Notes brèves au sujet des déchets radioactifs de faible radioactivité

Notes brèves au sujet des déchets radioactifs de faible radioactivité

Le monticule du dépotoir de Chalk River est un site proposé d’enfouissement  pour plus d’un million de tonnes de déchets radioactifs de propriété fédérale.  Il aurait de 5 à 7 étages de hauteur et serait situé sur le côté d’une colline entourée de terres humides, à moins d’un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais.

On dit souvent que le monticule du dépotoir de Chalk River ne contiendrait que des déchets de faible radioactivité.  Il est incorrect de présumer que cela signifie que les déchets radioactifs et le monticule seraient inoffensifs et à faible risque.  Brièvement, voici quelques faits:

Faible radioactivité ne veut pas dire faible risque.  Toutes les catégories de déchets radioactifs contiennent des matériaux qui émettent des radiations ionisées qui peuvent altérer l’ADN, causer des malformations du foetus, la leucémie, le cancer et des maladies chroniques.  Les déchets de faible radioactivité ne font pas exception.

Faible niveau de radioactivité fait référence au niveau de protection dont ont besoin les travailleurs pour manipuler les déchets.  L’industrie nucléaire canadienne utilise les termes “faible”, “intermédiaire” et “élevé” pour désigner les risques à court terme auxquels sont exposés les travailleurs qui ont manipulé les déchets – pas les risques à long terme d’une exposition du public.  Les déchets à risque élevé dégagent une chaleur intense et des rayonnements gamma qui peuvent tuer un humain en quelques secondes.  De tels déchets doivent être manipulés à distance et les travailleurs doivent être protégés des radiations.  Les travailleurs doivent aussi être protégés des déchets de niveau intermédiaire comme les pièces détachées du réacteur, les filtres, résines et déchets solidifiés d’isotopes médicaux.  Les déchets de faible radioactivité sont un terme pour les matériaux qui posent un risque avec de plus longues expositions, ou qui émettent des formes moins pénétrantes de rayons alpha et bêta.  Les émetteurs alpha et bêta peuvent être manipulés par des travailleurs sans blindage mais sont hautement dangereux si inhalés ou ingérés.

Il est prévu de disposer de plusieurs matériaux radioactifs de longue durée de vie dans le monticule.  Les radionucléides avec des demies-vies* de plus de milliards d’années seraient entreposés dans le monticule.  Jusqu’à 1,000 tonnes métriques d’uranium-238 avec une demie-vie de 4.5 milliards d’années sont destinées à être entreposées dans le monticule selon l’étude d’impact environnemental.  Cinq isotopes de plutonium, incluant le plutonium-239, avec une demie-vie de 24,000 ans, sont destinés à y être entreposés.  L’inventaire des déchets inclut d’énormes proportions de strontium-90 et de césium-137 dont les demies-vies sont autour de 30 ans.  Cela inclut aussi de grosses quantités de carbone-14, avec une demie-vie de 5,700 ans, et du tritium (la forme radioactive de l’hydrogène), avec une demie-vie de 12.3 ans.  Le carbone-14 et le tritium sont de faibles émetteurs de rayons bêta mais ils s’incorporent à l’ADN et aux autres molécules biologiques s’ils sont inhalés ou ingérés, où ils persistent pour une plus longue période et peuvent causer de plus grands dommages biologiques encore.

Les déchets de faible radioactivité font seulement référence à la portion radioactive des matériaux destinés au monticule.  Selon l’étude d’impact environnemental, plusieurs autres substances toxiques, dangereuses ou à longue durée de vie iraient dans le monticule, incluant des matériaux contaminés avec des BPCs, de l’asbestos, de l’arsenic et du mercure.

