A call for World-class Cleanup at Chalk River Laboratories

April 2022

Canada’s $16 billion nuclear waste legacy is in danger of being abandoned in substandard facilities and allowed to leak into our rivers and drinking water. Instead, let’s use our expertise  to turn Canada into a world leader in the cleanup and safe storage of  radioactive waste.  

WORLD-CLASS NUCLEAR WASTE CLEANUP would protect  health, drinking water, property values and peace of mind.    

What do experts say is needed?  

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that radioactive waste  facilities must be carefully sited and waste placed below ground to keep  radioactive materials out of air and water and protect current and future  generations. The IAEA says that siting is a fundamentally important activity in the disposal of radioactive waste. Location of a disposal facility in a “stable geological formation” provides protection from processes such as erosion and glaciation.  It says that  nuclear reactor entombment should only be used in the case of a “severe accident”, such as a meltdown.

Retired AECL scientists say that IAEA guidance must be followed, that  Canada has an obligation to follow the guidelines as a signatory to the  Joint Convention on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.  

First Nations, in a Joint Declaration, endorsed by resolution at the  Assembly of First Nations, say that nuclear waste should be managed  according to five principles: 1) no abandonment, 2) monitored and  retrievable storage 3) better containment, more packaging, 2) away from  drinking water and major water bodies and 5) no unnecessary transport  (exports and imports) 

The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility says radioactive  waste should be carefully managed in monitored and retrievable condition  so that repairs to packaging can be made as needed, to keep the contents  out of the biosphere, our air, soil and drinking water. The CCNR suggests  that a “rolling stewardship” strategy whereby each generation teaches  each subsequent generation how to look after the wastes and keep them  out of the biosphere.

Some countries such as Finland have made good progress building  facilities to keep radioactive waste out of the biosphere. Finland puts  low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes produced by its four nuclear reactors in bedrock  geological facilities 100 meters deep. It has over 25 years of experience  with these facilities. They will also house the radioactive remains of the  reactors when they are shut down and dismantled. 

WORLD-CLASS NUCLEAR WASTE CLEANUP would bring  money into the Ottawa Valley economy and support good  careers for generations of valley residents.  


Thoroughly characterizing all wastes

Establishing an impeccable record-keeping system for use by current and future generations.

Careful packaging and labelling of the wastes. Repairing packages  when they fail and improving them if safer packaging materials become  available. 

Regional mapping to locate a site with stable bedrock 

Construction and operation of an in ground or underground storage facility. Materials that will be radioactive and  hazardous for thousands of years cannot be safely stored on the surface.

While waiting for all of the above steps to be completed, wastes should  be stored in above ground monitored and reinforced (and shielded if  necessary) concrete warehouses; such facilities were pioneered by  Atomic Energy of Canada Limited in the 1990s.  

WORLD-CLASS NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE FACILITIES  would protect the Ottawa River and future generations.  

Inadequate siting process for the NSDF

April 14, 2022 (Updated May 13, 2022)

IAEA Safety Guide SSG-29, Appendix 1, Siting of Near Surface Disposal Facilities, says siting is a “fundamentally important activity in the disposal of radioactive waste.” (Ref: https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1637_web.pdf, p. 83)

SSG-29 says the first two stages in the siting process are a “conceptual and planning stage,” during which “projected waste volumes and activities should be quantified,” and an “area survey stage,” involving “regional mapping or investigation.”   

The NSDF facility type and site were selected without quantifying volumes and activities of federal wastes awaiting disposal, and without a regional investigation, thus skipping the first two stages identified in the IAEA Safety Guide.

Proximity to contaminated structures being demolished at the Chalk River Laboratories — not safety or environmental protection — appears to have been the priority is choosing the site of the NSDF. No serious consideration was given to sites other than those on AECL’s 3700-ha Chalk River property,

Alternative sites should be sought to avoid rapid discharge of radioactive and hazardous substances to a major water body and to avoid placing wastes in an area with a high water table (Ref: CMD 22-H7, Section 3.2, Design Options Evaluation). 

Flat, sandy portions of the 30,770-ha Department of National Defence Garrison Petawawa property, adjacent to the Chalk River Laboratories, would accommodate a larger, less expensive, and safer in-ground concrete vault facility.  Vegetation was removed from extensive portions of this property to create a parachute training zone for the Canadian Airborne Regiment, which was disbanded in 1995.

