Questions about Canada’s seventh report to the Joint Convention ~ letter to IAEA from CCRCA

From: Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

To: Rafael Mariano Grossi

Director General

International Atomic Energy Agency

Date: May 31, 2021

We thank the IAEA for organizing the September 2019 Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Mission to Canada.Recommendation R1 in the report of this Mission is that ““The Government should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in the Canadian Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework.”  

This is a still work in progress, as illustrated by Canada’s Seventh National Report to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.  As appropriate, we would be grateful if you could forward this note to participants in the 7th review meeting of the Joint Convention.

Article 32 of the Joint Convention says:

2. This report shall also include…  (iv) an inventory of radioactive waste that is subject to this Convention that: (a) is being held in storage at radioactive waste management and nuclear fuel cycle facilities; (b) has been disposed of; or (c) has resulted from past practices. This inventory shall contain a description of the material and other appropriate information available, such as volume or mass, activity and specific radionuclides;

Canada’s 7th report says that data are “not available” (N/A) for activity and specific radionuclides in the Government of Canada’s waste at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).  This is where most federal radioactive waste is stored and is Canada’s only facility for commercial radioactive waste storage. CRL is managed by “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories”, a private company owned by a consortium of multinational engineering firms under a 2015 contract with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

Canada’s 7th report omits considerable data shown in Table B-2 (appended below) of AECL’s 2014 Comprehensive Preliminary Decommissioning Plan, as well as additional data listed as “available” but not shown in Table B-2.  

Table B-2 provides activity values of 1040 TBq beta/gamma, 2.1 TBq alpha, 1070 TBq tritium, and ~ 75 TBq unspecified for a portion of the Chalk River wastes.  Data gaps in Table B-2 include CRL’s  oldest Waste Management Area, WMA A, and one of its newest, WMA H, where the Shielded Modular Above-Ground Storage (SMAGS) facilities are found.  Despite the data gaps in Table B-2, the activity and radionuclide data found therein should be included in Table D.8 of Canada’s 7th report.  

Table B-2 also lists additional activity data as being “AVAILABLE” for certain CRL waste areas, including the WMA B circular concrete bunkers, rectangular concrete bunkers, and tile holes; the WMA C extension unlined trenches; the potentially contaminated equipment, materials and drummed liquids in WMA D; and the reprocessing wastes in the Thorium Pit from operation of the 233U extraction facility.  

These data should also be reported pursuant to Article 32 of the Joint Convention.

There are major differences between the waste volume data for CRL in Canada’s 7th report and in Table B-2.  Table B-2 shows a total volume of all waste types of 235,165 m3, with an additional 380,000 m3 of contaminated soils and slags.  These are far higher values than those in Table D.8 of Canada’s 7th report.  It gives a total of only 154,858 m3 of all waste types, and only 156,276 m3 of contaminated soils, at CRL. 

Canada’s 7th report also shows major unexplained changes in the inventory of federal radioactive waste relative to Canada’s 6th national report, The absence of adequate explanations for these changes calls into question the 7th report’s credibility.

Comparing data from Table D.8 (p. 48) in Canada’s 7th report to data in the 6th report (Table D.3, p. 27) for CRL, the reported volume of intermediate-level waste (ILW) decreased by 95% – from 19,648 to 1,050 m3.  

A footnote to Table D.8 says:

“Prior estimates were based on a conservative assumption that all waste stored within a structure that could contain ILW would be categorized as ILW until better characterization data became available. Between 2016 and 2019, retrieval and processing operations were conducted on selected legacy wastes in storage, and records were verified to extrapolate the current volumes.” 

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the operator of CRL, is not listed as a contributor to Canada’s 7th report.  Canada’s 7th report should identify the body that did the “better characterization” of ILW, provide details on how it was done, and specify quantities of ILW that were reclassified as low-level waste (LLW).   More generally, clarification is needed as to how the Government of Canada’s ILW and LLW are differentiated. 

The disappearance of 18,598 m3 of ILW at CRL can only be partly accounted for by a 12,873 m3 increase in LLW (comparing Table D.8 in Canada’s 7th report to Table D.3 in the 6th report).  

This apparent reclassification of federal ILW as LLW has implications for a proposed landfill at CRL, listed in section 3.0 of the 7th report as a “current priority”:

a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) for the disposal of up to 1,000,000 m3 of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) at CRL. Pending regulatory approval, the proposed disposal facility will be constructed, and the forecasted date of operations is 2024. 

Although this proposed “NSDF” facility is termed a “near surface disposal facility” in the 7th report, the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this facility says (p. 1-5) that it “would resemble a conventional landfill for municipal or industrial refuse, with measures to cover the waste.”

According to SSR-5, Disposal of Radioactive Waste, such a landfill facility would be suitable only for disposal of very low level radioactive waste (VLLW) – waste with low concentrations or quantities of radioactive content.  Plans to put LLW – and possibly ILW reclassified as LLW – in such an above-ground, landfill-type mound are a matter of concern.  Again, clarity is needed on how Canada’s wastes are classified.

Note that Canada’s 7th report does not provide data for wastes considered to be VLLW.

The final EIS indicates that CNL intends to put 134,000 m3 of packaged wastes in this proposed disposal facility (Table 3.3.1-1, p. 3-24). The final EIS (p. 3-23) and the NSDF Project Waste Acceptance Criteria (pages 12 and 24) identify as packages intermodal containers (e.g., 20-foot ISO containers), steel waste boxes (e.g., B-25 boxes), drums (e.g., 205-L drums), shielded waste packages, and disused sources.

These packages could contain a variety of long-lived and high-activity radionuclides, possibly not well characterized, and very likely unsuitable for landfill disposal.  

An NSDF Project Reference Inventory Report notes that there are data gaps “compared to what would be required for disposal assessment” of packaged wastes to be put in the facility.  This report describes assumptions, methods, use of scaling factors, qualitative assessments, etc. used to estimate activities of specific radionuclides in the packaged wastes at CRL.  These estimates do not appear in Canada’s 7th report.

Another major change in Canada’s 7th report relative to the 6th report is the 59% decrease in the reported volume of LLW in the form of “Contaminated soils” at Chalk River – from 382,842 m3 in 2017 (Table D.3) to 156,276 m3 in 2020 (Table D.8).  

No explanation is given for this decrease of 226,566 m3 in the reported volume of contaminated soils. The description in Canada’s 7th report of the sources of these contaminated soils — “Luggers, 205 L-steel drums, B-25 containers in SMAGS, sand trenches and above-ground stockpiles” — is identical to that found in the 6th report.

Canada’s reduced inventory of contaminated soils also has implications for wastes to be put in the proposed landfill.  The April 2017 draft EIS for this facility gave a volume figure of 370,000 m3 for “Soil and Soil‐like Waste” (p. 3-8) – similar to the figures of 380,000 m3 of contaminated soils and slags in WMA F found in Table B-2, and 382,842 m3 in the 6th report.  The final EIS has no figure for contaminated soils to be put into the facility – only a combined figure of 866,000 m3 for all types of non-packaged wastes.  

An explanation for the change in contaminated soil volume at CRL between Canada’s 6th and 7th reports is needed. 

Table D.12 and section 8.1 of Canada’s 7th report indicate that CNL was actively decommissioning various facilities (e.g., the waste water evaporator building, NRX delay tanks, NRX fuel bay,  NRX ancillary buildings, plutonium recovery laboratory, plutonium tower) at Chalk River during the April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2020 reporting period.  However, whereas the 6th report had separate tables for wastes from “normal operations” (Table D.3) and wastes from “decommissioning activities” (Table D.5), the latter table was omitted from Canada’s 7th report. 

