Six reasons to STOP the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

March 22, 2021

The Ottawa River is a Canadian Heritage River that flows past Parliament Hill. It has untold value as a beautiful natural and historical treasure. The river is sacred for the Algonquin People whose traditional territory it defines.

The Ottawa River is threatened by a giant landfill for one million tonnes of radioactive and other hazardous waste. A multinational consortium (SNC-Lavalin, Fluor and Jacobs) plans to build the seven-story mound on the grounds of the Chalk River Laboratories, northwest of Ottawa, directly across the Ottawa River from the province of Quebec.

Independent scientists and the public have not had a formal opportunity to comment on this project since August 2017 when hundreds of critical comments were submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. CNSC is the “responsible authority” under the old Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and would hold a licensing hearing at an undetermined date in the future. An Expert Panel  recommended in 2017 that the CNSC not be in charge of environmental assessment for nuclear projects. The panel also noted that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a captured regulator.

The Assembly of First Nations and more than 140 Quebec and Ontario municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the Ottawa River nuclear waste dump.

Here are six reasons to STOP this project:

1. The proposed site is unsuitable for a dump of any kind. The site is less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec. The river is a drinking water source for millions of Canadians. After passing the Chalk River Laboratories, it flows downstream through Ottawa-Gatineau, past Parliament Hill, and on to Montreal. The site is tornado and earthquake prone; the Ottawa River itself is a major fault line. The site is partly surrounded by wetlands and the underlying bedrock is porous and fractured.

2. The mound would contain hundreds of radioactive materials, dozens of hazardous chemicals and tonnes of heavy metals. Radioactive materials destined for the dump include tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium (one of the most dangerous radioactive materials if inhaled or ingested), and up to 80 tonnes of uranium. Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in the reference inventory for the mound are long-lived. This suggests the dump would remain dangerously radioactive for 100,000 years. 

A very large quantity of cobalt-60 in the dump would give off so much intense gamma radiation that workers must use lead shielding to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be stored underground.

Dioxin, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and hundreds of tonnes of lead would go into the dump. It would also contain thousands of tonnes of copper and iron and 33 tonnes of aluminum, tempting scavengers to dig into the mound after closure.

3. The mound would leak radioactive and hazardous contaminants into the Ottawa River during operation and after closure. Many ways the mound would leak are described in the environmental impact statement. The mound is expected to eventually disintegrate in a process referred to as “normal evolution.”

4. There is no safe level of exposure to the radiation that would leak into the Ottawa River from the Chalk River mound. All of the escaping radioactive materials would increase risks of birth defects, genetic damage, cancer and other chronic diseases. The International Atomic Energy Agency says radioactive wastes must be carefully stored out of the biosphere, not in an above-ground mound.

5. International safety standards do not allow landfills to be used for nuclear waste disposal. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that only Very Low Level Radioactive Waste (VLLW) can be put in an above-ground landfill-type facility. Canada would be shirking its international obligations as a member state of the IAEA and a signatory to an international nuclear waste treaty if it allowed this dump to be licensed.

6. The giant Chalk River mound would not reduce Canada’s $8 billion federal radioactive waste liabilities and could in fact increase themThe giant pile of leaking radioactive waste would be difficult to remediate. Remediation costs could exceed those of managing the wastes had they not been put in the mound.

Why is there so much plutonium at Chalk River?

October 25, 2020

A consortium of private multinational corporations is proposing to create a giant mound of radioactive wastes at Chalk River, Ontario, less than a kilometer from the Ottawa River.  According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the proposed mega-dump will house a rather large quantity of plutonium.

What is plutonium and why should we worry about it?

Plutonium is a human-made radioactive element that is created as a byproduct in nuclear reactors. The first reactors were built to produce plutonium for use as a nuclear explosive in atomic weapons. Plutonium can also be fabricated into fuel elements for nuclear reactors.

Plutonium remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years after it is created.  It comes in several different varieties or “isotopes”.  The most abundant varieties are plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,000 years; and plutonium-240, with a half-life of 6,600 years.  The half-life is the time required for half of the atoms to undergo radioactive disintegration. When a plutonium atom disintegrates it is transformed into another radioactive material, sometimes one with a much longer half-life.

All isotopes of plutonium are highly toxic. Even very small doses can lead to radiation-induced illnesses such as cancer, often resulting in death.

Why is there plutonium at Chalk River?

The decision to build the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) was taken in Washington, D.C. in 1944.  Canada, Great Britain and the United States agreed to build the facility as part of an effort to produce plutonium for bombs.  In fact, plutonium produced at CRL played a role in both the US and UK nuclear weapons programs.