A regional investigation of crown land for geological formations suitable for a shallow rock cavern facility should also be conducted.

IAEA Safety Requirement SSR-5, Disposal of Radioactive Waste, indicates that an in-ground concrete vault or a shallow rock cavern could contain a wider range of waste types than an above ground, landfill-type facility such as the NSDF. (Ref: https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1449_web.pdf)

The southern portion of the site chosen for the NSDF is underlain by a feature categorized in 1994 as a ““high-probability” fracture zone,” ten meters wide and over a kilometer long – a potential groundwater flow pathway with “permeability values several orders of magnitude greater than bulk rock mass.” (Ref: https://www.iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/document/139596, p.5-109).This feature should have eliminated the proposed site from further consideration.

Original site selection criteria announced by the proponent would have excluded any site with more than a 10% slope. This criterion was changed to 25% to allow CNL’s desired site (Ref: Near Surface Disposal Facility Site Selection Report 232-10300-TN-001 Revision 2. Oct. 2016).  .

Site selection criteria were also supposed to exclude known or proposed critical habitats for species listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) or by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).”  However, construction of the NSDF would destroy 30 hectares of mature and semi-mature forest that provides high-quality maternity roosting habitat for three endangered bat species (Little Brown Myotis, Northern Myotis and Tri-colored Bat) and nesting habitat for six at-risk bird species (Canada Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Whip-poor-will, Wood Thrush).  It would also have adverse impacts on at-risk aquatic species such as the Blanding’s Turtle.

The proposed NSDF site is on a hillside, over fractured rock, with a high water table, surrounded on three sides by wetlands that drain into Perch Lake 50 metres from the base of the hill. Perch Creek flows from Perch Lake into the Ottawa River, one kilometre away.  The entire Chalk River Laboratories property — with its proximity to the Ottawa River, high groundwater table, uneven terrain, and fractured bedrock — is a very poor location for permanent radioactive waste disposal.  The NSDF would destroy habitat for many at-risk species.  Volumes and activities of federal wastes were not quantified prior to selection of a landfill-type disposal facility, so there is no certainty that the NSDF could safely  accommodate a significant portion of these wastes.

This is why concerned citizens say this is the “Wrong Plan” in the “Wrong Place”.  

Chalk River Laboratories

Plus sécuritaire de manger des déchets radioactifs que des roches ?

21 février 2022

La Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN) a commis une erreur massive dans un document qu’elle a préparé pour une audience du 22 février pour autoriser un monticule géant de déchets radioactifs près de la rivière des Outaouais, à 180 km en amont de la capitale du Canada.

La présentation de la CCSN (diapositive 23) montre la radioactivité du monticule tombant sous la radioactivité des roches environnantes entre 10 et 100 ans après la fermeture de l’installation fédérale de gestion des déchets.

Mais la bande grise montrant la radioactivité des roches de la région est fausse – environ 1 000 fois trop élevée.

« C’est très inquiétant, car la Commission est le seul organisme au Canada à superviser l’industrie nucléaire et à contrôler la sécurité de ses activités », a déclaré Ole Hendrickson, PhD, scientifique et chercheur pour Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. “Les colis dans le monticule seront plus radioactifs que la grande majorité des échantillons de minerai, même dans 10 000 ans.”

La CCSN utilise la « gamme de radioactivité dans les roches » erronée pour conclure que le dépotoir de déchets radioactifs ne poserait pas de risque important à long terme pour la santé du public et recommande d’autoriser sa construction.

L’organisme de réglementation nucléaire du Canada a passé quatre ans à évaluer la proposition pour une « installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface (IGDPS)» des Laboratoires Nucléaires Canadiens (LNC), mais n’a pas réussi à détecter l’erreur de plusieurs ordres de grandeur.

Le monticule comprendra des déchets emballés à vie longue avec jusqu’à 10 000 000 de Becquerels par kilogramme de radioactivité. Cela signifie que 10 millions d’atomes se désintègrent – émettant une rafale de rayonnement – chaque seconde par kilo. Le dépotoir contiendrait plus d’un million de tonnes de déchets.

Dans sa proposition, les LNC ont également calculé une « dose d’ingestion » et ont conclu qu’il serait plus sécuritaire de manger des déchets dans le monticule que de manger du minerai d’uranium local, environ dix ans après la fermeture du dépotoir.