Dans plusieurs cas, il peut être impossible de séparer les déchets de radioactivité faible et intermédiaire.  Les déchets nucléaires canadiens sont un mélange complexe de centaines de substances radioactives d’origine humaine créées par la fission nucléaire.  La recherche sur les armes nucléaires à Chalk River a généré un très large éventail de déchets – beaucoup plus complexe que ceux des réacteurs.  Les déchets n’ont pas été systématiquement analysés au cours des années et les données antérieures à 1954 ont été perdues.  Les déchets ont été mis dans le sable, créant de larges panaches de tritium, de carbone-14 et de strontium-90 qui ont contaminé de grosses parties du sol.  Un ancien expert en déchets atomiques de EACL a signalé que séparer les déchets de longue durée de vie de ceux de courte durée de vie et faible activité pourra s’avérer impossible.   Les conteneurs d’expédition contenant des débris de démolition de Chalk River et des laboratoires Whiteshell sont empilés près du site du monticule.  Si la proposition du monticule est approuvé, ceux-ci seraient amenés dans le site du monticule et couverts de sol contaminé.

Le monticule ne contiendrait pas et n’isolerait pas les déchets.  Le monticule de Chalk River ne rencontrerait pas les normes de sécurité internationale qui obligent à garder les déchets radioactifs en-dehors de la biosphère pour la durée du danger radioactif.  Mettre des déchets radioactifs de longue vie à la surface accroît les risques d’accidents et de fuites durant les opérations et les événements climatiques extrêmes comme les rafales, les tornades et les pluies torrentielles.  Les déchets de longue durée de vie contamineraient de façon permanente la rivière Outaouais et exposeraient un grand nombre de personnes à de bas niveaux de radiations durant des millénaires.  Les  normes de sécurité internationales requièrent que ces déchets soient  enfouis dans le sol.   L’emballage,  l’étiquetage et l’entreposage  appropriés dans le sol, sur du roc stable, loin de sources d’eau potable, créeraient plusieurs emplois à long terme rémunérateurs et contribueraient à l’établissement d’un leadership canadien sur la gestion globale des déchets radioactifs.

* La “demie-vie” d’un radionucléotide est la période de temps nécessaire pour que la moitié des atomes se désintègrent (explosent) créant une radiation atomique dangereuse.  Si on multiplie la demie-vie par 10, nous obtenons le temps requis à un radionucléotide pour être réduit par un facteur de 1,000.

RED ALERT ~ CNL tells CNSC it has current plans to put “intermediate level waste” in above ground mounds

Canadian Nuclear Labs, owned by the SNC Lavalin consortium, is intervening in review of a CNSC “reg doc” on radioactive waste, asking CNSC to make it ok for them to dispose of Intermediate level waste in the Chalk River Mound. They say they have current plans to do this, even though they made a great to do in the fall of 2017 announcing they would not put “intermediate level” waste in the Chalk River Mound.

This would go against common sense and international safety standards. CNSC, as Canada’s captured nuclear regulator, will be sorely tempted to give CNL what it is asking for. Let’s keep an eye on how this unfolds. Here is some more info on this:

CNSC has posted responses to its request for comments on REGDOC-2.11.1, Volume I, Waste Management: Management of Radioactive Waste – see http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/…/re…/history/regdoc2-11-1-v1.cfm.

The comment period ended on June 30, 2019. But now there is an opportunity to respond to the posted comments.

Here is an extract from comments by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (posted on-line at http://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/…/Comments-REGDOC-2-11-1-v1-…) specifically regarding Section 6.1, Waste Classification:

Industry Issue

The 4th bullet is a potentially misleading or biasing statement. There are current plans to place ILW in aboveground mounds. (emphasis added)

Suggested Change

Amend 4th bullet to read, .“Due to its long-lived radionuclides, ILW generally may require (rather than requires) a higher level of containment and isolation than can be provided in near surface repositories.

