The other SNC-Lavalin affair: Nuclear waste

Media release from the Ottawa Centre Green Party Campaign September 5, 2019

Green Party candidates blast Liberals’ and Conservatives’ cosy relationship with the nuclear industry

Plans to abandon toxic radioactive waste next to drinking water sources

OTTAWA, September 5, 2019 — Three Green Party candidates have given an “F” to recent Liberal and Conservative governments for handing control of Canada’s federal nuclear waste to SNC-Lavalin and two American corporations.

Candidates Angela Keller-Herzog, Claude Bertrand and Lorraine Rekmans say that the Harper and Trudeau governments deserve a “Fail” because decisions about nuclear waste that will last for millennia are being driven by corporate profits, not health protection. The candidates gathered today with a flotilla of canoes and kayaks on the Ottawa River to protest plans for a nuclear waste dump at Chalk River.

“Both the previous Conservative and Liberal governments have handed the dirty job of cleaning up nuclear waste to SNC-Lavalin and American corporations. We have to end this cosy relationship and stop funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to corporations for plans that may worsen, not improve, Canada’s nuclear waste problem,” said Keller-Herzog.

Releases of radioactive waste increase the risks of cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations in people who drink the contaminated water or breathe the contaminated air, she said.

The Harper government signed a 10-year, multibillion-dollar contract with a consortium of SNC-Lavalin and several foreign corporations in September 2015, very shortly before the last federal election. The consortium’s plan for an aboveground engineered mound that holds one million cubic metres of radioactive waste – less than a kilometre from the Ottawa River – does not meet International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines. Nor do its plans to bury two defunct reactors in cement next to the Winnipeg and Ottawa rivers.

In November 2018, the Liberal government released a roadmap to introduce “small modular” nuclear reactors across Canada, and in regulations enacted on August 28, 2019, the government has exempted new nuclear reactors under 200 thermal megawatts from environmental impact assessment under Bill C-69. “There are already large quantities of radioactive waste being transported from Manitoba, Québec and even the United States to Chalk River over public roads. First Nations are rightly concerned, as we all should be, about what’s happening to this nuclear waste, and we want to see transparency about the shipments and full consultation with Indigenous communities,” said Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party candidate for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. Rekmans is the Green Party of Canada critic for Indigenous Affairs and Shadow Cabinet Co-chair. 

Claude Bertrand, running in the Pontiac riding that stretches over 200 km along the Ottawa River, noted the strong opposition in Québec to abandonment of nuclear waste near the river. “Over 140 communities in Quebec and Ontario are strongly opposed to the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ plans, including the Metropolitan Community of Montréal,” Bertrand said. “It’s our drinking water, and we don’t want to take risks with it in the name of short-term corporate profits.”

Chalk River Laboratories are located in Green Party candidate Ian Pineau’s riding, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. “We need the right plan in the right location,” Pineau (not present at the event) said. “That would protect, not risk, our river and our drinking water, stimulate the local economy, and provide long-term, well-paying careers in responsible waste management.”

The candidates called on Ottawa to abandon the current nuclear waste plans and aim to meet or exceed international standards. They also called for full public consultation to create a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.

“The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should not be approving nuclear waste plans with no oversight by Parliament, and no federal policies spelling out how low-level and intermediate-level waste must be managed,” said Keller-Herzog.-30-

Greens talk radioactive waste, Chalk River and SNC-Lavalin

September 5, 2019, Ottawa Citizen, TAYLOR BLEWETT

Leveraging one of the year’s top political controversies, federal Green party candidates staged an event Thursday to highlight their concerns about potential contamination of the Ottawa River and a government they describe as too cosy with SNC-Lavalin to care.

Standing in the sand on Westboro Beach, Ottawa Centre Green party candidate Angela Keller-Herzog gave the assembled crowd a quick refresher on the nuclear situation at Chalk River, 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

On the eve of the 2015 federal election, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government selected a consortium of companies, including engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, as its preferred proponent to manage and operate Canadian Nuclear Laboratories — the organization proposing a “near surface disposal facility” for radioactive waste at Chalk River.

