Several ex-AECL scientists have pointed out that all three of CNL’s proposed nuclear waste projects fail to meet international safety standards

Several ex-AECL scientists have pointed out that all three of CNL’s proposed nuclear waste projects fail to meet international safety standards for radioactive waste facilities. They have all submitted comments during the environmental assessments of the three projects. The comments are publicly available on the website of the Impact Assessment Agency. Links to the submissions are compiled in this post. Below we highlight some of them that are especially pertinent to lack of compliance with international safety guidelines. See also the Globe and Mail article from June 2017 “Scientists decry plan for Ontario nuclear-waste site”

Concerns about the proposed Whiteshell reactor entombment

Dr. J.R. Walker, former Director of Safety Engineering and Licensing at AECL, explains that the Whiteshell Reactor Entombment would not meet IAEA guidelines.

The proposed facility [1] is in noncompliance with international requirements and guidance, for
• Entombment is not acceptable as a decommissioning strategy [2];
• Near surface disposal is not acceptable for intermediate level waste [8]; and
• Perpetual institutional control is not acceptable [6 – 10, 13].

Source: page 9

Peter Baumgartner and six colleagues, former AECL scientists and engineers, outline many serious concerns and note that IAEA doesn’t consider entombment to be a decommissioning strategy except in emergencies. Read their submission on the IAA website: page 9

Dr. Michael Stephens, former Manager, Business Operations, Liability Management Unit; and former Manager, Strategic Planning, Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program at AECL states:

It is surprising that the proponent is proposing to entomb the WR-1 reactor, which was successfully operated throughout its operating lifetime and underwent a planned permanent shutdown in 1985. Entombment is not an accepted practice in the world’s nuclear community in such a situation.

Source: page 1

Concerns about the Rolphton Entombment

Dr. Michael Stevens and Dr. J.R. Walker both also commented on the proposed entombment of the NPD reactor at Rolphton, noting the lack of compliance with IAEA guidance.

Here are the links to two of their submissions on the Rolphton project:

Dr. Michael Stephens (former Manager, Business Operations, Liability Management Unit; Manager, Strategic Planning, Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program, AECL)

J.R. Walker (former Director, Safety Engineering & Licensing; Champion, NLLP Protocol, AECL)

Bill Turner also commented on the Rophton project. Mr. Turner is a retired AECL Quality Assurance Specialist and Environmental Assessment Coordinator/Strategic Planner. He points out that according to the IAEA, entombment is not considered a decommissioning strategy and is not an option in the case of planned permanent shutdown. He quotes from IAEA guidance document Decommissioning of Facilities, General Safety Requirements Part 6, IAEA, Vienna, 2014 on page 1 of his 10 page submission. Here is a link to his full submission:

Concerns about the Near Surface Disposal Facility (Chalk River Mound)

Dr. Michael Michael Stephens, former Manager for Strategic Planning for the Canadian Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program at AECL

I am commenting as a resident of Deep River, as a Canadian taxpayer, and from my 25 years’ working experience in radioactive waste management and decommissioning of nuclear facilities, including as
former Manager for Strategic Planning for the Canadian Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program.

source: page 2

The concept of the NSDF project deviates significantly from internationally-accepted waste management principles and practices. Before consideration is given to allowing it to be implemented, it should be,subjected to a comprehensive technical review by an international group of experts arranged through the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the results should be made public.

source: page 5

DR. J.R. Walker, former Director of Safety Engineering and Licensing at AECL

A must-read submission on the NSDF (Chalk River Mound)

This quote is about non-compliance with international guidlines:

The proposed project does not meet Canadian and international guidance and would require members
of the public to be subject to unacceptable radiological risks into the far future.

source: page 7

This quote is about eventual failure of the mound:

The institutional control period ends 300 years post-closure, and the design life of the facility is 500 years post-closure. Subsequently, the facility will fail and the radionuclide inventory will be released
into the environment. As noted previously, the predicted doses exceed the public dose limit specified in Canadian Regulations [10] for more than 100,000 years.

source: page 8

These are Dr. Walker’s concluding remarks about the NSDF environmental impact statement:

5.0 Concluding Remarks
The Draft EIS [1] and the associated project proposal contain numerous deficiencies. For example,

• The proposal employs inadequate technology and is problematically located;
• The proposal does not meet regulatory requirements with respect to the health and safety of
persons and the protection of the environment; and
• The authors have failed to meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental AssessmentAct 2012.

The extent and gravity of these deficiencies preclude a conclusion that the project is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into consideration the implementation of mitigation measures.

Source: page 10

Since the GoCo contract was signed, costs to Canadian taxpayers appear to have almost quadrupled

Since the GoCo contract was signed, costs to Canadian taxpayers appear to have almost quadrupled. According to AECL financial reports, its parliamentary appropriations rose from $327-million in 2015 to $1.3-billion (approved) for the year ending March 31, 2021. AECL’s nuclear waste liabilities have not gone down, but appear to have increased by about $200-million.