An explanation is needed as to why a table describing wastes arising from decommissioning activities has been removed from Canada’s 7th report.

Table D.8 (p.49) in Canada’s 7th report has a row labeled “Decommissioning waste” for CRL.  The dates given for this row are January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2016.  This would seem to indicate that data for decommissioning waste for Chalk River in the 7th report were not updated from the 6th report, which shows the same time period.  

However, the two reports have greatly different volumes – 332 m3 ILW and 16,894 m3 LLW in the 7th report; compared to 125 m3 ILW and 2,876 m3 LLW in the 6th report. 

This inconsistency should be addressed.

Of particular concern is the absence of data on activity and specific radionuclides for the Government of Canada’s decommissioning wastes.  GSR Part 6, Decommissioning of Facilities, states that 

During the preparation and updating of the final decommissioning plan, the extent and type of radioactive material at the facility (e.g. activated and contaminated structures and components) shall be determined by means of a detailed characterization survey and on the basis of records collected during the operational period. (p. 16)

Absence of data on activity and specific radionuclides for federal decommissioning wastes in Canada’s 7th report indicates that final decommissioning plans and detailed characterization surveys may not have been done prior to conduct of decommissioning activities.  This would be problematic given that 

With the implementation of the government-owned contractor-operated (GoCo) model at AECL sites, CNL continues to significantly accelerate decommissioning and remediation activities. (Canada’s 7th report, p. 2)

The data shown in Table D.8 in Canada’s 7th report for the Government of Canada’s Whiteshell Laboratories, currently undergoing accelerated decommissioning, differ substantially from those found in the 6th report.

The category of “Research reactor waste and decommissioned reactor waste” for the Whiteshell Laboratories, included in the 6th report, is missing from the 7th report.  Both LLW and ILW at Whiteshell are now labelled as “Decommissioning waste (January 1, 2005, to December 31, 2016).”  

As with the CRL decommissioning waste, this December 31, 2016 date may be an error.  A correction or further explanation is needed.  

Table D.5 in Canada’s 6th report gave volume and activity data for decommissioning wastes at Whiteshell (22 m3 and 148 TBq ILW, 1598 m3 and 6 TBq LLW); Table D.3 in the 6th report gave volume and activity data (863 m3 and 2,794 TBq ILW, 19,700 m3 and 325 TBq LLW) for Whiteshell operations wastes. 

Canada’s 7th report (Table D.8, p. 51) does not provide separate values for Whiteshell decommissioning and operations wastes – both are combined as “Decommissioning waste”.   Activity data for these wastes are now listed as “Not Available”.  

An explanation as to why data on the activity of the Whiteshell wastes were removed from Canada’s 7th report is needed.  As with the CRL decommissioning wastes, lack of activity data for the Whiteshell decommissioning wastes raises concerns that final decommissioning plans and characterization surveys may not have been done before decommissioning activities were carried out.

With regard to the volume of Whiteshell wastes, Table D.8 (p. 51) in Canada’s 7th report provides a figure of 240 m3 of ILW.  This represents only 27% of the 885 m3 of Whiteshell ILW in the 6th report (adding together the separately reported volumes of decommissioning and operations waste).  The 6th report had a footnote stating that “Volumes for ILW/LLW are based on method of storage and do not necessarily represent the actual breakdown of waste into ILW and LLW”.

Canada’s 6th report listed a total of 21,298 m3 of LLW at Whiteshell, including 19,700 m3 of “operations” LLW (in “above-ground concrete bunkers and trenches”) and 1,598 m3 of “decommissioning” LLW (in “above-ground concrete bunkers”).  In Canada’s 7th report, this total volume decreased by 21% to a value of 16,861 m3 of LLW in “above-ground concrete bunkers”.  

Canada’s 7th report gives no explanation for these considerable decreases in the ILW and LLW inventories at Whiteshell.  One possibility is that decommissioning wastes have already been shipped to Chalk River, even though Canada’s 7th report implies that this would not be done until approval was granted for the proposed CRL landfill:

“For the wastes that are currently on-site, CNL is planning to transport certain LLW and other suitable wastes from Whiteshell to CRL for disposal in the proposed NSDF” (p. 297).

The 7th report should explain the 73% decrease in ILW volume and the 21% decrease in LLW volume at the Whiteshell Laboratories. 

Accurate accounting of volumes and activities for the Whiteshell decommissioning wastes is of particular importance, given that the contract between AECL and the consortium of multinational engineering firms includes a special “target cost” agreement that provides bonuses for decommissioning Whiteshell as quickly as possible.  

With regard to Canada’s method of waste classification, the 6th report says:

A definitive numerical boundary between the various categories of radioactive waste – primarily between LLW and ILW – cannot be provided because activity limitations differ between individual radionuclides and radionuclide groups, and will be dependent on short- and long-term safety-management considerations. For example, a contact dose rate of two millisieverts per hour (mSv/h) has been used in some cases to distinguish between LLW and ILW.

A much different waste classification is found in the 7th report:

LLW contains material with radionuclide content above established clearance levels and exemption quantities, but generally has limited amounts of long-lived activity. For orientation purposes only, a limit of 400 Bq/g on average (and up to 4,000 Bq/g for individual waste packages) for long-lived alpha emitting radionuclides can be considered in the classification process. For long-lived beta and/or gamma emitting radionuclides, such as carbon-14, chlorine-36, nickel-63, zirconium-93, niobium-94, technetium-99 and iodine-129, the allowable average activity concentrations can be considerably higher (up to tens of kBq/g) and can be specific to the site and disposal facility. LLW requires isolation and containment for up to a few hundred years.

A similar classification of LLW is found in the NSDF Project Waste Acceptance Criteria (p. 36).  Both resemble the description of LLW in IAEA General Safety Guide GSG-1, Classification of Radioactive Waste. However, neither the new LLW classification in Canada’s 7th report, nor CNL’s LLW classification for its “NSDF”, would appear to identify wastes suitable for disposal in a landfill-type facility.  

As noted earlier, landfill-type facilities are suitable for disposal only Very Low Level Waste (VLLW) – typically, soil and rubble with low levels of radioactivity and very limited concentrations of longer lived radionuclides.  Past activities at CRL related to extraction of isotopes from irradiated fuels and targets (e.g., the plutonium recovery facility, the plutonium tower, the waste water evaporator, the nitrate plant, the thorium pit, the molybdenum-99 processing facility), have left a legacy of long-lived wastes that almost certainly will require management as ILW.

After AECL contracted a consortium of multinational engineering firms to operate the Government of Canada’s nuclear sites in 2015, Canada’s Parliament greatly increased annual appropriations to AECL for decommissioning and waste management. With this increased funding for accelerated decommissioning, and plans for three new disposal facilities for the Government of Canada’s wastes (the CRL landfill, and entombment of the NPD and WR-1 reactors), clear, transparent,  accurate and up-to-date data on federal radioactive wastes should be a high priority for Canada.

Although Canada’s 7th report claims (p. 189) that “Since the Sixth Review Meeting, significant progress has been made in developing and implementing long-term solutions for L&ILW at AECL sites which will address more than half of Canada’s inventory of these waste types,” this claim is not supported by evidence.  Although the Annex of the report describes CRL waste management areas A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, and J; the Liquid dispersal area; Acid, chemical and solvent pits; Waste tank farm; Ammonium nitrate decomposition plant; and Thorium nitrate pit; it does not indicate that “long-term solutions” have been developed for radioactive wastes in any of these areas.