Photos from the protest flotilla on July 27th

IN THIS PHOTO GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE IN PONTIAC (CLAUDE BERTRAND) IS RELEASING MOCK RADIOACTIVE ISOTOPES INTO THE RIVER – A SYMBOLIC GESTURE (THESE BALLS WERE REMOVED FROM THE WATER A LITTLE LATER)


Morning meeting: (room was full – approximately 80 people coming from Pontiac, Gatineau, Ottawa and Montreal)  From left to right: Jason Phelps, MC (OFWCA), Elssa Martinez (OFWCA), Ole Hendrickson (Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area), Patrick Nadeau (Executive Director, Ottawa Riverkeeper)Photo taken by: Eva Schacherl, Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River (CANDOR)

Quick facts about low level waste

The Chalk River Mound is a proposed above-ground landfill facility for more than one million tons of federally-owned “legacy” radioactive wastes. It would stand 5-7 stories high and be located on the side of a hill surrounded by wetlands, less that one kilometre from the Ottawa River.

It is often said that the Chalk River mound would “only contain low level waste”. It is incorrect to assume that this means the wastes and the mound would be innocuous and low risk. Here are some quick facts:

Low level does not mean low hazard. All categories of radioactive waste contain materials that emit ionizing radiation that can cause DNA damage, birth defects, leukaemia, cancer and chronic diseases. Low level waste is no exception to this.

Low level refers to how much protection a worker needs to handle the waste. Canada’s nuclear industry uses the terms “low”, “intermediate”, and “high” to designate short-term risks of waste handling by workers — not long-term risks of public exposure. “High-level waste” – irradiated nuclear fuel – gives off very intense heat and gamma radiation that can kill an exposed human in seconds. Such wastes must be handled remotely and workers must be shielded from the radiation. Workers must also be shielded from “intermediate-level waste” such as reactor parts, filters, resins, and solidified medical isotope waste. “Low-level waste” is a term for materials that pose risks with longer exposures, or that emit less penetrating forms of alpha and beta radiation. Alpha and beta emitters can be handled by workers without shielding but are highly dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

Many long-lived hazardous radioactive materials are destined for disposal in the mound. Radionuclides with half-lives* of up to billions of years would be disposed of in the mound. Up to 1000 metric tons of uranium-238, with a 4.5-billion-year half-life, are destined for disposal in the mound according to the environmental impact statement. Five plutonium isotopes, including plutonium-239 with a 24,000-year half-life, are proposed for disposal. The waste inventory includes huge amounts of strontium-90 and cesium-137, with half-lives of around 30 years. It also includes large amounts of carbon-14, with a 5,700-year half-life, and of tritium (the radioactive form of hydrogen) with a 12.3-year half-life. Carbon-14 and tritium are “weak” beta emitters, but if inhaled or ingested they incorporate into human DNA and other biological molecules, where they persist for a longer period, and can cause greater biological damage.

Low level waste only refers to the radioactive portion of the materials destined for the mound. According to the environmental impact statement, many other toxic, hazardous and long-lived substances would go into the mound, including materials contaminated with PCBs, asbestos, arsenic, and mercury.

In many cases it may be impossible to separate low level from intermediate level waste. Canada’s legacy nuclear wastes are a complex mixture of hundreds of manmade radioactive substances created by nuclear fission. Nuclear weapons research at Chalk River generated a very wide range of wastes – far more complex than those from power reactors.  Wastes were not consistently analyzed over the years, and records prior to 1954 were lost.  Wastes were dumped in the sand, creating radioactive plumes of tritium, carbon-14 and strontium-90 that have contaminated large quantities of soil. A former AECL waste expert has warned that separating long-lived, higher-activity waste from short-lived, low-activity waste may be impossible. Shipping containers with building demolition debris from the Chalk River and Whiteshell Laboratories are being stacked near the mound site.  If the mound proposal is approved, these would be driven into the mound area and covered with contaminated soil. 

The mound would not contain and isolate waste. The Chalk River mound would fail to meet international safety standards that require that radioactive waste be kept out of the biosphere for the duration of its radiological hazard. Putting long-lived radioactive wastes on the surface increases risks of accidents and leaks during disposal operations and extreme weather events such as downbursts, tornadoes and extreme rainfall. Long-lived wastes would permanently contaminate the Ottawa River and expose large numbers of people to low levels of radiation over millennia. International safety standards require that these wastes be stored underground. Properly managing these wastes by packaging them, labelling and storing them underground in stable rock away from drinking water sources would create many long term well-paying jobs and establish Canadian leadership to deal with the global radioactive waste problem.