Parliamentary Appropriations

Here are the figures and references for parliamentary appropriations to AECL:

$327 million in 2015

$491 million in 2016

$784 million in 2017

$826 million in 2018

Reference is the Five Year Consolidated Financial Summary in AECL’s annual report 2018, page 390

Parliamentary appropriations to AECL:

$829 million in 2019

$868 million in 2020

Reference is the Five-Year Financial Summary table on page 35 of AECL’s annual report 2019-20, page 35

Approved parliamentary appropriations for the year ending March 31, 2021 are $1.3 billion. The reference is Page 30 in this document: The quote reads as follows:

The appropriations approved for operating and capital expenditures for the year ending March 31, 2021 total $1,254 million.

$1.254 billion rounded to two figures is $1.3 billion. So the parliamentary appropriations for AECL have risen from $327 million in 2015 to $1.3 billion in 2020-21, which is roughly quadrupled.

Nuclear Waste Liabilities

The figures for the nuclear waste liabilities are in the second last line in the table entitled Five-year financial summary, on page 36 of AECL’s annual report 2019-20 The report refers to the liabilities as “Decommissioning and waste management provision and contaminated sites liabilities”

In the farthest right column, the figure for 2106 is 7.87 billion which matches what the Auditor General reported in his special report in 2017 which said:

“One element of the Corporation’s mandate concerns decommissioning and waste management to deal with the results of decades of nuclear activities at the Corporation’s sites and with the cleanup of waste at orphan sites for which the federal government has assumed responsibility. The cost of this work is estimated at over $7.9 billion as of 31 March 2016.”

Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the Board of Directors of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited—Special Examination—2017

The figure on the farthest left is the amount of the liabilities for 2020. It is $8.06 billion or 8.1 billion, rounded to two figures.

The difference between the liabilities in 2016 at $7.9 billion and 2020 at $8.1 billion is a small increase of $200 million.

CNSC says climate change is not relevant to environmental assessment of SMRs

Canada’s first formal license application for an SMR is the “Micro Modular Reactor” in Chalk River.

CCRCA, and many others provided written interventions to the CNSC on “the scope of an environmental assessment for the proposed Micro Modular Reactor Project at the Chalk River Laboratories” prior to the one-person “Panel of Commission: R. Velshi, President” that rendered its decision on July 26th.

The CCRCA submission noted, in particular, that under the Impact Assessment Act, the proponent would be required to include as a “factor” in the EA ““the extent to which the effects of the designated project hinder or contribute to the Government of Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change.”

We added, “the CNSC has proposed that proponents assess the total GHG production as part of CNSC-led environmental assessments” in its fact sheet entitled “Greenhouse gas emission assessments for the Canadian nuclear fuel cycle,”  

Somehow, the Record of Decision on the project scope omits any mention of climate change.  

The CNSC’s decision on the scope of the MMR project indicates that climate change is not a relevant factor in the consideration of environmental impact of SMRs.

Here’s our take-away:

  • Reducing GHG emissions is a government priority.  This is reflected in the Impact Assessment Act.  The Minister of Natural Resources says nuclear power is essential to reduce GHGs (no path to net zero without nuclear) 
  • The CNSC did not include GHG emissions as a factor in assessing its first SMR license application – even when requested to do so – and even when its own “interim strategy for environmental assessments” calls for this.
  • The CNSC should not lead environmental assessments of nuclear reactors, including SMRs. 
  • The Physical Activities Regulations under the Impact Assessment Act should be changed to remove exemptions for new nuclear reactors.
Global Warming vs. Climate Change | Resources – Climate Change: Vital Signs  of the Planet

The Chalk River Mound and two reactor tombs would leak radioactive contaminants into the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers

November 5, 2020

The multinational consortium “Canadian National Energy Alliance” is proposing three substandard nuclear waste disposal projects. They are a giant above-ground mound alongside the Ottawa River at Chalk River, Ontario, for one million tons of radioactive waste and two “entombments” of old nuclear reactors beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers, at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba.

The consortium was required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements for all three of its proposed disposal projects, as part of the Environmental Assessment process. Here are links to the three studies: (Chalk River Mound aka NSDF) (Rolphton entombment) (Whiteshell entombment)

The EIS for the Chalk River Mound describes many ways that the mound would leak radioactive contaminants into the environment and the Ottawa River. The ways the mound would leak are summarized in this post:

This post describes the expected eventual disintegration of the Chalk River mound, using excerpts from the Environmental Impact Statement for the Chalk River Mound (NSDF) and supporting documents:

The cracking and leaking of the entombed reactors planned for Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba is described in the Environmental Impact Statements and summarized in this post:

Consortium’s nuclear waste dump proposals fail to meet IAEA standards

November 5, 2020

The multinational consortium, Canadian National Energy Alliance, has been managing Canada’s nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes under a GoCo (Government-owned, Contractor-operated) contract since September 2015.