In summary, Canada’s 7th report could be revised to 

  • include all available data on activity and specific radionuclides for the Government of Canada’s radioactive wastes stored at CRL and Whiteshell;
  • explain the changes  in data for ILW, LLW, and contaminated soils at CRL  and Whiteshell in the 7th report relative to the 6th report, including information on the “better characterization” of ILW;
  • explain why data for wastes arising from decommissioning activities at Chalk River and Whiteshell are shown as not having been updated since 2017;
  • clarify whether final decommissioning plans and detailed characterization surveys were completed prior to conduct of accelerated decommissioning activities at CRL and Whiteshell;
  • explain why the separate table of wastes arising from decommissioning activities found in the 6th report was removed from the 7th report; 
  • clarify that the proposed “NSDF” at CRL would resemble a municipal landfill; and
  • provide evidence that long-term solutions have been developed for remediation of the CRL waste management  areas.

Addressing these issues would add rigour and credibility to Canada’s 7th report. 

We hope this note can stimulate discussions during the Seventh Review Meeting

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best regards,

Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D. (ole@nrtco.net)

Researcher, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

cc:  cnsc.info.ccsn@canada.ca

Table B-2 Summary of Waste Management Areas at CRL and Estimates of Waste Volumes and Radioactivity Content 

Source: Chalk River Laboratories Comprehensive Preliminary Decommissioning Plan, CPDP-508300-PDP-001, Revision 2, March 2014 

AreaPeriod of OperationDescriptionWaste Volume (m3)
Major Activity (1)Notes
Designation

SolidLiquidTypeTBq
Waste Management Area A
Liquid Wastes
Various drummed and bottled liquids emptied into below-grade concrete structures.n.a.33N/AN/ALimited records for drummed and bottled liquids buried prior to 1956
Solid Wastes1946-1955Liquid wastes discharged into trenches in 1953 (4,500 m3), 1954 September (7.2 m3) and 1955 February (50 m3) resulting in contaminated soil. Solid wastes emplaced in unlined trenches and a variety of “special burials”, such as the NRX calandria.21,200Misc. liquids
Mixed FPN/ALimited records for solid wastes buried prior to 1955. Source of a groundwater plume.
Liquid Dispersal Area
Reactor Pit #11953-1998Liquid waste discharged to natural depression between 1953 and 1956 resulting in contaminated soil. Lightly contaminated equipment and suspect soils later used to fill depression.7,100n.a.β/γ α
100 0.1
Estimated disposal of 74 TBq 90Sr plus 100 g (Pu equivalent) of alpha-emitters. Source of a groundwater plume.
Laundry Pit1956-1957Aqueous waste from Decontamination Centre and Laundry discharged to engineered pit resulting in contaminated soil. 4,000n.a.β/γ α0.06 0.0003Small inventory compared with other LDA pits. 
Chemical Pit1956-1995Liquid aqueous waste from site labs and chemical operations discharged to a gravel-filled pit resulting in contaminated soil.17,700n.a.β/γ α  Tritium230 0.4 70Source of a groundwater 90Sr plume. Groundwater from Chemical Pit plume is subject of pump and treat program.
Reactor Pit #21956-2000Lightly contaminated water from Rod Storage Bays, and NRX & NRU operations resulting in contaminated soil.28,200n.a.β/γ α Tritium500 0.5 1,000Source of a groundwater plume.
Waste Management Area B
Sand Trenches1953-1963Solid wastes in unlined trenches covered with sand: Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste (ILW) emplaced prior to 1956 August, only Low Level Waste (LLW) emplaced after 1956 September.~9,000Misc. bottled liquidsMixed LLW and ILW
~75Use discontinued in favour of engineered structures. Limited inventory data. Source of two separate groundwater plumes.
Asphalt-lined trenches
1955-1959Intermediate-level solid wastes, i.e., wastes having external fields >100 mR/h at 30 cm, that were emplaced in asphalt-lined and –capped trenches1,600Misc. bottled liquidsILWN/AEstimated to contain 0.6 TBq of 239Pu.
Rectangular Concrete bunkers1959-1979Low level solid wastes in rectangular concrete bunkers. (Below grade but above the water table)8,500ResidualLLWA
Special burials1955-1973Various materials including the NRU and the second NRX calandrias.914*220*

Estimates are available for individual burials.
Circular concrete bunkers1979 – presentLow level solid wastes. (Below grade but above the water table)
6,850ResidualLLWA

Tile Holes – Nuclear Reactor Fuels1956 – presentReactor fuel high-level wastes in vertical, below-grade facilities.
120n.a.Used FuelAEstimates available for fissile material quantities. Fuel-bearing structures are the subject of a remediation program. Certain HEU fuels are candidates for return to U.S.
Tile Holes – 99Mo wastes1970 -presentHigh-level wastes from 99Mo production200n.a.ILWN/AEstimates available for fissile material quantities.
Tile Holes – other wastes1956 -presentA variety of high level wastes including reactor components.950n.a.ILWN/ACell wastes, reactor components, Rod Bay wastes.
Waste Management Area C
C Extension1993-2006Low level solid waste (external fields <100 mR/h at 30 cm) in unlined trenches. Higher proportion of drummed waste than Area C.9,000ResidualLLWACharacterization data available for some radionuclide inventories. Source of groundwater plume.
Sand Trenches1963-2006Low-level solid waste (external fields <100 mR/h at 30 cm) in unlined trenches. Total area is approx. 4.5 ha; impermeable cover installed on entire area in 2013. Waste is half from CRL and half from across Canada including NPD.100,000Drummed & bottled liquids
LLWN/ALimited characterization data for inventories. Source of a groundwater plume.
AreaPeriod of OperationDescriptionWaste Volume (m3)
Major Activity (1)Notes
Designation

SolidLiquidTypeTBq
Waste Management Area D1976 – presentFenced gravel compound used for aboveground storage of potentially contaminated equipment, materials and drummed liquids. Not a burial site. A Mixed Waste Facility used for temporary storage, sampling and bulking is also in WMA D.760 (LLW)
LLWASmall numbers of transient drums may be stored at any particular time. The drummed liquids (lightly contaminated aqueous wastes and waste oils) are stored in marine containers.
Acid, Chemical and Solvent Pits1982-1987Small fenced compound containing three small pits, which as the names imply were used for different non-active liquid wastes and very small quantities of solid wastes.Acid: minorAcid: 11.2 Chem.: 2.7 Sol.:  5.3