* The “half life” of a radionuclide is the period of time required for half of its atoms to disintegrate (explode) giving off harmful “atomic radiation”.  If you multiply the half-life by 10, that’s how long it takes for the amount of the radionuclide to be reduced by a factor of a thousand. 

Why it is imperative for nuclear reactors to undergo environmental assessment

WHY IT IS IMPERATIVE FOR NUCLEAR REACTORS TO UNDERGO ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT… (comments from Dr. Gordon Edwards, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, May 29, 2019)

“All nuclear reactors must be subject to environmental assessment without exception, given that all reactors (regardless of size) produce every category of human made radioactive waste materials — low-level, intermediate level and high-level — which if released to the environment can cause long-lasting damage due to radioactive contamination.

These materials are capable in principle of causing thousands to millions of human cancers if released through any means whatsoever.

Given that the world’s first major nuclear accident occurred in 1952 at the NRX reactor at Chalk River, a very small reactor producing only 10 to 20 megawatts of heat (and no electricity), and creating high-level radioactive waste (irradiated nuclear fuel) much of which is still on site, that will remain dangerous for hundreds of millennia, as well as highly radioactive structural materials (including the destroyed reactor vessel) that will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years, it is clear that any reactor producing as little as 10 megawatts of heat can have extraordinary impacts on the environment.

Basic environmental justice demands that remote and indigenous communities that may be the intended recipients of such reactors must have the opportunity to question the plans and challenge the assumptions of the promoters, and educate themselves to the range of risks that they may be facing as well as the long-lived radioactive legacy that such a reactor will create.”

comments submitted by Dr. Gordon Edwards on the Draft project list and proposal to exempt most nuclear reactors from impact assessment. May 29, 2019

Comments may be submitted until Friday May 31, by registering and using the purple button to type your comments in the comment box on this webpage: https://www.impactassessmentregulations.ca/consultation-on-the-proposed-Project-List?preview=true

ACTION ALERT ~ Tell the federal government NOT to exempt nuclear reactors from impact assessment

**** if you have problems submitting comments to Environment Canada, send them directly to Catherine.McKenna@parl.gc.ca ****


The government of Canada is inviting comments on the “project list” for its new proposed and controversial Impact Assessment Act. The deadline for comments is Friday May 31, 2019.


This is important and will determine which nuclear projects are fully assessed as to potential impacts and which ones get a free pass, for years into the future.


Yielding to intense nuclear industry pressure, the government has exempted most nuclear reactors from the project list, meaning they will not have to undergo thorough impact assessment by an independent panel prior to licensing.


This is astounding, and very unwise. The new project list would allow so-called “small modular reactors” to be built anywhere in Canada without impact assessment. Consider that environmental contamination has still not been cleaned up from the 1952 partial meltdown of the NRX reactor (a very small reactor by today’s standards) at the Chalk River Laboratories. Radioactive wastes such as tritium, strontium-90 and carbon-14 are leaking into the Ottawa River from where the damaged reactor core is buried and liquid wastes from the accident were dumped.

 
Can you spare five minutes to tell the government NOT to exempt nuclear reactors from the Project List for Bill C-69? Here is a link to the webpage for submitting comments. You need to register but it just takes a minute to do so.


Your comment could be as simple as “Please do not exempt ANY nuclear reactors from the project list for the new impact assessment system”. You might add that every nuclear reactor has the potential to create devastating and deadly environmental damage. Of course you could say much more. There are other nuclear project exemptions that are problematic such as the ones for nuclear reactor decommissioning and transport of irradiated nuclear fuel and other high level radioactive wastes.