During the late 1940s, British scientists carried out all necessary pilot plant work at Chalk River to design their own large plutonium production plant at Windscale, England.  Plutonium produced at CRL arrived in England just months before the first British nuclear explosion took place in Australia in 1952.

For three decades, plutonium produced in Canadian research reactors was sold to the U.S. military to help finance the Chalk River Laboratories.  A reprocessing plant at Chalk River was built to extract plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel dissolved in nitric acid. It was shut down in 1954, but irradiated fuel containing Canadian plutonium was shipped to the U.S. until the mid-1970s.  In all, at least 250 kg of plutonium was sold to the U.S. for nuclear weapons and warheads.

Three buildings central to plutonium production are slated for demolition

Various facilities at CRL were used in the 1940s and 1950s to extract plutonium from fuels irradiated in the NRX reactor.  In 2004, environmental assessments were initiated governing the radioactive demolition of three such structures:

•       The Plutonium Tower, used in the late 1940s to extract plutonium from fuel   rods irradiated in the NRX reactor.

•       The Plutonium Recovery Laboratory, used between 1949 and 1957 to extract plutonium isotopes from enriched fuels irradiated in the NRX reactor.

•       The Waste Water Evaporator, used between 1952 and 1958 to process radioactive liquid wastes left behind from the plutonium extraction work. Decommissioning of this facility would include: removal, treatment and storage of plutonium-bearing liquid wastes and sludge in tanks, plutonium-contaminated process lines and equipment; decontamination and removal of process equipment and processing cells for handling plutonium; removal of building structures containing plutonium residues; segregation of solid wastes and transfer of these plutonium-contaminated materials to waste management facilities at CRL.

In December 2011 the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission gave the go-ahead for dismantling the first of these structures, the Plutonium Tower.  In 2012, changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act introduced by Stephen Harper’s government made it permissible to demolish radioactively contaminated buildings without any environmental assessment (EA).

To date, only the auxiliary buildings associated with the Plutonium Tower have been decommissioned, but the Tower itself is still standing.  And as far as the Plutonium Recovery Lab and Waste Water Evaporator go, neither has been decommissioned. All these decommissioning projects will be difficult, and will generate lots of long-lived, intermediate-level waste.

These buildings are just three examples of demolition projects that would produce plutonium-contaminated rubble likely destined for the proposed megadump. Chalk River scientists were keenly interested in testing plutonium as a reactor fuel.  Some three tonnes of plutonium-based fuel elements were fabricated at Chalk River using remote handling devices called gloveboxes. Such facilities would also result in plutonium-contaminated wastes when demolished.

The draft EIS estimates that total quantities of plutonium to be placed in the planned landfill-type facility would be measured in the trillions of Becquerels. A Becquerel is a unit of radioactivity, indicating that one radioactive disintegration is taking place every second. (Every radioactive atom eventually disintegrates, or explodes, giving off one or two subatomic projectiles called “atomic radiation”. All forms of atomic radiation — alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, and neutrons–are damaging to living cells.)

Plutonium will inevitably leak into the Ottawa River (EIS)

The draft EIS indicates that after failure of the landfill cover, which is bound to occur at some point after abandonment, millions of Becquerels of each plutonium isotope would enter Perch Creek every year.  Perch Creek flows into the Ottawa River about 1 km away.

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

May 2017

International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework

February 2020

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released the final report of its review of Canada’s framework for nuclear safety. The review was conducted in September 2019 by a  24-member team including 20 senior regulatory experts from 17 countries, under the aegis of the IAEA’s “Integrated Regulatory Review Service” (IRRS).

The final report was produced by peer reviewers and hosts together. This report took five months, after completion of the mission to be finalized.

The IRRS team conducting the review provided numerous observations, suggestions and recommendations that require action by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).  

These include the following: (all text is excerpted from the IAEA report and IAEA safety guides except “Comments” which highlight concerns of civil society groups). Red text highlights some key quotes from the IRRS team’s report.

1.  The Government of Canada should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in its Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. 

The IAEA requires “To ensure the effective management and control of radioactive waste, the government shall ensure that a national policy and a strategy for radioactive waste management are established.” Further, it requires that “The national strategy for radioactive waste management has to outline arrangements for ensuring the implementation of the national policy.”  The IRRS team found “no evidence”, beyond the principles contained in the Policy Framework, of a “governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management.” It found that the Policy Framework “does not encompass all the needed policy elements nor a detailed strategy or corresponding arrangements… for radioactive waste management in Canada.”