Acid: Hydrochloric, Sulphuric, Nitric, Chromic acids, potassium carbonate powder, citric powder and acid batteries. Chemical: Scintillation fluids, Alconox and other cleaning agents, ammonia, alkylating agents, others. Solvent: Mixed solvents, oils, scintillation solutions, ammonia, varsol, acetone, others.
Waste Management Area E1977-1984Used for disposition of lightly contaminated & suspect bulk materials (building debris and soils) from the CRL Controlled Area.N/An.a.Suspect slightly contaminatedN/AThe volume of suspect contaminated materials is believed to be a small fraction of the total volume of materials stored here.
Tank Farm1961-1968Tank Farm with intermediate to high-level wastes in tanks in concrete vaults with leak-detection systems  Intermediate – T-40F (secondary concrete containment), T-40E (empty), T-40D (concrete pad) High level – T-283A, B, C, D (all with secondary concrete containment)n.a.68β/γ α
150Monitoring & surveillance confirms containment of these wastes and the facility includes emergency transfer lines.
Waste Management Area F1976-1979Contaminated soils and slags from Port Hope, Albion Hills, Mono Mills and Ottawa stored above the water table in sand valley. Unsuccessful clay cover.~380,000zeroRadium0.5Approx. 515 GBq Total 226Ra,  4 – 13 Mg Arsenic,  80 Mg U.
Waste Management Area G1989-presentNPD spent fuel dry storage facility – aboveground concrete canisters.
4,921 (bundles)
zeroIrrad. UAComplete inventory data available. Monitoring & surveillance confirms containment within structures.
Waste Management Area H (MAGS and SMAGS)2001-presentPrefabricated metal and concrete storage buildings with capability of storing 865 m3and approximately 4,000 m3 each, respectively, of compacted LLW in B-1000 compactor boxes, 45-gallon drums (204 liters), wooden crates, boxes and B-25 containers. Bulk materials and NRX stack pieces are also stored in WMA H.9,000n.aMixed FPN/AAll waste will be removed by Operations prior to turnover to Decommissioning. Some residual contamination may be present as a result of operational activities.
WMA J Bulk Material Landfill (BML)2010–presentEngineered landfill used for the storage of sewage sludge for the CRL sewage treatment plant1,600n.a.Mixed FP
~10-4
Leachate is transferred to the sewage treatment plant.
Nitrate Plant1953-1954Discharges of mixed fission products in salt solutions to limed pit following a process accident. Decontaminating solutions also released. Contaminated rubble from Building 233 demolition.
3,400n.a.β/γ60Estimated 60 TBq of β/γ activity (35% 90Sr) in liquid releases – small α inventories. Plant demolished and buried on-site, no data for solid waste inventories.
.Thorium Pit1955-1960Reprocessing wastes from operation of the 233U extraction facility.
150n.a.Nat. Th, 233U and mixed FPAApproximate total of 45 m3 reprocessing solution discharged in separate dispersals to crib containing ammonium carbonate (~4,000 kg of nat. Th, 27 g 233U).
Above Ground Buildings and Structures in Waste Management Areas
Buildings and Structures in WMAs1953 – presentVarious buildings/gatehousesN/An.a.N/AN/A

(1) Activity at time of emplacement – not corrected for decay N/A = no quantitative data available n.a. = not applicable A = quantitative data available 

CCRCA Comments on Canada’s radioactive waste policy review

Concerned Citizens call for an independent waste authority; no import, reprocessing, or abandonment; transparency and traceability.

Updated July 14, 2021

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area 

The Honourable Seamus O’Regan 

Minister of Natural Resources 

House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6 

Via e-mail:  Seamus.ORegan@parl.gc.ca 

Nrcan.radwastereview-examendechetsradioactifs.rncan@canada.ca

May 31, 2021

Re: Canada’s Radioactive Waste Policy Review

Dear Minister O’Regan:

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCRCA) is an incorporated, non-profit organization that has been working for the clean-up and prevention of radioactive pollution from the nuclear industry in the Ottawa Valley for 40+ years. Our current focus is nuclear waste, in particular the proposed giant mound for one million cubic meters of radioactive waste at the federally owned Chalk River Laboratories, and the proposed “entombment” of the federal Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor at Rolphton, Ontario.

A modernized radioactive waste policy should state Canada’s intent to fully meet its obligations pursuant to international legal instruments developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), specifically the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.  

The modernized policy should explicitly state Canada’s intent to meet its obligations under Article 4 (Implementing Measures) and Article 5 (Reporting) of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, and under Article 12 (Existing Facilities and Past Practices) and Article 32 (Reporting) of the Joint Convention

With regard to Article 32, Canada should require that all owners and generators of radioactive waste maintain full inventories of waste volume or mass, activity and specific radionuclides.  Where only estimates of volume or mass, activity and specific radionuclides are available, the methods and assumptions used in preparing these radioactive waste inventory estimates should be described in sufficient detail that an independent body can verify the estimates.  

Radioactive waste inventories should be updated regularly and be made publicly available on an ongoing (e.g., annual) basis. 

A national body – a national radioactive waste authority – should be established with a legislated mandate to maintain records, knowledge and memory of radioactive waste.  The authority should be charged with maintaining a national radioactive waste inventory..  It should have a capacity and legal mandate to inspect nuclear facilities and independently verify inventory information provided by waste generators and owners.  The national authority should be independent of other bodies — whether government or private sector — that regulate, utilize or promote nuclear energy.

The radioactive waste authority should ensure traceability of radioactive waste, including any transfers of waste for processing, storage, or disposal.  Responsibility for traceability and maintenance of records, knowledge and memory related to radioactive waste should not rest with Canada’s nuclear regulator.  

When any proposal is submitted to Canada’s nuclear regulator for a new nuclear facility or activity (such as decommissioning) that would generate, store, dispose of, or transfer wastes, the proponent should also be required to submit estimates of the volume or mass, activity and specific radionuclides in the radioactive wastes associated with that facility or activity to Canada’s national radioactive waste authority.  

In the case of any proposed new nuclear reactors – such as “small modular reactors” – this should include a full accounting of activation products created by neutron bombardment of reactor components, fission products and transuranics in the fuel, and wastes associated with fuel fabrication, processing, and reprocessing.  

The proponent of a new nuclear facility or activity (such as decommissioning) should also be required to submit a detailed management plan for wastes arising to the national authority.   Acceptance of the waste estimates and the management plan by Canada’s national radioactive waste authority should be required prior to approval of any new facility or activity by Canada’s nuclear regulator.

Canada’s modernized radioactive waste policy should state explicitly that the protection of human health by avoiding radiological exposure shall be given the highest priority in radioactive waste management, and cannot be compromised by economic considerations of “cost-effectiveness”.  It should state explicitly that radioactive waste generation shall be minimized.  It should state explicitly that every effort shall be made to minimize the waste burden imposed on future generations.   

Canada’s modernized policy should state explicitly that radioactive waste shall be contained and isolated from the biosphere.

Canada’s modernized policy should state explicitly that the public shall have full access to information about radioactive waste.  

Canada’s modernized policy should state explicitly the principle of justification as described in the IAEA Fundamental Safety Principles:  that “facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks must yield an overall benefit,” and that the benefit must “outweigh the radiation risks to which they give rise.”

The national radioactive waste authority should be given the mandate to ensure that generators and owners of radioactive waste adhere to these principles.

At present, Canada’s 143-word “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” (RWPF) – in calling only for “waste disposal plans” – ignores the internationally agreed pre-disposal requirements for radioactive waste found in the IAEA General Safety Requirements (GSR) Part 5, Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste.  Requirements of GSR Part 5 that are not addressed in the RWPF include 2 on “National policy and strategy on radioactive waste management,” 8 on “Radioactive waste generation and control,” 9 on “Characterization and classification of radioactive waste,” 11 on “Storage of radioactive waste”, and 20 on “Shutdown and decommissioning of facilities.” 

Canada is currently on a slippery slope to radioactive waste abandonment, with risks of undocumented waste transfers and illegal dumping, exposing future generations to unknown radiological hazards.  The emphasis on disposal in the RWPF creates an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.  

Much of Canada’s current radioactive waste legacy has been created by the Government of Canada itself.  The federal government has failed to acknowledge its own responsibilities as waste generator and owner.  It remains an active promoter of nuclear energy under a Nuclear Energy Act that gives the Minister of Natural Resources powers to “utilize, cause to be utilized and prepare for the utilization of nuclear energy.”   

