrillion Becquerels), contained in waste cobalt-60 irradiating devices. Cobalt-60 when concentrated in irradiators gives off so much strong gamma radiation that lead shielding must be used by workers who handle them in order to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency considers high-activity cobalt-60 irradiators to be “intermediate-level waste” and specifies that they must be stored underground. Addition of high-activity cobalt-60 irradiators means that hundreds of tons of lead shielding would be disposed of in the mound.

5) Very Large quantities of tritium

The mound would contain 890 trillion becquerels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. Tritium readily combines with oxygen to form radioactive water. It moves readily through the environment and easily enters all cells of the human body where it can cause damage to cell structures including genetic material such as DNA and RNA. For more on the hazards of tritium see the Tritium Primer on the TAP website:

Because it is part of the water molecule, removal of tritium from water is very difficult and expensive. There are no plans to remove tritium from the mound leachate. Instead the consortium plans to pipe the contaminated water directly into Perch Lake which drains into the Ottawa River.

6) Carbon-14

The mound would contain close to two trillion becquerels of Carbon-14, an internal emitter that is hazardous in similar ways to tritium. Carbon is a key element in all organic molecules. When it is inhaled or ingested it can become incorporated into organic molecules and cellular components including genetic material.

7) Many other man-made radionuclides 

Radionuclides such as caesium-137, strontium-90, radium, technetium, nickel-59, americium-243 are listed in the partial inventory of materials that would go into the dump. See the partial inventory here:

8) Non-radioactive hazardous materials

Hazardous materials destined for the dump include asbestos, PCBs, dioxins, mercury, up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and hundreds of tonnes of lead. (Reference)

9) Large quantities of valuable metals that could attract scavengers

According the the final EIS, the mound would contain 33 tonnes of aluminum, 3,520 tonnes of copper, and 10,000 tonnes of iron. It is well known that scavenging of materials  occurs after closure of facilities such as the Chalk River mound. Scavengers would be exposed to high radiation doses as they sought to extract these valuable materials from the dump.

10) Organic Materials

80,339 tonnes of wood and other organic material are destined for the mound. These materials would decompose and cause slumping in the mound, therefore potentially compromising the integrity of the cap.


Most of the radioactive and hazardous material would get into the air and water, some sooner, some later.

Some would get into ground and surface water during creation of the mound, such as tritium which is very mobile and cannot be removed by the proposed water treatment plant. Others would get into the air, during construction and could be breathed by workers. Some materials would leach slowly into groundwater. Still others would be released when the mounds deteriorates over time and eventually disintegrates several hundreds of years into the future. For details on the expected disintegration of the mound in a process described as “normal evolution” see this post:


The mound would actually get more radioactive over time

See the submission entitled “A Heap of Trouble” by Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility for a chilling description of this process. Here is a quote from the submission:

The Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) project is presented not as a temporary, interim
storage facility but as a permanent repository that will ultimately be abandoned. We are
dealing with a potentially infinite time horizon. The proponent seeks approval not just for a
few decades, but forever. Such permission has never before been granted for post-fission
radioactive wastes in Canada, nor should it be granted. Long-lived radioactive waste
should not be abandoned, especially not on the surface beside a major body of water.

The facility will remain a significant hazard for in excess of 100,000 years.

This point was raised by Dr. J.R. Walker, a retired AECL radioactive waste expert in his submission on the draft environmental impact statement. You can read his full submission here:

“There is no safe level of exposure to any man-made radioactive material.

“There is no safe level of exposure to any man-made radioactive material. All discharges, no matter how small,  into our air and water can cause cancer and many other diseases as well as genetic damage and birth defects.”

~ Dr. Eric Notebaert, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

This dump would not not meet international safety standards for radioactive waste management. Details

LETTRE OUVERTE au premier ministre Justin Trudeau et au Conseil des ministres fédéral ~ ARRÊTEZ le dépotoir radioactif de Chalk River

Le 25 janvier 2021

Monsieur le Premier Ministre et mesdames et messieurs les Membres du Conseil des Ministres,

La rivière des Outaouais est une rivière du patrimoine canadien qui coule au pied de la Colline du Parlement. Sa valeur comme site naturel et comme trésor historique est inestimable. La rivière est sacrée pour le peuple algonquin, dont elle définit le territoire traditionnel.

La rivière des Outaouais est menacée par un dépotoir géant, d’une hauteur de sept étages, conçu pour abriter un million de tonnes de déchets radioactifs. Un consortium multinational (SNC-Lavalin, Fluor et Jacobs) prévoit construire ce monticule sur les terrains des Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens (LNC) près de Chalk River, en Ontario, à 150 km au nord-ouest d’Ottawa.

Les scientifiques indépendants et le public n’ont pas eu d’occasion de s’exprimer officiellement sur le projet depuis août 2017, alors que des centaines de commentaires critiques ont été soumis à la Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN). La CCSN est l’« autorité responsable» en vertu de l’ancienne Loi canadienne sur l’évaluation environnementale et prévoit tenir une audience sur l’émission d’un permis cette année. Un Comité d’experts recommandait en 2017 que la CCSN ne soit pas chargée de l’évaluation environnementale des projets nucléaires. Le Comité avait aussi noté que la CCSN était largement perçue comme un « régulateur captif » des entreprises plutôt qu’un organisme indépendant.