La diapositive de la CCSN fait référence à un rapport de 1981 de la Commission géologique de l’Ontario. Même l’échantillon le plus radioactif du rapport serait beaucoup moins radioactif que la bande grise prétendant montrer une « gamme de radioactivité dans les roches » dans la région de Pembroke-Renfrew. Cet échantillon aberrant (avec 1100 ppm d’uranium) a été trouvé près du lac Merchands, à 100 km de Chalk River.

Le rapport a analysé 74 échantillons et en a trouvé 67 avec de faibles niveaux, de 1 à 100 parties par million, d’uranium.

L’erreur apparaît d’abord dans le dossier de sureté préparé par le promoteur du monticule. Les Laboratoires Nucléaires Canadiens (LNC) sont une société privée engagée par le gouvernement fédéral en 2015 pour exploiter des installations nucléaires appartenant à la société d’État fédérale Énergie atomique du Canada limitée (EACL). Le dossier de sûreté est le principal document utilisé par la CCSN pour prendre une décision de permis.

Hendrickson a ajouté : « La répétition de l’erreur massive des LNC soulève des doutes majeurs quant à la crédibilité de l’évaluation par la CCSN des risques du projet. »

Small Modular Reactors and Proliferation /Tolerance of Nuclear Weapons

Gordon Edwards, January 12, 2021

Uranium enrichment is indeed a proliferation-sensitive technology as is clearly demonstrated by the Iranian situation. Even though, under the terms of the NPT and all other international accords, Iran has the right to enrich uranium to any degree that might be desired, for civilian purposes only, in practical terms the western powers do not at all trust Iran to exercise that right. So they are prohibited from doing so, even to the 20% (minus epsilon) level, which is what many of the proposed SMNR designs require.

Right up until the final shutdown of the NRU reactor at Chalk River, Canada was using weapons-grade uranium (>93%) targets for the production of technetium-99m generators for use in hospitals around the world, and I was told by an Iranian scientist in Salzburg that Iran wanted weapons-grade uranium for exactly the same reason – medical isotopes. All of this ignoring the fact that weapons-grade uranium is NOT needed for this purpose, whether in Canada or anywhere else, and in actual fact technetium-99m generators can be produced in a cost-effective manner without the use of a nuclear reactor of any kind, or even using uranium of any kind.

But – in the interests of a nuclear weapons free world – Canada should indeed be encouraging the international / multinational control (or oversight) of ALL enrichment facilities.

But that is small potatoes. Canada claims the NPT is the backbone of its non-proliferation commitment, but India has not signed the NPT and has already developed a nuclear weapons capability beginning in 1974 with plutonium produced in a Canadian reactor (the CIRUS, a clone of the NRX). Whereupon Canada insisted there would be no more nuclear cooperation between Canada and India – but all the time, India remained a member of COG (the CANDU Owners Group) and went on to build more than a dozen CANDU “clones” without direct Canadian help (other than the fact that we sold them under very generous terms the original CANDUS that were the cookie-cutter models for all the others.  And then, under Stephen Harper, we resumed sales of uranium to India without any requirement that they get rid of their nuclear arsenal or even stop expanding it, and without signing the NPT. Which makes all the other countries who signed the NPT to have access to Canadian uranium and/or technology look like fools, because India got all the goodies without accepting the NPT responsibilities. Canada should stop selling uranium to India if the NPT is really so important.

But even that is small potatoes. Article VI of the NPT says that the “ official  nuclear weapons states USA, UK, France, Russia and China, must negotiate in good faith not only to eliminate nuclear weapons but to achieve general and complete disarmament (i.e. elimination of armies and an end to war).  Clearly, none of these nuclear superpowers are embarked on such a path, and until they do, Canada should refuse to sell uranium to any of them. Or at least should put constant pressure on the, to comply with Article VI. The fact that these things are not done indicates that Canada is only paying lip-service when it says that NPT is the basis for its non-proliferation policies.