Comment: “The IRRS mission found no evidence… of a government policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management.” This policy and strategy vacuum highlighted by the IAEA has allowed the promotion of substandard radioactive waste facilities that would not isolate radioactive wastes from the biosphere as required by IAEA.This puts Canadians at risk of adverse effects on their drinking water, their health and their property values. If this policy vacuum persists, current and future Canadians will pay for this deficiency with adverse health outcomes and increasing demands on the public purse to remediate poorly designed radioactive waste facilities in the future. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

2. The Government of Canada’s decommissioning requirements should align with IAEA guidance that entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long-lived material, is not an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning of existing nuclear power plants and future nuclear facilities.

The IRRS team included the following observation in its report: “The CNSC is currently considering two licence applications related to in situ confinement of legacy reactor facilities. This strategy of in-situ confinement is not consistent with SSG-47(emphasis added)

SSG-47 is the 2018 IAEA Specific Safety Guide, Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities. The report suggests that Canada “revise its current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance”. 

The IAEA review states that “The national policy on management of radioactive waste should include decommissioning aspects, including the choice of possible decommissioning strategies” and it “encourages Canada to request an international peer review of the proposed strategy related to in situ confinement [entombment] of legacy reactors.”

Comment: Two proposals for entombment of shut-down reactors are currently undergoing environmental assessment in Canada.  IAEA guidance explicitly prohibits this approach, which essentially consists of dumping concrete on top of the highly radioactive remains of defunct reactors and leaving them in place. Such an approach would allow radioactive contaminants to leak into groundwater and drinking water sources for millennia.

3. The Government of Canada’s legal framework for nuclear safety should “expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity,” and should “explicitly stipulate that compliance with regulations and requirements established or adopted by the regulatory body does not relieve the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity of its prime responsibility for safety.”

The IRRS team found that “The legal framework does not expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity.”

The IAEA requires that “The government shall expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity.” 

Comment: Lack of clarity on who is primarily responsible for safety can lead to lax safety practices as occurred in Ontario in 1997, when seven Ontario Power Generation reactors had to be shut down and U.S. experts called in to review the situation. (See “Canada pays price for taking nuclear safety for granted”). This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

4. The Government of Canada’s legal framework for nuclear safety should explicitly address the principle of “Justification of facilities and activities”, namely that “Facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks must yield an overall benefit.”

The IAEA requires that “For facilities and activities to be considered justified, the benefits that they yield must outweigh the radiation risks to which they give rise.” The IRRS review states that “There is no systematic evaluation of justification for the various practices involving radiation sources in the licensing process.” (emphasis added)

The review suggests that the CNSC should “establish a procedure to ensure the systematic implementation of justification in the authorization of all practices involving radiation sources.”

Comment: Real situations arise where there is a trade-off between the nuclear industry’s desire to expand and the public’s right to be protected from radioactive pollutants, which are routinely released from nuclear facilities. By not explicitly addressing “justification”, Canada’s nuclear safety framework allows industry needs to prevail and man-made radiation exposures to increase without any assessment of whether or not there are benefits to society at large that justify the increased exposures. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

5.  The CNSC should implement a systematic gap analysis between IAEA requirements and its regulatory framework, and update the regulatory framework as necessary.

The IAEA requires that “regulations and guides shall be reviewed and revised as necessary to keep them up to date, with due consideration of relevant international safety standards” The IRRS team found that CNSC regulations “do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The CNSC “has no systematic approach to conduct a gap analysis between the new IAEA requirements and its regulatory framework.”  The IRRS team observed that Canada’s style of legislative practice “may create difficulties to find exact wording when searching where and by what provision individual requirements of the IAEA Safety Standards are addressed.”  It observed that the CNSC “uses a predominantly non-prescriptive approach in the application of its regulatory framework.”

The IRRS team stated CNSC has not developed a single document where all elements of safety policy are gathered and approved by the senior management.” (emphasis added)

Comment:  Many fundamental IAEA safety standards are not addressed by regulations in Canada and there is no system in place to identify the gaps. IAEA standards that are addressed tend to be addressed in a “non-prescriptive” way. For example, there is no mention of the standards and regulations in actual nuclear facility licenses so essentially there is no legal force behind them. In practical terms, Canada’s regulator relies on its licensees to “self-regulate”; this can lead to problems.

6. The CNSC should establish or approve dose constraints for all Class I type facilities, should consistently implement the concept of dose constraints for all facilities, and should standardise regulatory practice for derived release limits.

The IRRS team found that “dose constraints are not explicitly established for all Class I facilities,” that “there are different approaches used to the regulation of the control and authorization of releases for different types of facilities,” and that “inconsistencies are evident” in the derivation of derived released limits.