Please check out these links for background and additional information if you have more time and would like to know more:


1) Civil society groups condemn plan to exempt nuclear reactors from Bill C-69 impact assessment

2) Serious deficiencies in the Draft Project List for Bill C-69 create risks for Canadians ~ Draft CCRCA comments on the draft project list

3) Why it is imperative for all new nuclear reactors to undergo environmental assessment ~ Comments from Dr. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

3) With Bill C-69, a weak environmental assessment system is about to get worse

CCRCA comments on draft project list for Bill C-69

see also comments by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility here

Comments on the Discussion Paper on the Proposed Project List

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (Ole Hendrickson)

May 29, 2019

The proposed new project list attempts to identify so-called “major” projects, or projects with “the greatest potential for adverse environmental effects.”  The list makes extensive use of the concept of “thresholds”.  Only projects that exceed a threshold would be assessed under the new Impact Assessment Act.  The discussion paper says that projects “below these thresholds will be considered by the other regulatory regimes.”  

However, even a small project, such as a uranium mine or a small nuclear reactor, can have significant adverse environmental effects on the community where it is located.  Furthermore, impact assessments differ from regulatory regimes by providing important features such as an early planning tool with public participation, and enhanced information access – features that are important for projects of any size.

Annex 1 of the discussion paper – entitled “What we heard when we consulted on the approach to creating a new project list” states the following:

Many commenters recommended against using thresholds at all or if thresholds were used, they should be precautionary for environmental protection and should be based on science and not practical considerations like the number of projects that might require assessment.  

However, the discussion paper provides no explanation of why these comments were rejected and thresholds were used.  It does not state whether thresholds were based on science, or if so, how they were determined.  These serious deficiencies in the discussion paper raise concerns about all the entries in the new project list.

Annex 2 of the discussion paper compares the proposed new project list to the current list.  It indicates that for many project types, thresholds for triggering an assessment have been increased.  For example, the length of a pipeline or the production capacity of a mine that would trigger assessment are increased with no justification.

In the absence of any justification for the use of thresholds, or any explanation for how thresholds were determined, use of thresholds in the proposed new project list should be rejected.  All federally-funded or federally-regulated projects, or projects taking place on federal land, have a potential to cause significant adverse environmental effects, and should receive at least a basic level of federal assessment.  Thresholds should not be used to allow smaller projects to proceed without assessment.

Specifically, with regard to the section of the project list dealing with nuclear activities:

1.  “The construction, operation and decommissioning of a new nuclear fission or fusion reactor”, which is on the current project list, should be retained on the new project list.

The current Regulations Designating Physical Activities (the “project list”) require assessment of any new nuclear reactor.  The Discussion Paper on the Proposed Project List proposes that a new nuclear reactor with a thermal capacity of less than 200 MW thermal capacity that is not on an existing nuclear site, or a new reactor with a thermal capacity of less than 900 MW on an existing site, be exempted from impact assessment.  

According to the discussion paper, the 200 MW “threshold” is intended to allow so-called “small modular reactors” to be built anywhere in Canada without impact assessment.  An accident in a nuclear reactor much smaller than 200 MW could have major adverse environmental and health effects.  Environmental contamination has still not been cleaned up from the 1952 partial meltdown of the NRX reactor (which was 10 MW thermal at the time) at the Chalk River Laboratories   Radioactive wastes such as tritium, strontium-90 and carbon-14 are leaking into the Ottawa River from where the damaged reactor core is buried and liquid wastes from the accident were dumped.  

Section 22(1)(a) of the new Impact Assessment Act  states that “The impact assessment of a designated project, whether it is conducted by the Agency or a review panel, must take into account… the effects of malfunctions or accidents that may occur in connection with the designated project.”  The current requirement to assess all new nuclear reactors should be retained on the project list.

2.  “The decommissioning, abandonment or refurbishment of a nuclear fission reactor” should be on the project list.

The Comprehensive Study Regulations, which applied to the pre-2012 version of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, required a comprehensive study assessment of decommissioning or abandonment of “a Class IA nuclear facility that is a nuclear fission reactor that has a production capacity of more than 25 MW (thermal).”  Decommissioning of smaller nuclear reactors, and of other class IA nuclear facilities, required at least a basic environmental screening before 2012.