It’s a plan, now under review, that’s been in the works for several years, and CNL is adamant about its safety. “It will actually take waste out of areas with very little containment, and put it into an area that is engineered and contained away from the environment,” said Sandra Faught, manager of regulatory approvals for the facility at CNL.

Despite such assurances, the proposed facility has generated fierce criticism from community, Indigenous and environmental advocates for as long as it’s been in the public eye.

At Thursday’s press conference, the Greens breathed fresh life into these concerns by emphasizing the involvement of one of the most controversial names in politics right now: SNC-Lavalin.

“Poor nuclear waste decisions have fallout for millennia — this is too important a job to be handed to SNC and corner-cutting, profit-seeking foreign corporations with dubious ethical background,” said Keller-Herzog.

As an MP, she said, she would champion the creation of a federal policy guiding the management of non-fuel radioactive waste (the kind the Chalk River disposal facility would deal with.)

She also raised a new concern — that the Liberal government, including Environment Minister and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, have created an exemption that would allow small modular nuclear reactors to skip the new environmental review process they introduced in Bill C-69.

Both CNL and the federal government are focused on the opportunities presented by these portable, less powerful reactors.

“Canada is well positioned to become a global leader in the development and deployment of SMR technology,” reads a Natural Resources Canada webpage, while CNL envisions itself as a “global hub” for small modular reactor innovation.

In the spring of 2018, CNL invited SMR proposals to develop a “demonstration project” at one of its sites. This would be the first small modular reactor in Canada.

“I ask you: If experimental, unproven nuclear reactors don’t have to undergo impact assessment, then what’s the point?” said Keller-Herzog. “In other words, the Liberal government, Minister McKenna and senior public servants are lining up their ducks to pave the way for the plans of SNC-Lavalin and its American partners. Does that sound familiar?”

This newspaper contacted McKenna’s ministerial office about the decision to exempt small nuclear reactors — under 200 thermal megawatts —  from the list of projects that would require environmental assessment under Bill C-69.

“Previously all nuclear reactors would have been designated projects, regardless of size and location,” according to the Canada Gazette entry regarding the exemption.

In response, spokesperson Caroline Thériault sent a statement: 

“A robust project list ensures good projects can move forward in a timely and transparent way that protects the environment, rebuilds public trust and strengthens our economy. This list covers all major projects within federal jurisdiction those pose significant environmental risk.”

Even without a spot on the Bill C-69 project list, small modular reactor would still be subject to scrutiny.

According to a statement from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, “New nuclear projects below the 200 MW thermal‎ threshold are subject to licensing and assessment processes by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.”

Alexandre Deslongchamps, spokesperson for the minster of natural resources, noted that the CNSC “is peer-reviewed and world-renowned” and “will only approve projects if it concludes that they are safe for people and the environment, both now and in the future.”

With files from the Financial Post

Comment from Mark Mackenzie: I am flabbergasted as to how a facility can get away with calling a 7 storey high dump a ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’. At 7 stories high, I invite any Chalk River executive to jump off and tell us how close they were to the surface…. There is no reason to jeopardize the incredible value of the Ottawa River for a nuclear dump within 1 kilometre. The CNSC is hardly an effective regulatory body as they merely rubber stamp whatever the profit oriented nuclear industry wants. SNC Lavelin ‘anything for a buck’ is the Canadian partner. Great group today bringing awareness to the importance of this issue. Three Green Party candidates – Angela Keller-Herzog, Lorraine Rekmans and Claude Bertrand were highly articulate about how the Ottawa River needs to be protected.

Comment from Lynn Jones: Someone should tell the NRCan spokesperson that CNSC was outed long ago as a “captured regulator” that is world renowned for nothing other than promoting the industry and the projects it is supposed to regulate. Even the international nuclear industry refers to Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” when touting Canada as the place to come and tap into the public purse to develop small nuclear reactors.

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.

Photos from the protest flotilla on July 27th


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)

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.

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:

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 ****

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.