Comment: According to the review team there is much inconsistency in Canada’s approach to establishing limits for radioactive pollutants from individual facilities. This puts Canadians at risk. In our experience, CNSC allows licensees to create a separate release limit for each and every one of hundreds of radionuclides it releases, each one based on releasing up to the public dose limit for that radionuclide. This problem is compounded by the fact that members of the public can be exposed to releases from more than one facility. For example, people in the Ottawa Valley are subject to radioactive releases from the defunct NPD reactor at Rolphton, from the Chalk River Laboratories, and from SRB Technologies in Pembroke which releases tritium to the air, groundwater, and the sewer system. Each one of these facilities sets its own release limits that allow it to release up to the public dose limit for each and every radionuclide it releases. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

7.  The CNSC should ensure that radiation protection requirements are consistent with the IAEA General Safety Requirements, Part 3; specifically, with respect to optimization of radiation protection through dose constraints, dose limits and retention of dose records by licensees.

The IRRS review states that The current radiation protection regulations and requirements are not in accordance with GSR Part 3 with respect to optimization of radiation protection current radiation protection regulations and requirements are not in accordance with GSR Part 3 with respect to optimization of radiation protection.” (emphasis added)

 The IRRS team noted that the CNSC is updating its Radiation Protection Regulations.  However, it found that this update “does not foresee a reduction in the dose limit to the pregnant nuclear energy worker from 4 mSv to 1 mSv… nor the establishment of dose limits for apprentices or students of 16 to 18 years of age.”  Further, it found that CNSC regulations do not meet the IAEA requirement that “Records of occupational exposure for each worker shall be maintained during and after the worker’s working life, at least until the former worker attains or would have attained the age of 75 years, and for not less than 30 years after cessation of the work.”

Comment: Canada does not adequately protect pregnant nuclear energy workers, allowing a four times higher dose to pregnant nuclear energy workers than IAEA recommends. Canada does not adequately protect student workers from 16 – 18 years of age. Inadequate record retention makes health studies difficult and could interfere with compensation claims in the event of adverse health outcomes potentially caused by radiation exposures. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

8. The CNSC should align its transportation regulatory documents with IAEA requirements, including its guidance for package design certification, and guidance regarding management system for transport.

The IAEA Regulations SSR-6 (Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials, 2018 Edition)require that “a management system based on international, national or other standards acceptable to the competent authority shall be established and implemented for all the activities associated to the transport of radioactive material.”  The IRRS report states The CNSC has not explicitly established or adopted guidance regarding management system for transport.” (emphasis added)

Comment: Canada’s inadequate management system for transport of radioactive materials puts Canadians at risk. We have no guarantees that packaging is adequate, and no notification to municipalities and emergency personnel when shipments are passing through their area. Three fiery crashes on Canadian highways in recent years amplify our concerns about potential catastrophic consequences of inadequately regulated transport of radioactive materials.

Here are screenshots of Appendix IV from the final report. The IRRS team had suggestions or recommendations in 20 out of the 26 areas they looked at during the review.

How would the Chalk River Mound leak? Let us count some of the ways

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) – run by a consortium of profit-making multinational companies – is proposing to build a giant mound that it misleadingly calls a “Near Surface Disposal Facility” for a million cubic meters of radioactive waste at its Chalk River facility along the Ottawa River.

CNL’s high cost ad campaign (paid for with Canadian tax dollars) says the dump is safe and uses “proven technology”. Ads say the dump will protect the public and the environment.

However, CNL’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) describes several ways that contents of the proposed “engineered containment mound” of radioactive waste could leak into the Ottawa River. Here are some of the ways:

During operation (while the dump is being filled)…

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

Rain and melting snow would leach radioactive contents down through the mound. The liquid would be collected and pumped uphill to a water treatment plant. Some but not all radioactive contaminants would be removed prior to releasing the treated leachate into wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River. (Table 3.5.3-1 on page 3-23 of the draft EIS) 

2. Radioactive water (tritium) would leach in very large amounts from the mound. 

Tritium is part of the water molecule and cannot be removed by water treatment. The draft EIS suggests the very high tritium content will be reduced but does not say how. Untreated tritium would be discharged to wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River where it would get incorporated into fish and enter drinking water supplies Large quantities of tritium would also be released from the dump as water vapour. 

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

Table 3.5.3-2 on page 3-25 shows that treatment would only partly remove non-radioactive toxic compounds in the wastes such as lead, PCBs and dioxin. Measurable amounts would be released to the environment. 

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

Highly contaminated water washing off active dumping areas would be pumped to the water treatment plant. Less contaminated water would be pumped to three storm-water management ponds around the perimeter of the facility and be discharged to adjacent wetlands. Ponds would provide only “basic” containment of sediments before their contents were released (draft EIS explains this on page 3-57) 

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

The draft EIS (page 9-2) says that pond overflow “would be conveyed by inlet and emergency outlet structures adjacent to the surface water management ponds,” presumably to be released directly into adjacent wetlands. 