The RWPF, in stating the “polluter pays” principle, is fundamentally at odds with Government of Canada assertions that nuclear energy is “clean”.  

A national radioactive waste authority that is accountable to elected public officials but independent of government or industry bodies that promote or utilize nuclear energy is an essential complement to a modernized radioactive waste policy.

As owner of Canada’s only licensed commercial radioactive waste storage facility at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), the federal government has assumed ownership of significant inventories of industrial, hospital, and university wastes. 

Some industrial wastes stored at CRL are imports from foreign countries.  Canadian companies are major manufacturers of cobalt-60 “sealed sources”.  Canada’s Seventh National Report to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management says “Canada remains a global leader in the production and export of Category 1 cobalt-60 radioactive sealed sources, supplying approximately 95 percent of the global demand.”

Article 28 of the Joint Convention says 

A Contracting Party shall allow for re-entry into its territory of disused sealed sources if, in the framework of its national law, it has accepted that they be returned to a manufacturer qualified to receive and possess the disused sealed sources.

Canada has not to our knowledge accepted the return of sealed sources in the framework of its national law; nonetheless, Canadian companies such as Nordion, Best Theratronics, and SRB Technologies are doing a brisk trade in waste imports in the form of disused sealed sources and expired self-luminous tritium devices..  

These companies do not necessarily limit their imports to devices of their own manufacture.  Imported radioactive wastes are being sent to CRL, where they become the property of the Government of Canada.

Canada’s modernized radioactive waste policy should ban radioactive waste imports.

A national radioactive waste authority should have the mandate to track the inventory of private sector waste transferred to Government of Canada ownership.  The authority should collect payments that are adequate for the long-term management of transferred wastes.  It should assume the management of the fund currently overseen by the federal crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. It should be responsible for developing appropriate management strategies for federal nuclear wastes.  

Responsibility for management of wastes owned by the Government of Canada should not be in the hands of a body with a mandate to promote and utilize nuclear energy 

With regard to Canada’s obligations under Article 12 (Existing Facilities and Past Practices) of the Joint Convention, the national radioactive waste authority should be responsible for remediation of areas contaminated by past practices.  Canada’s obligations in this regard are described in requirement 49 (“Responsibilities for remediation of areas with residual radioactive material”) of the IAEA GSR Part 3, Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources.  

Areas with “residual radioactive material” include those contaminated by uranium mines and processing facilities formerly owned by the Government of Canada (including those in the Port Hope area) as well as federally-owned nuclear facilities (such as the Chalk River Laboratories).   

GSR Part 3 requirements for areas contaminated by past practices include a remedial action plan, appropriate record keeping, a strategy for managing wastes arising, and public involvement in planning, implementation and verification of remedial actions.  

These requirements should be met by a national radioactive waste authority – a body that does not have a mandate to promote and utilize nuclear energy.  

The federal crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is not the appropriate body to meet these requirements.

Of particular concern to our group is that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is allowing private companies under contract to transfer radioactive and other hazardous wastes from federal nuclear facilities in Manitoba, southern Ontario, and Quebec to the Chalk River Laboratories.  This is being done under an unapproved “Integrated Waste Strategy”.  There is no long-term management plan for the transferred wastes, nor is there a remedial action plan for the Chalk River Laboratories.


We submit that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is acting in a non-transparent and unaccountable manner and showing disrespect for the Government of Canada’s obligations to Indigenous rights holders and to the public at large.

With regard to lack of transparency of activities related to radioactive waste transport, processing and storage, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is allowing Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a private company owned by a consortium of multinational engineering firms, to make its own determinations regarding a range of activities at the Chalk River Laboratories that may have significant adverse environmental impacts but are not being adequately disclosed or reviewed under the Impact Assessment Act.  

During the period November 2020 to March 2021, numerous “section 82” waste-related
projects were posted on the Impact Assessment Registry with essentially no information other than the following headings:

81139 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Cask Facility Project
81177 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Intermediate Level Waste Storage Area
81178 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Bulk Storage Laydown Area
81209 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Material Pit Expansion Project
81375 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Building Demolition Project
81389 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Waste Management Area Modification Project
81403 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Heel Storage Removal Project
81424 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Effluent Monitoring Stations Upgrade Project
81443 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Multi-Purpose Waste Handling Facility

For each of these projects, a “Notice of Determination” has now been issued.  All have been similar to the one for project 81443:

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) has determined that the proposedMulti-Purpose Waste Handling Facility Project at AECL’s Chalk River site is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects… Therefore, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada may carry out the project, exercise any power, perform any duty or function, or provide financial assistance to enable the project to be carried out in whole or in part.

Beginning on April 1, 2021, our group sent repeated e-mails asking for information on these projects to the contact person listed in the Impact Assessment Registry: Patrick Quinn, Director, Corporate Communications, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Mr. Quinn has sent e-mails in reply promising to provide information, but no information has been forthcoming to date.  In the meantime, the 30-day deadlines for public comments on all these projects have passed.  

We question the acceptability of a process by which Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a privately-owned company, makes its own determinations that its projects, carried out on federal land, are not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.  

We brought this to the attention of Nana Kwamena, Ph.D., Director, Environmental Assessment Division, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, on April 8th.  She replied:

The projects listed below are activities that CNL is authorized to conduct under its current licence.  No additional authorization or assessment is required by CNSC.  Therefore, I recommend reaching out directly to CNL to receive additional information about these projects.

We also brought this to the attention of Mr. David McGovern, President of the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC), We asked “Is Canadian Nuclear Laboratories a federal authority for the purposes of section 81 of the [Impact Assessment] Act?  If so, how should we proceed in obtaining information that will allow us to submit comments on this company’s projects?” 

On April 16th the IAAC replied that AECL “is the federal authority responsible for making the environmental effects determination required by section 82 of the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) as it is a Crown corporation,” and AECL “indicated that they work with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in implementing their obligations.”  IAAC added that “we have been assured that AECL or CNL will be in touch with you shortly to provide answers to any questions you may have on these projects” However, neither AECL nor CNL provided details on the projects prior to the date of this submission. 

Lack of transparency and lack of opportunities for public input related to radioactive waste-related activities on federal lands is unacceptable.  Full transparency must be a foundational principle of Canada’s radioactive waste policy.  It is particularly troubling that the Government of Canada itself is violating this principle.

We note that the Government of Canada has provided $50.5 million to Moltex Energy Canada Inc., to develop a process to “recycle” – extract plutonium from — used nuclear fuel.  Moltex has announced that it is partnering with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to “design, build and optimize the test apparatus used to process the used fuel.”  

Waste and nuclear weapons proliferation issues related to reprocessing used fuel to extract plutonium for use in small modular reactors have received considerable media attention in recent days.  Our group is very concerned that research on this process will be carried out at Chalk River Laboratories, very likely without transparency. 

Canada’s radioactive waste policy should prohibit reprocessing of nuclear fuel waste.

Problems identified in this submission — non-transparency, lack of full waste accounting, undocumented waste transport, lack of waste traceability, waste imports from foreign countries, the slippery slope toward waste abandonment, nuclear weapons proliferation risks of plutonium reprocessing, lack of remedial action plans for areas contaminated through past practices, avoidance of environmental assessment – should be addressed in a modernized policy, and through creation of a national radioactive waste authority, independent and arms-length from any government department, crown corporation or agency whose mandate includes the utilization or promotion of nuclear energy.