The consortium is proposing to quickly and cheaply dispose of all Canada’s federal radioactive wastes in a giant landfill beside the Ottawa River and two concrete “entombments” of old, highly radioactive nuclear reactors beside the Winnipeg and Ottawa rivers.

The proposals are undergoing protracted Environmental Assessments. They are mired in controversy and years behind schedule. Here are the links to Environmental Impact Statements for the three projects: (NSDF) (NPD) (Whiteshell)

Part of the reason for the controversy is that the consortium’s proposals flout safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a member state, Canada is supposed to follow IAEA guidance.

Here are some examples of IAEA guidance that is being flouted:

Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities ~ Specific Safety Guide No. SSG-47, Vienna, 2018

The relevant text is section 5.17 on page 32 and it reads as follows:

Entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long lived material, should not be considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning (emphasis added). It might be considered as a last option for managing facilities that have been damaged in an accident, if other options are not possible owing to high exposures of workers or technical difficulties.

The IAEA Safety Standard for Disposal of Radioactive Waste says that the fundamental safety objective of radioactive waste management, including disposal, is “to protect people and the environment from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.” The strategy to achieve this objective with regard to disposal of radioactive waste is “to contain the waste and to isolate it from the accessible biosphere… [which] is taken generally to include those elements of the environment, including groundwater, surface water and marine resources, that are used by people or accessible to people.”

The NSDF proposal turns the IAEA standard on its head.  Rather than isolating radioactive wastes from groundwater and surface water, and disposing of them in stable environments ensuring long-term safety, it would use a design similar to a municipal landfill, in which wastes would be deliberately and routinely allowed to come into contact with the environment, including rain and snow. 

The NSDF proposal calls for a giant mound exposed to the elements.  Surface run-off from the mound would carry radionuclides into three storm-water management ponds.  These would discharge directly into the East Swamp wetland.  Sub-surface waters leaching through the mound would carry radionuclides through a collection system to a newly constructed water treatment facility.  This facility would remove some radionuclides (presumably for disposal using an unspecified method), while allowing others (e.g., tritium) to pass through untreated for release into the East Swamp stream, Perch Creek and the Ottawa River.

The NSDF proposal flouts IAEA guidance calling for “impermeable and water diverting features” for LLW disposal, and a “stable, geological environment” for ILW disposal.  Canada, which participates actively in development of IAEA Safety Standards, should not be allowed to flagrantly disregard them at a government-owned facility.

The use of the term NSDF — “Near Surface” Disposal Facility — is misleading.

This IAEA safety guide
“Near Surface Disposal Facilities for Radioactive Waste” Specific Safety Guide SSG-29 says on page 37

4.15. The concept of near surface disposal covers a wide range of facilities
(e.g. disposal at the surface in engineered vaults or trenches, or disposal at
varying depths — from a few metres to a few tens of metres — in facilities with various types of engineered barriers).

Proposed reactor tombs would leak radioactive materials into the Winnipeg and Ottawa Rivers for millennia

November 5, 2020

The proposed entombment at Rolphton, Ontario

Source document: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Nuclear Power Demonstration Closure Project

Here is a quote from the document: (emphases in red text added)

Normal Evolution Scenario

In this scenario, the facility is assumed to be closed as planned, with no unforeseen events. Parts of the NPDWF that lie below the water table will gradually resaturate. It is expected that resaturation may take several decades to complete. Once saturated, the soluble contaminants in the facility will begin to be released into the groundwater… The primary point of potential contaminant release into the biosphere is taken to be the riverbed close to the shore of the Ottawa River (pages 9-6 and 9-7)

·        Concrete/grout/cement:It is assumed that the grout will gradually degrade as the cement constituents are slowly leached out upon contact with groundwater… (page 2-24)

·        The cap: It is assumed that the cap starts to degrade 100 years after its emplacement and is assumed to have fully degraded (in terms of hydraulic performance) by 1,000 years after decommissioning is complete…. (page 2-24)

This is table 4.4-1 showing a partial inventory of the radioactive contaminants contained in the old NPD reactor, that will migrate into the Ottawa River in the “Normal Evolution Scenario”:

The proposed entombment at Pinawa, Manitoba

Source document: Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the In Situ Decommissioning of the Whiteshell Reactor #1 Project

Here is a quote from the document: (emphases added)

Following the encapsulation of WR-1 and the cessation of pumping from the sumps, the groundwater elevation will be restored to an equilibrium elevation and the majority of the grout (including the remaining components of the reactor) will be situated below the groundwater table... The assumption is that these materials will experience an increase in hydraulic conductivity as they degrade over time.  Simulations were completed to estimate the groundwater flow through the components of the decommissioned structure and results of these simulations were used as input to the analytical solute transport model.