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

After closure…

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

After waste dumping ended the leachate collection system and water treatment plant would be shut down, and a top cover placed over the wastes. The draft EIS acknowledges that the top cover would fail with “normal evolution” through forces such as erosion, extreme storms, burrowing animals, root penetration, etc. 

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

Rain and melting snow would again leach the radioactive wastes, 

but the leachate collection and pumping system would no longer be operational. Contaminated leachate would be trapped by the bottom liner and accumulate in the space between the mound and the surrounding berm. Leachate levels would rise and spill over along the low point of the 


Long-lived radioactive elements such as plutonium and uranium, exposed to wind and water erosion, would flow into the river for thousands to millions of years. Eventual failure of the bottom liners would also allow radionuclides to move into groundwater. The Ottawa River would be permanently contaminated by radioactive wastes. Countless generations of people drinking its water would be exposed to increased cancer risks.

Transport of radioactive waste on Canadian roads ~ a growing public risk

On  November 1, 2017 Canadians were horrified by news of a fiery crash involving tanker trucks and several cars on a highway north of Toronto, Ontario, that shocked first responders by its absolute devastation. 

Now consider this…

The Government of Canada has hired a multinational consortium of SNC Lavalin and two US based corporations to deal with several million tons of radioactive waste ultimately owned by the taxpayers of Canada. These wastes were created during seven decades of Canadian involvement in the production of nuclear weapons materials for the US, production of medical isotopes, and nuclear power research and development. The radioactive wastes are currently located in three provinces: Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. 

The consortium plans to “consolidate” these wastes at Chalk River, Ontario, next to the Ottawa river which supplies drinking water to millions of people. 

This will require thousands of shipments of radioactive waste along Canadian roads from Pinawa, Manitoba, Douglas Point, Ontario and Gentilly, Quebec to Chalk River.  (See possible transport routes below)  

Radioactive waste is among the most toxic waste on earth…

Much of the federally owned radioactive waste is a result of “fissioning” of uranium in nuclear reactors. Hundreds of radioactive substances are produced by fissioning, almost none of which existed in nature prior to the creation of nuclear reactors. Individual radioactive substances vary greatly in the types of damaging radiation they give off and the length of time they remain hazardous, with some of them remaining lethal and carcinogenic for millions of years.  

All man-made radioactive substances can cause damage to human genetic material. They can cause birth defects, cancers, genetic damage and many diseases and disorders in humans, including their unborn children and their descendants, and in all other living things.  It is important to keep radioactive waste away from living things.

These radioactive waste shipments are already being transported through many Canadian cities and towns including Kenora, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Montreal and Trois Rivières, in simple ship-standard containers.

Municipalities and first responders have not been consulted or briefed about these shipments, putting them at risk should an accident occur in their territory.

A serious accident on any of these routes could result in widespread radioactive contamination of land, air, water bodies and communities.  A person in a car, sitting in trafficnext to a truck carrying a container full of radioactive waste could be receiving a dose of gamma radiation, which penetrates the walls of these containers.

Chalk River, Ontario, the final destination of these shipments, is a poor location for permanent storage of radioactive waste. It is located on a major earthquake fault line; the underlying bedrock is porous and fractured, and groundwater moves rapidly though the rock into the Ottawa River which is a source of drinking water for millions of Canadians downstream in Ottawa, Gatineau, Montreal and many other communities. 

Current facilities for waste storage at Chalk River are inadequate in the long-term, and a highly controversial planned new “radioactive waste mound” has been criticized extensively by independent scientists and does not comply with international safety standards. This raises the question of why these shipments of wastes are being allowed. The Crown Agency responsible for the nuclear waste, Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL), has given much freedom to the SNC-Lavalin consortium contractors to decide how they want to handle the waste.Risky in and of themselves, these shipments are contributing to making an already-existing problem of radioactive waste at Chalk River even worse.

Despite all of these concerns, shipments are already underway.

The photo below shows containers full of radioactive waste being piled up at “Waste Management Area H” at the Chalk River Labs site in Chalk River, Ontario. The lifespan of these containers is unknown. They are exposed to weather and therefore are likely to eventually corrode and deteriorate. Tornadoes also are known to affect the region and are occurring with increasing frequency and strength. The consortium says it can pile the containers five high and store close to 7,000 containers in this location. Each container contains roughly 10 tons of radioactive waste.  The photo below was part of a presentation to the Chalk River Labs Environmental Stewardship Council in March 2019.