Cinq bonnes raisons d’appuyer la requête de la Ville d’Ottawa pour une évaluation régionale des projets d’élimination des déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais

(English version here: https://concernedcitizens.net/2021/06/27/five-reasons-to-support-the-city-of-ottawas-call-for-an-assessment-of-ottawa-valley-radioactive-disposal-projects/)

Le 14 avril 2021, le conseil de la Ville d’Ottawa a adopté une résolution concernant les projets d’élimination des déchets radioactifs de Chalk River et de Rolphton ; ceci s’ajoute aux résolutions de 140 municipalités, de la Nation Anishinabek, du Caucus iroquois, et de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations.

Avant que la résolution soit adoptée par l’ensemble du Conseil municipal d’Ottawa, elle a été étudiée et adoptée à l’unanimité par le comité de l’environnement de la Ville d’Ottawa après une réunion qui a duré huit heures le 30 mars 2021(voir la présentation sur YouTube). Entre autres choses, la résolution demande au ministre Jonathan Wilkinson de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique d’entreprendre une évaluation régionale des projets d’élimination des déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais en vertu de la Loi sur l’évaluation d’impact sanctionnée en 2019. (Voir la lettre du maire Jim Watson au ministre Wilkinson.)

Voici cinq raisons d’appuyer la requête de la Ville d’Ottawa au ministre Jonathan Wilkinson.

1. Les déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais sont un problème très vaste et complexe. C’est la part du lion des déchets radioactifs « hérités » dont le gouvernement fédéral a la responsabilité, un passif de 8 milliards de dollars pour les contribuables canadiens.

Les déchets radioactifs qui sont actuellement sur le site des Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens à Chalk River, en amont d’Ottawa-Gatineau, constituent la majeure partie du passif des responsabilités nucléaires de huit milliards de dollars du gouvernement canadien. Ce passif fédéral en matière de responsabilité de nettoyage des déchets radioactifs dépasse la somme totale de 2000 autres passifs environnementaux fédéraux. Cette responsabilité environnementale fédérale, la plus importante et la plus complexe du Canada, nécessite la meilleure et la plus complète évaluation disponible en vertu de la nouvelle Loi sur l’évaluation d’impact.

2. Les projets d’élimination des déchets radioactifs proposés dans la vallée de l’Outaouais sont médiocres, très controversés et n’abordent pas plusieurs aspects essentiel au nettoyage requis.

Le projet de monticule de déchets radioactifs, appelé Installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface (IGDPS) à Chalk River et le projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur de Rolphton (« projet de fermeture NPD ») sont des propositions inadéquates à faible budget qui visent à réduire rapidement et à moindre coût le passif des responsabilités nucléaires fédérales au Canada. Les deux projets ont été proposés il y a cinq ans par un consortium d’entreprises privées en vertu d’un contrat accordé par le gouvernement Harper en 2015. Les propositions ne tiennent pas compte des normes de sécurité de l’Agence internationale de l’énergie atomique ; ces propositions ont été jugées insuffisantes dans les milliers de commentaires de critique formulés par des communautés autochtones, des municipalités, d’anciens scientifiques et gestionnaires d’EACL, des ONG, des groupes de citoyens et des individus.

Les projets ne pourraient empêcher les fuites de contaminants radioactifs dans la rivière des Outaouais pendant des millénaires, selon l’étude d’impact environnemental produite par le promoteur. Le monticule géant de Chalk River se désintégrerait selon un processus « d’évolution normale » relate l’étude « d’évaluation de la performance » du promoteur.

De plus, la grande majorité des déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais seraient ignorés dans ces deux projets.

3. Les évaluations environnementales du projet d’Installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface à Chalk River et du projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur de Rolphton ont été bâclées.

Les évaluations environnementales du projet d’Installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface (IGDPS) à Chalk River et du projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur de Rolphton (« projet de fermeture NPD ») ont été initiées en 2016 par la Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN). De nombreux problèmes liés au traitement des évaluations environnementales (EE) par la CCSN ont été identifiés dans la pétition413 en matière d’environnement adressée au vérificateur général du Canada en janvier 2018. Des problèmes ont surgi continuellement, notamment le manque d’occasions pour le public de participer, le manque de transparence et le manque de délais fermes pour compléter les évaluations. Les évaluations environnementales ont duré trop longtemps en comparaison de ce qui est normalement ou raisonnablement acceptable pour de telles évaluations.

La Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN) a été identifiée comme un organisme de réglementation captif qui fait la promotion des projets qu’elle est censée réglementer. La CCSN n’est donc pas l’organisme idéal pour superviser les évaluations des projets d’élimination de déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais.

4. Le défi complexe de l’ensemble des déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais n’est PAS abordé dans les évaluations en cours.

Nous le réitérons, la responsabilité fédérale de huit milliards de dollars en matière de nettoyage des déchets radioactifs est de loin le défi environnemental fédéral le plus important et le plus coûteux. En grande majorité, les déchets inclus dans ce passif se trouvent déjà dans la vallée de l’Outaouais, sur le site des Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens à Chalk River. Pour avoir un aperçu de la complexité de ce défi à Chalk River, consultez, dans le journal Ottawa Citizen, l’article Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy rédigé par Ian McLeod. Parmi les déchets radioactifs qui ne seront pas placés dans le monticule géant ni traités par la mise en tombeau, il y a les trois cœurs de réacteur jetés dans le sable à Chalk River (dont un provenant de la fusion partielle du NRX en 1952), les déchets de production d’isotopes médicaux solidifiés et hautement radioactifs (y compris l’uranium 235), les réservoirs de déchets liquides de moyenne et haute activité du « Waste Tank Farm », le combustible usé des réacteurs NRX, NRU et NPD, et les réacteurs NRX et NRU.

Le consortium du secteur privé qui gère les Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens prévoit regrouper les déchets radioactifs du gouvernement fédéral, provenant de partout au Canada, dans la vallée de l’Outaouais à Chalk River ; il expédie déjà des déchets radioactifs du Manitoba, du Québec et d’ailleurs en Ontario. La concentration des déchets radioactifs de responsabilité fédérale sur le site de Chalk River, dans une zone d’activité sismique, à côté d’une rivière importante (la rivière des Outaouais ou Kitchissippi), qui est la source d’eau potable pour des millions de Canadiens, suscite beaucoup d’inquiétudes. De sérieuses préoccupations concernant le stockage à long terme des déchets radioactifs à proximité immédiate des plans d’eau sont indiquées dans la Déclaration conjointe du Caucus iroquois et de la Nation Anishinabek sur le transport et l’abandon des déchets radioactifs. 

La consolidation des déchets radioactifs du gouvernement fédéral dans la vallée de l’Outaouais et les directives des Premières Nations pour stocker les déchets loin des principaux plans d’eau ne sont pas abordées dans les évaluations environnementales actuelles de l’Installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface (IGDPS) à Chalk River et du projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur de Rolphton (« projet de fermeture NPD »). 