The solute transport model was defined as a source area (representing the remaining solute mass contained within the decommissioned structure), a barrier for containment (the building foundation), a transport pathway (the bedrock, which receives flow from the decommissioned building via advection and diffusion through the barrier and into the surrounding fill material), and a receptor (the Winnipeg River).  (page 6-148)

The cover, grout, and foundation were assumed to degrade at rates comparable to other projects (i.e., Savannah River), which increased groundwater flow through time, resulting in total failure (degradation) of grout by year 10,000.  (page 6-202)

And here is Table 6.4.2-8 showing the radioactive materials that will migrate into the Winnipeg River after cessation of pumping and failure of the grout:

See also this post on the ways the the giant Chalk River Mound would leak radioactive contaminants into the Ottawa River:

AECL is paying the CNEA consortium close to a billion dollars annually

November 5, 2020

According to the AECL Annual report for 2019-20
Contractual amounts paid or payable were:

2020 – $973,838 thousand or 974 million

2019 – $897,657 thousand or 898 million (see pages 59-60)

Previous AECL reports provide the following for contractual amounts:

2018 – $903,527 thousand or 904 million ( page 54)

2017 – $864,930 thousand or 865 million ( page 54)

2016 – $432,444 thousand or 432 million( page 49)

The total amount paid to the CNEA consortium to date (November 3, 2020) $4,072,396 thousand – just over $4 billion over five years.

Consortium’s study appears to show the Chalk River mound would disintegrate

November 2020

The proponent of the Chalk River Mound, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, was required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as part of the very flawed and protracted Environmental Assessment process that is still underway.

The draft EIS was published in March 2017. It is 990 pages long. The full document is posted on the Impact Assessment Agency registry for the project. Here is the link to the full document:

The draft EIS includes 25 occurrences of the phrase “liner and cover failure as a result of normal evolution”. The document also includes 11 occurrences of the term “bathtub effect” during which there is a flow of radioactive materials out of the mound. Table 5.8.6-5 lists quantities of radioactive materials, including four isotopes of plutonium, that would flow out of the mound under the “bathtub scenario”.

Here’s a screenshot from page 723 of the pdf document, that describes the liner and cover failure as a result of “normal evolution” followed by two scenarios for disintegration of the mound and migration of contaminants into Perch Creek and the Ottawa River.

Here is a picture of the Bathtub Scenario from an EIS supporting document, the Performance Assessment for NSDF. The blue arrows and the Ottawa River were added by CCRCA researcher Ole Hendrickson when he incorporated Figure 8-5 into a Powerpoint deck.

And here is part of a table showing radionuclide flow out of the mound (including four isotopes of plutonium) as it disintegrates:

And finally here is a pie chart showing the contribution of various radionuclides (such as Carbon-14, Polonium and Caesium-137 ) to the radiation dose that would be received by an infant downstream in Pembroke, under the “bathtub scenario” of “normal evolution” of the Chalk River Mound:

CNL’s Integrated Waste Strategy alarms downstream residents

November 5, 2020

CNL’s Integrated Waste Strategy (version 0
) (obtained through ATIP in December 2017, contains many redactions)

CNL’s Integrated Waste Strategy (Version 1) (revised version, publicly available on CNL’s website)

The CNL Integrated Waste Strategy describes many types of radioactive wastes owned by the federal government in nuclear facilities in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The document lays out a plan to consolidate as much of these wastes as possible at the Chalk River Laboratories site beside the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa, Gatineau and  Montreal for permanent disposal in a highly-controversial, yet-to-be-licensed giant radioactive waste mound.

Ottawa Valley residents are alarmed by this strategy to bring all of Canada’s federal nuclear waste to Chalk River. The site already has much radioactive waste in less than optimum storage conditions; wastes are leaking and contaminating the Ottawa River. See Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy by Ian McLeod in the Ottawa Citizen, December 16, 2011.

Radioactive waste shipments are already underway from other federal nuclear facilities in Canada. There are risks involved in transportation as described in our recent fact sheet “Transport of Radioactive Waste on Canadian Roads- a growing public risk”.  Premature transportation of wastes before long-term management facilities are planned, evaluated, and licensed will result in double-transport and double-handling, creating additional unnecessary risks to workers and the public.

There are no approved disposal facilities at the CRL site; shipping containers full of wastes are presently being piled up at a Waste Management Area H as shown in the photograph below. The metal shipping containers are susceptible to corrosion and are exposed to precipitation in the current location.

The Chalk River Laboratories is not a good site for long-term storage of radioactive waste mainly because it is seismically active and adjacent to the Ottawa River which serves as a source of drinking water for millions of Canadians including citizens of Ottawa-Gatineau and many other communities.