Two nuclear waste dumps threaten the Ottawa River

A multinational consortium wants to build two nuclear waste dumps alongside the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau, one at Chalk River, Ontario and the other at Rolphton, Ontario. Both dumps disregard international safety guidelines and would leak radioactive materials into the Ottawa River, endangering drinking water for millions of Canadians living downstream.


In 1944 Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) were established to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Starting in 1952 the Labs were operated by “Atomic Energy of Canada Limited” (AECL).  Besides producing plutonium, the labs established a prototype nuclear power reactor (NPD) upstream of Chalk River at Rolphton, and extracted “medical isotopes” from irradiated fuel. These activities and two serious accidents created large quantities of dangerous radioactive wastes. Cleanup costs are estimated at $8 billion.

The Harper government radically restructured AECL in 2015, creating a subsidiary called Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and contracting a multinational consortium including SNC Lavalin, to operate the subsidiary and reduce the federal government’s nuclear cleanup liabilities quickly and cheaply. All four consortium members face or have faced criminal charges for fraud and corruption*. Annual costs to taxpayers tripled shortly after restructuring.

In 2016, CNL proposed to construct a giant, above-ground mound of radioactive waste (NSDF) at Chalk River and to entomb in concrete the NPD reactor at Rolphton. Both proposals disregard International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and would permanently contaminate the Ottawa River with radioactive materials such as plutonium, caesium, strontium and tritium, some of which will be remain hazardous for over 100,000 years.  CNL is also moving to bring thousands of shipments of radioactive waste (including highly toxic used fuel rods) to Chalk River from other federal sites in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

Independent experts, retired AECL scientists, Citizens’ groups, NGOs, 140 Quebec municipalities and several First Nations have been sounding alarm bells about the projects via written comments, resolutions, press conferences, and protests including a boat flotilla on the Ottawa River in August 2017 and a Red Canoe March for Nuclear Safety through the streets of downtown Ottawa in January of 2018.

In April 2018, CNL was granted a 10-year license despite widespread concern over license changes that would make it easier for the consortium to get its nuclear waste projects approved. Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), granted the new license.  The CNSC is also in charge of environmental assessment (EA) and licensing for nuclear waste projects. The CNSC is perceived to be a “captured” regulator that promotes projects it is charged with regulating, according to Canada’s Expert Panel on EA reform. The CNSC’s mishandling of EAs for the consortium’s nuclear waste projects is described in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada.

* The consortium, known as Canadian National Energy Alliance, includes: SNC-Lavalin,debarred by the World Bank for 10 years and facing charges in Canada of fraud, bribery and corruption; CH2M agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle federal criminal charges at a nuclear cleanup site in the U.S.; Fluor paid $4 million to resolve allegations of  financial fraud related to nuclear waste cleanup work at a U.S. site; Rolls-Royce PLC,  parent company of consortium member Rolls-Royce Civil Nuclear Canada Ltd., recently agreed to pay more than CAN$1 billion in fines for bribery and corruptionin the U.K., U.S. and Brazil. **NB** since this post was first published, membership in the consortium has changed. Rolls Royce is no longer listed as a consortium member on the CNEA website and Texas based Jacobs Engineering has recently acquired CH2M.

Dix choses à savoir sur la gestion des déchets radioactifs au Canada

English version follows

(Fiche d’information préparée par les associations Old Fort William Cottager’s Association, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and area, le Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive et la Coalition contre le dépotoir nucléaire sur la rivière des Outaouais.)

Trois projets pour gérer l’héritage radioactif du Canada menacent de contaminer de matières radioactives l’eau potable de millions de Canadiens :

  • Le projet de dépotoir nucléaire à Chalk River, en Ontario
  • Le projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur nucléaire de Rolphton, en Ontario
  • Le projet de mise en tombeau du réacteur nucléaire de Whiteshell, au Manitoba


  1. Le projet de dépotoir nucléaire abandonnerait un million de mètres cube de déchets radioactifs de faible activité – à moins d’un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais- source d’eau potable pour des millions de Québécois.
  • Le site choisi pour le dépotoir nucléaire se trouve à flanc de colline, à moins d’un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais, le principal affluent du fleuve Saint-Laurent et la source d’eau potable de millions de Québécois.
  • Il se draine dans une zone marécageuse vers le lac Perch et son ruisseau qui se déverse directement dans la rivière des Outaouais.


  1. Le méga-dépotoir aurait une superficie équivalente à la taille de 70 patinoires de hockey de la LNH.
  • Cette installation s’étendrait sur 16 hectares et s’élèverait jusqu’à 18 mètres de hauteur.