Le groupe Citoyens concernés du comté et de la région de Renfrew a appris récemment que le consortium allait de l’avant avec des projets de gestion des déchets radioactifs, tels qu’une nouvelle installation en fûts pour recevoir des cargaisons de combustible usé hautement radioactif provenant des réacteurs de Whiteshell (MB) et de Gentilly-1 (QC) en plus d’une nouvelle installation de stockage des déchets de moyenne activité qui contiendrait probablement des déchets radioactifs commerciaux très dangereux. Le consortium détermine la signification des impacts de ces projets au nom d’Énergie atomique du Canada (EACL) sans transparence ni consultation du public. L’examen des risques et des implications importantes de ces projets devraient faire partie d’un processus public transparent. EACL, dont les effectifs de milliers d’employés ont été réduits à environ 40, semble se dérober de son rôle de supervision du contrat avec le consortium.

Les impacts cumulatifs de tous les déchets et de tous les projets actuels et futurs doivent être considérés ensemble. Une évaluation régionale pourrait le faire.

5. Une évaluation régionale des déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais pourrait adresser tous les problèmes mentionnés ci-dessus et procurer de nombreux avantages pour les collectivités de la vallée de l’Outaouais, pour le gouvernement fédéral et pour les gouvernements provinciaux et municipaux.

Une évaluation régionale pourrait :

  • rendre les données de base existantes accessibles au public et produire une analyse globale du problème ;
  • examiner les impacts cumulatifs de toutes les stratégies de gestion actuelles proposées pour les déchets radioactifs de la vallée de l’Outaouais ;
  • adresser les fuites dans les zones de gestion des déchets aux laboratoires de Chalk River, les importations de déchets radioactifs dans la vallée de l’Outaouais et la création potentielle de nouveaux déchets à cause de la recherche et du développement de nouveaux « petits réacteurs modulaires » proposés ;
  • intégrer les connaissances et les priorités autochtones ;
  • examiner la situation dans son ensemble, y compris la nécessité de protéger l’eau potable, la valeur des propriétés et le tourisme en plus d’offrir des possibilités d’emploi sûres à long terme pour les collectivités de la vallée de l’Outaouais ;
  • donner l’assurance au gouvernement fédéral et aux autres paliers du gouvernement que le plus gros passif fédéral en matière de dépollution de l’environnement est correctement adressé.

Pour soutenir la requête de la Ville d’Ottawa, nous vous demandons d’écrire au ministre de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique Canada. 

Pour votre information, la lettre du maire Jim Watson au ministre Wilkinson peut être téléchargée ici.

Les lettres doivent être envoyées à l’honorable Jonathan Wilkinson : Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca 

Avec copies conformes : 

Le ministre est tenu de répondre à la requête d’Ottawa d’ici le 31 juillet 2021, alors envoyez vos lettres dès que possible. Mais n’hésitez pas à les envoyer après le 31 juillet également, car ce problème ne disparaîtra pas de sitôt.

Five good reasons to support the City of Ottawa’s call for an assessment of Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects

On April 14, 2021 the City of Ottawa council passed a resolution of concern about the Chalk River and Rolphton radioactive waste disposal projects, joining more than 140 municipalities, the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus, and the Assembly of First Nations.

Prior to being passed by the full Ottawa City Council, the resolution was studied and passed unanimously by the City’s environment committee after an eight hour meeting on March 30, 2021 which can be viewed here. Among other things, the resolution calls on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to initiate a regional assessment of Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects under the Impact Assessment Act of 2019.  (See Mayor Jim Watson’s letter to Minister Wilkinson here.)

Here are five reasons to support the City of Ottawa’s call to Minister Jonathan Wilkinson:

1. Radioactive waste in the Ottawa Valley is a very large and complex problem. It makes up the lion’s share of federally-owned “legacy” radioactive wastes, an $8 billion liability for the citizens of Canada.

The radioactive wastes currently on site at the Chalk River Laboratories, upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau, make up most of the Government of Canada’s eight billion dollar nuclear liability. This federal radioactive cleanup liability exceeds the sum total of 2000 other federal environmental liabilities . As Canada’s largest and most complex federal environmental liability, this challenge is worthy of the best and most thorough assessment available under the new Impact Assessment Act.

2. Proposed Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects are substandard, highly controversial, and would NOT address many parts of the needed cleanup.

The proposed Chalk River Mound (“Near Surface Disposal Facility”) and Rolphton Reactor Tomb (“NPD Closure Project”) are low budget, inadequate proposals meant to quickly and cheaply reduce Canada’s federal nuclear liabilities. The two projects were proposed five years ago by a consortium of private companies contracted by the Harper government in 2015. The proposals ignore safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency and have been found wanting in thousands of critical comments submitted by Indigenous communities, municipalities, former AECL scientists and managers, NGOs, citizens’ groups and individuals.

The projects are expected to leak radioactive contaminants into the Ottawa River for millennia, according to Environmental Impact Statements produced by the proponent. The giant Chalk River Mound is expected to disintegrate as part of a process of “normal evolution” according to the proponent’s “performance assessment” study.

The vast majority of radioactive wastes in the Ottawa Valley would NOT be addressed by these two projects.

3. Environmental assessments of the giant mound and reactor tomb are being badly fumbled.

The environmental assessments of the NSDF and NPD closure projects were initiated in 2016 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Numerous problems with the CNSC’s handling of the EAs were identified in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada in January 2018. Problems have continued to arise including lack of opportunity for public input, lack of transparency, and lack of firm deadlines for completion of the assessments. The EAs have been ongoing for far longer than is normal or reasonable for such assessments.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been identified as a captured regulator that promotes the projects it is supposed to regulate. The CNSC is therefore not an ideal agency to be overseeing assessments of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley.

4. The complex challenge of nuclear waste in the Ottawa Valley is NOT addressed by the assessments that are currently ongoing.

Again, the eight billion dollar federal radioactive cleanup liability is the biggest and most expensive federal environmental challenge by far. The vast majority of the wastes comprising this liability are already in the Ottawa Valley at the Chalk River Laboratories. For an indication of the complexity of this challenge at Chalk River see the Ottawa Citizen article by Ian McLeod, Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy. Radioactive wastes not addressed by the mound and the tomb proposals include the three reactor cores dumped in the sand at Chalk River (including one from the 1952 NRX partial meltdown), the highly radioactive solidified medical isotope production wastes (including weapons-grade uranium-235), the tanks of intermediate- and high-activity liquid wastes at the ‘Waste Tank Farm”, the spent fuel from the NRX, NRU and NPD reactors, and the NRX and NRU reactors themselves.

The private sector consortium running Canadian Nuclear Laboratories plans to consolidate the federal governments’s radioactive waste from across Canada in the Ottawa Valley and is already shipping radioactive wastes from Manitoba, Quebec and elsewhere in Ontario to Chalk River. There are serious concerns about consolidating federal nuclear wastes at the Chalk River site, in a seismically-active area, beside a major river (The Kitchissippi/ Ottawa) that provides drinking water for millions of Canadians. Serious concerns about long term storage of radioactive waste in close proximity to water bodies are noted in the Joint Declaration of the Anishinabek Nation Iroquois Caucus on transport and abandonment of radioactive waste. Consolidation of federal government nuclear wastes in the Ottawa Valley and First Nations’ guidance to store waste away from major water bodies are not addressed by the current NSDF and NPD environmental assessments.

CCRCA recently learned that the consortium is going ahead with radioactive waste projects such as a new cask facility to receive shipments of highly-radioactive spent fuel from the Whiteshell (MB) and Gentilly-1 (QC) reactors, and a new intermediate-level waste storage facility that would likely contain dangerous commercial wastes. The consortium is making determinations about the significance of the impacts of these projects on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) with no transparency or public input. Assessment of the risks and implications of these projects should be done through a transparent public process. AECL, which has been reduced from thousands of employees to around 40, appears to be shirking its role of overseeing its contract with the consortium. 