L’Assemblée des Premières nations et plus de 140 municipalités du Québec et de l’Ontario ont adopté des résolutions s’opposant au dépotoir nucléaire de Chalk River.

Voici six raisons d’ARRÊTER ce projet:

1. Le site proposé est tout simplement inapte à recevoir un dépotoir, de quelque type qu’il soit. Le site est à moins d’un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais, qui forme la frontière entre l’Ontario et le Québec. La rivière fournit l’eau potable à des millions de Canadiens. Après avoir passé les LNC, elle coule entre Ottawa et Gatineau, au pied de la colline du Parlement, puis jusqu’à Montréal. Le site est exposé aux risques de tornades et de tremblements de terre; la rivière des Outaouais constitue d’ailleurs une ligne de faille géologique majeure. Le site est partiellement entouré de milieux humides et le substrat rocheux est poreux et fracturé.

2. Le monticule prévu contiendrait des centaines de matériaux radioactifs, des douzaines de produits chimiques dangereux et des tonnes de métaux lourds. Parmi les matériaux radioactifs destinés au monticule, on trouve du tritium, du carbone 14, du strontium 90, quatre types de plutonium (un des matériaux radioactifs les plus dangereux lorsqu’inhalé ou ingéré), et jusqu’à 80 tonnes d’uranium. Vingt-cinq des 30 radionucléides cités dans l’inventaire de radionucléides pour le monticule ont une longue durée de vie. Ces renseignements donnent à penser que le dépotoir demeurerait dangereusement radioactif pour quelque 100 000 ans.

La très grande quantité de cobalt 60 dans le dépotoir émettrait tellement de radiation gamma que les travailleurs devraient utiliser un blindage en plomb pour éviter une exposition dangereuse. L’Agence internationale de l’énergie atomique (AIEA) considère le cobalt 60 à haute activité comme un « déchet de moyenne activité », qui doit être stocké en profondeur.

Le dépotoir recevrait aussi des dioxines, des BPC, de l’amiante, du mercure, jusqu’à 13 tonnes d’arsenic et des centaines de tonnes de plomb. Il contiendrait aussi des milliers de tonnes de cuivre, de fer et 33 tonnes d’aluminium, des métaux qui pourront amener des voleurs à creuser dans le monticule après la fermeture du site.

3. Le monticule laisserait s’écouler des matériaux radioactifs et dangereux dans la rivière des Outaouais durant son opération et après sa fermeture. L’énoncé des incidences environnementales décrit plusieurs des façons dont le monticule pourrait laisser fuir son contenu. On prévoit que le monticule se désintégrera avec le temps, un processus qualifié d’« évolution normale ».

4. Il n’existe pas de niveau sécuritaire d’exposition aux radiations qui s’écouleraient du monticule de Chalk River dans la rivière des Outaouais. Chacun des matériaux radioactifs qui s’échapperait du site augmenterait les risques de malformations congénitales, d’altérations génétiques, de cancer et d’autres maladies chroniques. L’AIEA considère que les déchets radioactifs doivent être soigneusement stockés à l’écart de la biosphère et non dans un monticule en surface.

5. Les normes internationales de sécurité n’autorisent pas l’utilisation de dépotoirs pour disposer des déchets radioactifs. L’AIEA considère que seuls des déchets de très faible activité peuvent être placés dans une installation en surface, comme un dépotoir. Le Canada se déroberait à ses obligations internationales comme État membre de l’AIEA et signataire d’un traité international sur les déchets nucléaires s’il autorisait ce dépotoir à obtenir sa licence.

6. Le monticule géant de Chalk River ne réduirait pas la responsabilité légale du Canada face aux déchets nucléaires, qui s’élève déjà à 8 milliards de dollars. Il pourrait au contraire l’alourdir. La remise en état de cette colline de déchets radioactifs serait très difficile. Les coûts d’assainissement pourraient dépasser ceux de la gestion des déchets s’ils n’avaient pas été mis dans le monticule.

Monsieur le Premier Ministre et mesdames et messieurs les Membres du Conseil des Ministres: Retirez à la CCSN le pouvoir de décision en cette matière et arrêtez le dépotoir nucléaire de Chalk River. Protégez la rivière des Outaouais pour les générations actuelles et futures de Canadiens.

Veuillez recevoir l’expression de nos sentiments les plus sincères,

Gordon Edwards, Regroupement pour la surveillance du nucléaire, Montréal, QC

Éric Notebaert, Association canadienne des médecins pour l’environnement, Montréal, QC

Réal Lalande, Action Climat Outaouais, Gatineau, QC

Paul Johannis, L’Alliance pour les espaces verts de la capitale du Canada, Ottawa, ON

Lynn Jones, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Ottawa, ON

Johanna Echlin, Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, Sheenboro, QC

Robb Barnes, Écologie Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

Beatrice Olivastri, Les ami(e)s de la terre Canada, Ottawa, ON

Ole Hendrickson, Ottawa River Institute, Ottawa, ON

Eva Schacherl, Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River, Ottawa, ON

Hon. Erin O’Toole, Chef de l’opposition

Yves-François Blanchet, chef du Bloc québécois

Jagmeet Singh, Chef du Nouveau Parti démocratique

Annamie Paul, Chef du Parti vert du Canada