PET told the UN General Assembly that if we want a world free of nuclear weapons, we must end the arms race – and we must begin with a strategy of suffocation, to choke off the vital oxygen on which it feeds, meaning the production of the two “strategic nuclear materials” which serve as primary nuclear explosives, i.e. weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

These same considerations should apply when it comes to the extraction of plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel.  At the very least, there should be a requirement for such facilities (reprocessing plants) to be under international control just as enrichment plants should be under international control. Of course, better yet would be the abolition of reprocessing and uranium enrichment altogether, taking Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s 1978 “strategy of suffocation” to its ultimate limit. PET told the UN General Assembly that if we want a world free of nuclear weapons, we must end the arms race – and we must begin with a strategy of suffocation, to choke off the vital oxygen on which it feeds, meaning the production of the two “strategic nuclear materials” which serve as primary nuclear explosives, i.e. weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. However we now know that, for weapons purposes, ALL plutonium is “good” plutonium, so the division of plutonium into weapons-grade and non-weapons-grade is illusory. Ultimately, then, the strategy of suffocation means no nuclear reactors whatsoever.

See www.ccnr.org/plute_sandia.html

Trinity (nuclear test) - Wikipedia
Trinity test of a plutonium bomb (Wikipedia)

The gigantic Chalk River Mound (the so-called ‘NSDF’) would not reduce Canada’s radioactive waste liabilities and could in fact increase them

The NSDF “Licensed Inventory” (Table 13 in the NSDF Waste Acceptance Criteria), if followed by the proponent, would only allow disposal of a tiny fraction of the Government of Canada’s legacy nuclear waste.  The NSDF would yield virtually no reduction in the federal nuclear legacy liability despite the expenditure of hundreds of millions of tax dollars. 

Liabilities could also increase, because a giant pile of leaking radioactive waste would be difficult to remediate, and remediation costs could exceed those of managing the wastes had they not been put in the mound.

For a detailed analysis see this post: https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/10/06/the-government-of-canadas-radioactive-wastes-costs-and-liabilities-growing-under-public-private-partnership/

Civilian nuclear and military nuclear members of a “mutual admiration society” ~ Dr. Gordon Edwards

by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

December 19, 2020

Civilian nuclear and military nuclear have always been friendly room-mates, members of a “mutual admiration” society. In today’s announcement of an SMR Action Plan, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said that nuclear power in Canada is a “home-grown” technology and referred to C. D. Howe’s role in this connection.  In fact C.D. Howe arranged for all Canadian uranium extracted from Canadian mines to be sold to the US military for use in tens of thousands of nuclear weapons from 1945 to 1965. C D Howe was also on the Committee that met in Washington DC in 1944 to approve the first nuclear reactors to be built in Canada (at Chalk River) as part of the ongoing effort to produce plutonium for use as a nuclear explosive. Mr. Howe approved of the policy of selling plutonium produced at Chalk River to the US military for weapons use, a practice that continued until 1975 and beyond. Plutonium from Chalk River was sent to Britain (it was the first sample of plutonium that Britain had ever obtained) just a few months before Britain detonated its first A-Bomb in the Monte Bello Islands off Australia. 

To the best of my knowledge, no civilian nuclear power agency – not the Canadian Nuclear Association, nor the Canadian Nuclear Society, nor the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, nor Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, nor Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, NOBODY – has ever issued a clear statement denouncing nuclear weapons or even calling for a nuclear weapons free world. Most nuclear scientists and engineers feel a strong kinship and camaraderie with those who are in the nuclear weapons business. The same goes for those in the nuclear division of Natural Resources Canada. I remember on one occasion (prior to the exchange of nuclear tests between India and Pakistan) I expressed alarm at the fact that both neighbours are developing a nuclear war-fighting capability and a couple of senior civil servants said “Would that be so bad? Maybe that’s just what the world needs. More deterrence. Creates stability”

Despite regular denials from our puppet masters that civilian nuclear has nothing to do with military nuclear, it is clear that civilian nuclear (including the frankly discriminatory provisions of the NPT) has adopted an appeasement policy that will never succeed in bringing about a nuclear weapons free world. Why does Canada continue to sell uranium to countries that are in the process of investing hundreds of billions to improve and modernize the nuclear arsenals in utter defiance of the NPT, knowing that the vast bulk of Canadian uranium that is rejected from enrichment plants as DU end up as the raw material for producing plutonium for Bombs, and that the lion’s share of the explosive power – and the overwhelming share of the radioactive fallout – of every H-bomb comes from the fissioning of DU atoms that are freely accessed by the military even if they are the leftovers of “peaceful” fuel production for nuclear power plants?

“See ‘The Nuclear Fudge’ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lK65S5eHRQ&feature=youtu.be“. This 16-minute W5 segment from the Regan era is very informative. The photo below is a screen shot from the video.