The cumulative impacts of all wastes and all current and future projects need to be considered together. A regional assessment could do this.

5. A regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal in the Ottawa Valley could address all problems noted above.

A regional assessment could:

  • make existing baseline data publicly accessible and produce a broad-based analysis of the problem
  • look at cumulative impacts of all the current and proposed management strategies for Ottawa Valley radioactive wastes, and transport of wastes from Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec to Chalk River.
  • address leaking waste management areas at the Chalk River Labs, radioactive waste imports to the Ottawa Valley and the potential creation of new wastes associated with the proposed new “small modular” reactor research and development
  • incorporate Indigenous knowledge and priorities
  • look at the big picture including the need to protect drinking water, property values and tourism and provide secure long-term employment opportunities for Ottawa Valley communities.
  • provide assurance to the federal government and other levels of government that the largest federal environmental cleanup liability is being properly addressed.


To support the City of Ottawa’s call, please consider writing to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada  For your reference, Mayor Jim Watson’s letter to Minister Wilkinson is available for download here.

Letters should be sent to The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson <Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca>

with cc to: OttawaValley-ValleeOutaouais (IAAC/AEIC) <iaac.ottawavalley-valleeoutaouais.aeic@canada.ca> Please be sure to state that you letter is Re: Canadian Impact Assessment Registry reference number 81624, “Potential regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal in the Ottawa Valley”

and: your member of parliament. Please forward a copy of your letter to us at <concernedcitizensofrca@gmail.com>

The Minister is required to respond to Ottawa’s request by July 31, 2021, so send your letters as soon as possible. But don’t hesitate to send them after July 31st too, as this issue is not going away any time soon.

Debunking myths about the Chalk River Mound (aka “NSDF”)

The Chalk River Mound or “near surface disposal facility” is a proposed giant above ground landfill for one million tons of radioactive waste on the property of Canadian Nuclear Labs, less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal. We debunk below two of the most misleading myths about the proposed facility. Please contact us if you need more references for the material presented below, or browse our list of all posts for more information.

Myth # 1: It’s only “low level waste”


“Low level” in the context of radioactive waste does not mean “low hazard”

This is a really big mistake that almost everyone makes. “Low level” simply means the wastes can be handled by nuclear industry workers without the use of lead shielding because the wastes give off relatively low levels of gamma radiation. But they can and do contain high levels of other types of radiation such as “alpha” and “beta.”  “Low level” radioactive waste can remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years and includes some of the most toxic radioactive poisons known such as plutonium.

No “Intermediate waste” in the NSDF is a red herring.
Neither “Low level” OR “Intermediate level” radioactive wastes are supposed to be disposed of in above-ground engineered mounds (landfills) according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is because both categories are dangerous and pose risks to all life on earth for the duration of their radiological hazard, which is hundreds of thousands of years for BOTH CATEGORIES of waste.  The main thing that distinguishes “Low level” from “intermediate level” radioactive waste is that “low level” can be handled without shielding or robots because its risks come from inhalation or ingestion. “Intermediate level” waste on the other hand gives off strong gamma radiation and therefore requires lead shielding and/or remote handling.

Much of the legacy waste at the Chalk River site is a poorly characterized or uncharacterized MIXTURE of “low” and “intermediate” level wastes.
The dividing lines between the categories are blurry. There are many different definitions around the world. Canada’s definitions are inferior to those in other countries. The wastes are not all sitting around in nice neat packages labelled “low level” and “intermediate level”. It would be the work of decades to properly categorize, package and label all the legacy wastes, and arguably, this should be done before choosing technologies for managing the wastes. We are in touch with a former engineer at AECL who was in charge of waste characterization for decades and worked as a consultant for the IAEA. He says the knowledge level of legacy wastes at Chalk River was and likely still is “abysmal”.

The proponent is playing games with Waste Acceptance Criteria to enable maximum disposal of legacy wastes in the NSDF
Definitions are being finagled to enable claims that “only” low-level wastes would go in the facility.  Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, allows proponents to make up their own definitions of waste classes.  The NSDF proponent defines wastes with long-lived beta/gamma activity as high as ten thousand radioactive disintegrations per second per gram of waste (Bq/g) as “low level”.  Finland puts any waste with activity greater than one hundred Bq/g in an underground facility, 65-90 meters deep in crystalline rock.5.

The proponent’s contract with Atomic Energy of Canada states that it will dispose of ALL wastes quickly and cheaply.
The main objective of the GoCo contract was to reduce Canada’s legacy radioactive waste liabilities. The ONLY strategies being advanced by the consortium are the above ground engineered mound (landfill) and in-situ burial of reactors on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers.  Thus, the contract provides a strong incentive for the consortium to dispose of uncharacterized legacy wastes in the NSDF since it’s the only project on the table.

Myth #2: It’s a “sound project from an engineering point of view.”

The engineered containment mound is expected to disintegrate within a few hundred years and the contents flow out of the mound into the surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River. The NSDF draft environmental impact statement includes 25 occurrences of the phrase “liner and cover failure as a result of normal evolution” and three occurrences of the phrase “inevitable failure of the cover.”  The “bathtub scenario” is mentioned 30 times in the draft EIS. It is projected to occur in the year 2400 when the cover fails, water enters the mound and overflows, and takes contaminants into Perch Creek and the Ottawa River. The Performance Assessment for the NSDF includes a graphic illustration of the bathtub scenario, a table listing quantities of radionuclides flowing out of the mound into the Ottawa River, and a pie chart showing estimated doses of various radionuclides to an infant downstream in Pembroke. Given the expected eventual disintegration of the mound and migration of its contents into the Ottawa River, it would seem to be inappropriate to refer to the project as “a sound proposal from an engineering point of view.” 

The image below is a simulation of the “bathtub effect” from the Radio Canada Decouverte documentary “Chalk River Heritage.”

Updated list of First Nations and Municipal Resolutions against the CNL’s current plans for nuclear waste dumps

May 27, 2021

Assembly of First Nations resolution is here: http://www.ccnr.org/AFN_Resolution_2017.pdf

Example resolution in English:

Montreal Municipal Council’s unanimous resolution (press release and full resolution): https://cmm.qc.ca/communiques/depotoir-nucleaire-a-chalk-river-la-cmm-soppose-au-projet/

City of Ottawa urges CNL and its regulator, the CNSC, to take action on the City’s concerns about the Chalk River mound, Rolphton Reactor tomb and related activities

May 3, 2021

In this letter Mayor Jim Watson urges CNL and the CNSC to take action on Ottawa’s concerns about the giant radioactive waste mound (NSDF) proposed for Chalk River and the entombment of a nuclear reactor beside the Ottawa River at Rolphton.

Specifically the letter and the resolution on which it is based calls on CNL/CNSC to:

  • stop current and future import or transfer of radioactive waste to Chalk River from other provinces
  • increase safeguards to protect the Ottawa River
  • prevent precipitation from entering the Chalk River Mound (NSDF)
  • provide timely environmental monitoring data
  • commit to prompt notification of spills/releases

City of Ottawa requests a regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley

The City of Ottawa is requesting a regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley under Canada’s new Impact Assessment Act. This review, if undertaken as requested, would address cumulative impacts of radioactive waste projects planned for the Ottawa Valley. It would be conducted by a committee appointed for the task by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change or by the Impact Assessment Agency.

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

https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/04/26/294820/294820

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.