Six nuclear power and research reactors built by the federal government in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are shut down and await decommissioning, as is the case for Hydro-Quebec’s Gentilly-2 reactor.  All six units at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station are scheduled to be shut down by 2024.  Reactor decommissioning is major looming challenge for the federal government and for utilities.  It requires determination of a preferred “end state” for the reactor site (Will it be restored for general use?), assessment of radiation exposures to workers carrying out decommissioning operations, remediation of soil and groundwater contaminated by reactor leaks, and planning for long-term management of decommissioning wastes, among other issues.

Nuclear reactor “refurbishment” – removal and replacement of major components – also should trigger an assessment that includes consideration of issues such as alternatives to refurbishment (such as renewable energy sources or enhanced conservation initiatives), and planning for long-term waste management.

With a growing number of nuclear reactors awaiting decommissioning, and ongoing debates about refurbishment of currently operating nuclear reactors, nuclear reactor decommissioning and refurbishment should be added to the project list.

3.  “The transfer of irradiated fuel or other high-level waste for off-site reprocessing, storage or disposal” should be on the project list.

High-level irradiated fuel waste is accumulating at operating nuclear reactor sites. Considerable quantities are also found at shut-down reactors.  The federal government has contracted a private consortium that includes SNC Lavalin and two U.S. companies to operate federal nuclear reactor sites (Gentilly-1, Douglas Point, Whiteshell, Chalk River) where nuclear fuel waste is stored.  The consortium wants to “consolidate” all federal high-level at Chalk River Laboratories for temporary storage.  Fifty high-level waste shipments are proposed from Whiteshell alone.  

High-level radioactive waste transport on public highways, whether for temporary storage or permanent disposal, entails serious risks to the public in the event of an accident.  If high-level wastes are shipped to Chalk River for consolidation, they will later need to be shipped again to a geological repository at a site being studied by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.  Waste consolidation increases handling, transport and accident risks. All proposed off-site transfers of irradiated fuel or other high-level wastes (including liquids) should be added to the project list.  This will allow assessment of alternatives such as leaving wastes where they are, or transferring them to alternative locations.

4. The current project list includes a “Facility for the processing, reprocessing or separation of an isotope of uranium, thorium, or plutonium, with a production capacity of 100 t/year or more.” Separate listings should be made for processing, reprocessing, and isotope separation, and the 100-tonne threshold should be eliminated.

This current wording is problematic and confusing.  Each of these activities should be defined, and the end products of these activities should be described.  No justification is given for the 100-tonne threshold.  Separation of far smaller quantities of uranium or plutonium isotopes would create unacceptable risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Reprocessing traditionally refers to the chemical separation (extraction) of fissile and/or fertile material from irradiated nuclear fuel.  New reprocessing concepts would involve insertion of irradiated nuclear fuel into another reactor without actually separating the fissile or fertile materials.  Both types of “reprocessing” involve the release of fission gases and the handling of intensely radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel.  Environmental assessment should be required.

With regard to separation of isotopes, this is highly sensitive technology used to make nuclear bombs.  Uranium enrichment has never been carried out in Canada.  This activity should be listed separately, with no threshold

Unlike “reprocessing” and “isotope separation”, uranium processing is a purely chemical process.  It involves the generation of end products that can be used either for reactor fuel or further processed into nuclear weapons materials.  It generates wastes that are long-lived and pose serious health risks.  It also requires a separate listing, and any new processing facility should be assessed.

5. Any new uranium mine or mill should be on the project list, and any expansion of more than 50% in the production capacity of an existing uranium mine or mill should be on the project list.

The current project list has the following entries:  “Uranium mine or uranium mill on a site that is not within the licensed boundaries of an existing uranium mine or uranium mill;” and “Expansion of an existing uranium mine that would result in an increase in the area of mine operations of 50% or more.”  The discussion paper proposes to add a new 2,500 tonne per day production capacity threshold below which no assessment would be done; either for a new mine or mill, or for an expanded mine or mill.  