  1. Le site pour le dépotoir nucléaire se trouve sur une ligne de faille sismique majeure, au-dessus d’un substrat rocheux poreux et fracturé.
  • Des études, menées dans les années 90, ont déterminé que les couches rocheuses sous-jacentes au site étaient poreuses et fracturées, et que les eaux souterraines affluaient vers la rivière des Outaouais.
  • Le site se trouve dans la zone sismique de l’Ouest du Québec. Selon Ressources naturelles Canada, un tremblement de terre peut y atteindre une magnitude de 6 sur l’échelle de Richter.


  1. Le méga-dépotoir va contenir des déchets radioactifs de longues durées de vie
  • Les normes de sécurité établies par l’Agence internationale d’énergie atomique (AIEA) prévoient que seuls des déchets radioactifs de « très faible activité » peuvent être enfouis dans une telle instal Selon ces normes, les déchets doivent devenir inoffensifs avant que les revêtements perdent leur intégrité et leur étanchéité.
  • Cependant, certains des déchets faussement classés comme étant de « faible activité» que proposent d’enfouir les Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens ont une demi-vie radioactive de plusieurs dizaines de milliers d’années, alors que les membranes géotextiles du dépotoir ont une durée de vie de 500 ans, selon les promoteur


  1. Les déchets radioactifs seront exposés à la pluie, à la neige et aux autres intempéries de plus en plus imprévisibles avec les changements climatiques en plus d’interagir entre eux à cause de la radioactivité
  • Durant les cinquante années requises pour remplir le dépotoir, les déchets radioactifs seraient exposés aux précipitations de pluie, de neige et à d’autres intempéries (tornades, etc.).
  • Les promoteurs ont prévu une station de traitement pour les eaux contaminées, mais il n’existe aucun moyen d’éliminer le tritium qui rend l’eau radioactive. De plus, plusieurs substances radioactives peuvent être présentes dans l’eau sans qu’il soit possible de les mesurer.
  • Les interactions critiques et dangereuses entre toutes les substances radioactives contenues dans le dépotoir sont inconnus, surtout à cause des radiations, de la chaleur et de l’humidité.


  1. Les projets de mise en tombeau des réacteurs nucléaires de Rolphton (Ontario) et de Whiteshell (Manitoba) vont également contaminer des sources d’eau potable
  • La mise en tombeau des réacteurs nucléaires de Rolphton et de Whiteshell consiste à laisser les réacteurs en place et à les remplir d’un coulis de béton, alors qu’ils sont situés à quelques dizaines de mètres de la rivière des Outaouais, en Ontario et de la rivière Winnipeg, au Manitoba.
  • Les projets contreviennent aux normes de sécurité établies par l’AIEA qui déconseille la mise en tombeau, sauf quand on ne peut faire autrement, à cause d’un accident grave.


  1. Ces trois projets dangereux sont présentés par un consortium d’entreprises privées
  • En 2015, le gouvernement Harper a transféré l’exploitation et la gestion des Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens à un consortium de sociétés multinationales à but lucratif basées aux États-Unis, au Royaume-Uni et au Canada, selon un modèle de partenariat public-privé. Bien que le dépotoir serait administré par le consortium, le site de Chalk River et son méga-dépotoir, tout comme les réacteurs nucléaires cimentés sur place demeurent la propriété du Gouvernement du Canada.


  1. Le processus d’évaluation environnementale en vue de l’approbation de ces trois projets est sous la responsabilité de la même agence qui fait la promotion de l’industrie nucléaire.
  • Depuis les modifications apportées par le gouvernement Harper en 2012 à la Loi canadienne sur l’évaluation environnementale, la Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN), un organisme non élu, a la responsabilité exclusive de l’approbation des projets nucléaires. Les modifications de la loi, ont notamment aboli l’obligation d’obtenir l’avis d’une commission indépendante pour les projets nucléaires et ont exclu le ministre de l’Environnement de la prise de dé
  • La CCSN a démontré par le passé son incapacité à protéger l’environnement et une tendance à favoriser d’avantage les intérêts de l’industrie nucléaire que la sécurité publique.


  1. 9. Les municipalités en aval ont vivement exprimé leur objection contre le dépotoir nucléaire de Chalk River
  • 135 municipalités et MRC québécoises ont adopté des résolutions contre le projet de méga-dépotoir à Chalk River parce que le site et la technologie proposés leur semblent inadéquats.


  1. Il faut agir maintenant: citoyens, gouvernements municipaux, provinciaux et Premières Nations doivent concerter leurs actions pour s’opposer aux projets et protéger la rivière des Outaouais et la rivière Winnipeg- sources d’eau potable de millions de Canadiens.