Even small uranium mines and mills can have significant adverse environmental effects.  Waste management and environmental remediation are important considerations, as well as potential adverse effects on local communities. No justification is provided for the proposed new 2,500 tonne per day threshold.  It should be rejected.  

Parliament should investigate what Canadians have gotten for their nuclear waste funding (online version)

Online version of letter to the editor in the Hill Times

May. 27, 2019

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi is in charge of Canada’s Radioactive Waste Policy Framework, a policy that his predecessor, Jim Carr, said does not cover the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

On April 29, 23 civil society groups and a First Nations alliance published a joint statement in The Hill Times expressing concerns about the alarming manner in which federally-owned radioactive waste is being handled by a multinational consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two U.S.-based corporations.

It is disturbing that the president of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), himself an American and former executive from one of SNC-Lavalin’s original consortium partners, now accuses the authors of spreading “inaccuracies”—“misleading and incorrect” information that, “distorts” the truth—without citing a single example, (The Hill Times, May 13.)

The endorsing organizations stand behind every point raised in their joint statement. Any one of those concerns provides enough reason for the prime minister, Parliament and the federal government to change the current approach to the handling of long-lived radioactive wastes in Canada—a toxic liability estimated at $7.9-billion by the auditor general. Each concern is legitimate, well-founded and echoed by many others: independent scientists, municipalities and concerned citizens, including fifteen former AECL managers and scientists.

AECL has received more than $3-billion of taxpayers’ money in the past three federal budgets, handing most of that money over to the private consortium. The 2019-2020 budget alone has $737-million earmarked for radioactive waste management and decommissioning at federally-owned sites, a significant increase since the 2015 government-owned, contractor-operated (“GoCo”) private contracting model was brought in by the Harper government.

We call on Parliament to investigate whether this funding has translated into significant reductions in federal radioactive waste liabilities, and whether taxpayers are receiving real long-term value for the money being spent.

The consortium’s plan to erect a gigantic surface mound containing over one million tonnes of mixed radioactive wastes, seven stories high and 11 hectares in area, just one kilometre from the Ottawa River, is shocking. This proposal flouts international guidance and is opposed by 140 downstream municipalities that use the river for drinking water, including Gatineau and the Montreal Metropolitan Community.

Equally troubling is the consortium’s plan to “entomb” two contaminated nuclear reactors in cement right beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers. Far from being a “modern solution,” as the AECL head claims, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that “entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy” unless exceptional circumstances prevail, such as a core meltdown—and even then alternatives should be explored.

We are concerned by the absence of any adequate federal policy or regulations specifically for reactor decommissioning and radioactive waste management (other than irradiated nuclear fuel). Canada’s sole policy document, a 143-word “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” lacks substantive content and fails to meet minimal international requirements. Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr wrote in July 2018, “Canada does not yet have a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.”

These wastes are the sole responsibility of the government of Canada. Roughly half of them were generated during the development of the atomic bomb and the subsequent Cold War buildup of American nuclear weapons. Now is the time for our government to take a serious, direct proprietary interest in these wastes, to ensure the protection of current and future generations of Canadians from the health risks of exposure to dangerous long-lived radioactive materials, risks that include genetic damage, chronic diseases, birth defects and cancer.

Canada’s radioactive waste legacy has been growing for over 70 years; the hazard will last for tens of thousands of years; the problem cannot be dealt with “quickly and cheaply”.

We repeat our call to end the “Go-Co” contract with SNC-Lavalin and its partners, and to consult First Nations and other Canadians with a view to formulating exemplary polices and projects for radioactive waste that meet and exceed our international obligations. We believe these wastes must be safely secured in state-of-the art facilities well away from sources of drinking water, packaged and labeled in such a way as to enable future generations to monitor, retrieve, repair, and repackage such wastes if and when the need arises. We urge that the import, export, and transport of radioactive waste not be allowed without full consultation with affected communities and careful consideration of alternatives.

Such actions will begin to re-establish Canadian leadership in the nuclear field by addressing the growing global radioactive waste problem in a responsible manner while creating many long-term, well-paying Canadian jobs.

Gordon Edwards

President

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Montreal, Que.

Parliament should investigate what Canadians are getting for their nuclear waste funding ~ letter to the editor of the Hill Times (print edition)

For an easier to read version, see below.

On April 29, twenty-three civil society groups and a First Nations alliance published a joint statement in the Hill Times expressing concerns about the alarming manner in which federally-owned radioactive waste is being handled by a multinational consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two US-based corporations.

It is disturbing that the President of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), himself an American and former executive from one of SNC-Lavalin’s original consortium partners, now accuses the authors of spreading “inaccuracies” – “misleading and incorrect” information that “distorts” the truth – without citing a single example. (Letter, Hill Times, May 13)

The endorsing organizations stand behind every point raised in their joint statement. Any one of those concerns provides enough reason for the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Federal Government to change the current approach to the handling of long-lived radioactive wastes in Canada – a toxic liability estimated at $7.9 billion by the Auditor General. Each concern is legitimate, well-founded and echoed by many others: independent scientists, municipalities and concerned citizens, including fifteen former AECL managers and scientists

AECL has received over $3 billion of taxpayers’ money in the past three federal budgets, handing most of that money over to the private consortium.The 2019-2020 budget alone has $737 million earmarked for radioactive waste management and decommissioning at federally-owned sites, a significant increase since the 2015 Government-owned, Contractor-operated (“GoCo”) private contracting model was brought in by the Harper government. 

We call on Parliament to investigate whether this funding has translated into significant reductions in federal radioactive waste liabilities, and whether taxpayers are receiving real long-term value for the money being spent.

The consortium’s plan to erect a gigantic surface mound containing over one million tonnes of mixed radioactive wastes, seven stories high and 11 hectares in area, just one kilometre from the Ottawa River, is shocking. This proposal flouts international guidance and is opposed by 140 downstream municipalities that use the river for drinking water, including Gatineau and the Montreal Metropolitan Community. 

Equally troubling is the consortium’s plan to “entomb” two contaminated nuclear reactors in cement right beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers. Far from being a “modern solution”, as the AECL head claims, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that “entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy” unless exceptional circumstances prevail, such as a core meltdown – and even then alternatives should be explored.

We are concerned by the absence of any adequate federal policy or regulations specifically for reactor decommissioning and radioactive waste management (other than irradiated nuclear fuel). Canada’s sole policy document, a 143-word “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” lacks substantive content and fails to meet minimal international requirements. Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr wrote in July 2018, “Canada does not yet have a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.”

These wastes are the sole responsibility of the government of Canada. Roughly half of them were generated during the development of the atomic bomb and the subsequent Cold War buildup of American nuclear weapons. Now is the time for our government to take a serious, direct proprietary interest in these wastes, to ensure the protection of current and future generations of Canadians from the health risks of exposure to dangerous long-lived radioactive materials, risks that include genetic damage, chronic diseases, birth defects and cancer.

Canada’s radioactive waste legacy has been growing for over 70 years; the hazard will last for tens of thousands of years; the problem cannot be dealt with “quickly and cheaply”.

We repeat our call to end the “Go-Co” contract with SNC-Lavalin and its partners, and to consult First Nations and other Canadians with a view to formulating exemplary polices and projects for radioactive waste that meet and exceed our international obligations. We believe these wastes must be safely secured in state-of-the art facilities well away from sources of drinking water, packaged and labeled in such a way as to enable future generations to monitor, retrieve, repair, and repackage such wastes if and when the need arises. We urge that the import, export and transport of radioactive waste not be allowed without full consultation with affected communities and careful consideration of alternatives. 

Such actions will begin to re-establish Canadian leadership in the nuclear field by addressing the growing global radioactive waste problem in a responsible manner while creating many long-term, well-paying Canadian jobs.

Gordon Edwards, President,

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.