Actions proposées:


Fiche d’information préparée par les associations Old Fort William Cottager’s Association, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and area, le Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive et la Coalition contre le dépotoir nucléaire sur la rivière des Outaouais.


Ten Things to Know About Radioactive Waste Management in Canada


Three projects to manage Canada’s radioactive waste heritage threaten to radioactively contaminate the drinking water of millions of Canadians:
• The radioactive waste dump on the Ottawa River in Chalk River, Ontario
• The entombment of the nuclear reactor on the Ottawa River in Rolphton, Ontario
• The entombment of the Whiteshell nuclear reactor on the Winnipeg River in Pinawa, Manitoba


1. The radioactive waste dump project would abandon one million cubic metres of radioactive waste – less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River – a source of drinking water for millions of Quebecers.
• The site chosen for the nuclear dump will be located on a hillside, less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River, the main tributary of the St. Lawrence River and the source of drinking water for millions of Quebecers.
• The site is surrounded by a swamp which drains into Perch Lake and Perch creek, which flow directly into the Ottawa River.


2. The mega-dump would be about the size of 70 NHL hockey rinks.
• This facility would span 16 hectares and be 18 metres in height.


3. The site for the nuclear dump is located on a major seismic fault, above porous and fractured bedrock.
• Studies in the 1990s determined that the underlying rock layers at the site are porous and fractured, and that groundwater flows into the Ottawa River.
• The site is in the seismic zone of western Quebec. According to Natural Resources Canada, an earthquake in this area can reach a magnitude of 6 on the Richter scale.


4. The mega-dump will contain long-lived radionuclides.
• The safety standards established by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicate that only “very low-level” radioactive waste can be buried in such an installation. According to these standards, the waste must become harmless before the geotextile membrane cover loses its integrity and watertightness.
• However, some of the waste that is falsely classified as “low activity” that is proposed to be included in this dump by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has a radioactive half-life of several tens of thousands of years, while the geotextile membrane has a duration of 500 years, according to the promoters.


5. Radioactive waste will be exposed to rain, snow and all weather conditions that are increasingly unpredictable with climate change and the wastes will interact with each other due to radioactivity.
• During the fifty years required to fill the dump, radioactive waste would be exposed to rain, snow and other inclement weather (tornadoes, etc.).
• Proponents include a water treatment plant for contaminated water, but there is no way to remove the tritium that makes the water radioactive. In addition, several radioactive substances may be present in the water without it being possible to measure them.
• The critical and dangerous interactions between all radioactive substances in the dump are unknown, mainly because of radiation, heat and humidity.


6. Reactor entombment projects at Rolphton, Ontario, and Pinawa, Manitoba will also contaminate drinking water sources.
• The entombment of the Rolphton and Whiteshell nuclear reactors consists in leaving the reactors in place and filling them with concrete grout.  These reactors are located  only several hundred metres from the Ottawa River, in Ontario and the Winnipeg River, in Manitoba.
• Entombment contravenes IAEA safety standards except in the case of a serious accident.


7. These three dangerous projects are presented by a consortium of private companies.
• In 2015, the Harper Government transferred the operation and management of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to a consortium of for-profit multinational corporations based in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, using a public-private partnership model.  Although the dump would be administered by the consortium, the Chalk River site and its mega-dump, just like the cemented on-site nuclear reactors, remain the property of the Government of Canada.


8. The environmental assessment process for approval of these three projects is the responsibility of the same agency that promotes the nuclear industry.
• Since the Harper Government’s 2012 amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), an unelected body, has sole responsibility for the approval of nuclear projects. The amendments to the act, in particular, abolished the requirement to obtain the opinion of an independent commission for nuclear projects and excluded the Minister of the Environment from the decision-making process.
• The CNSC has demonstrated in the past its inability to protect the environment and a tendency to favour the interests of the nuclear industry more than public safety.


9. Downstream Municipalities Strongly Oppose the Chalk River Nuclear Dump.
• 135 Quebec municipalities and MRCs passed resolutions against the Chalk River mega-dump project because the proposed site and technology seem inadequate.


10. We must act now: citizens, municipal, provincial and First Nations governments must work together to oppose projects and protect the Ottawa River and the Winnipeg River – sources of drinking water for millions of Canadians.
Proposed actions:
• Communicate with elected municipal officials, members of Parliament, deputies of the National Assembly to express your opposition to projects.
• Contact the media and environmental, civic, social and labor groups in your area to raise awareness of the situation and ask them to oppose these foolish projects.
• Demand that radioactive waste be safely managed for future generations.
• Request a deep geological site for medium and high activity radioactive waste.
• Follow us on Facebook and take part in our actions ( and and Citizens of Renfrew County and Area).


Fact sheet prepared by the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area,  Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive and the Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River.