MEDIA RELEASE: Citizens’ groups say licensing hearings for the giant Chalk River nuclear waste dump beside the Ottawa River should be stopped

OTTAWA, November 10, 2021 – The recent announcement of licensing hearings in February and May 2022 for a controversial nuclear waste dump beside the Ottawa River got a strong reaction from citizens’ groups who have been fighting the plan for five years. The groups say the environmental assessment has not been properly conducted and licensing hearings should be stopped because there are so many serious flaws in the plan.

The license would authorize a giant above-ground mound (called NSDF by the proponent) for more than a million tonnes of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River, upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau.The Chalk River site is right beside a drinking water source for millions of Canadians and underlain with porous and fractured bedrock. 

Many citizens’ groups, along with NGOs, First Nations, and more than 140 downstream municipalities are opposed to the plan. Many say it fails to meet international guidelines for keeping radioactive waste out of the biosphere. As a disposal facility, it will eventually be abandoned.

“The facility would not keep radioactive waste out of the environment,” according to Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area researcher Ole Hendrickson. “The proponent’s own studies identify many ways the mound would leak, and suggest the mound would disintegrate within 400 years and its contents would flow into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River less than a kilometre away,” he said. Hendrickson also noted that the groundwater table would be right at the base of the mound, disregarding an Ontario standard for waste disposal sites that protects aquifers. 

fact sheet produced by Concerned Citizens, based on the information prepared by the dump proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, identifies materials that would be disposed of. They include:

  • Radioactive materials such as tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium (one of the most dangerous radioactive materials if inhaled or ingested), and several tonnes of uranium and thorium. Twenty-five of 30 radionuclides listed in the reference inventory for the mound are long-lived. This suggests the dump would remain radioactive for 100,000 years. 
  • A very large quantity of cobalt-60 in disused radiation devices used in food irradiation and medical procedures. These materials would give off so much intense gamma radiation that workers would need lead shielding to avoid dangerous radiation exposures while handling them. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be stored underground.
  • Dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, and up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and 300 tonnes of lead would go into the dump. It would also contain up to 7000 tonnes of copper, 3500 tonnes of iron and 66 tonnes of aluminum, tempting scavengers to dig into the mound after closure.

“The so-called environmental assessment of this project has been a sham from day one,” says Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (OFWCA) based in Sheenboro, Quebec. 

Echlin says the serious flaws in the assessment process include failure to properly consult Indigenous Peoples, failure to properly consult the public, failure to consider substantive input at the project description and scoping stage, and changing the rules in midstream to benefit the proponent. 

In an August 2020 letter to the Minister of Natural Resources, the Kebaowek First Nation and the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council called for suspension of the environmental assessment, stating that “the CNSC’s approach does not even meet the Government of Canada’s modernized standards of consultation, engagement and reconciliation with First Nations.”

“The fact that dates have now been set for licensing the radioactive waste mound is a sign of failure by the Government of Canada to listen to First Nations and hundreds of intervenors in the environmental assessment. It is past time for the government to step up and stop this licensing process and prevent permanent contamination of the Ottawa River,” Echlin says.

Echlin and others characterize the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), the agency responsible for the assessment and licensing of the dump project, as “a captured regulator” that acts more like a “nuclear industry cheerleader” than a protector of the public and the environment. 

Echlin added that “It’s not just us saying that the CNSC is widely seen to be a captured regulator — the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment noted the same in its final report to the Trudeau government in 2017.” A document obtained by the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility notes that the CNSC has never refused to grant a license in its 20-year history. 

The import of radioactive waste into the Ottawa Valley from other federal sites to be placed in the facility is a big red flag for citizens’ groups and First Nations.They say the Chalk River site is not suitable for long term storage of nuclear waste. According to a Joint Declaration from the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus, “Rivers and lakes are the blood and the lungs of Mother Earth.  When we contaminate our waterways, we are poisoning life itself.  That is why radioactive waste must not be stored beside major water bodies for the long-term.” 

Importation of radioactive waste to the Ottawa Valley was also opposed by a City of Ottawa resolution in April 2021.

The economics of the project are also fraught with problems according to Hendrickson, whose study concluded the facility would not reduce Canada’s $8 billion nuclear waste cleanup liability and could even increase it. 

Citizens’ groups have also called into question the Government-owned Contractor-operated model for Canada’s nuclear facilities brought in by the Harper government in 2015 and renewed by the Trudeau government in 2020. Under the model, costs to the Canadian taxpayer have skyrocketed, and decisions about Canadian nuclear waste are being made by foreign nationals and corporations. The groups have called for cancellation of the contract and creation of a radioactive waste management organization in Canada, independent of the nuclear industry, similar to what exists in a number of European countries. 

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Additional resources:

The environmental assessment registry for the giant mound (NSDF) can be found at this link:

Open Letter: To Prime Minister Trudeau and members of the federal cabinet ~ Stop the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

Kitchissippi (Ottawa River) Summer 2021, photo by Frank Style

Media release ~ Some candidates oppose radioactive waste dump near the Ottawa River and call for a federal regional assessment

la version française suit

OTTAWA, September 16, 2021 – Community organizations opposed to the construction of a massive aboveground radioactive waste dump near the Ottawa River are finding support among some federal electoral candidates.The groups asked candidates in the 2021 federal election in 13 ridings in West Quebec, Eastern Ontario and Ottawa if they would initiate a regional assessment under the federal Impact Assessment Act to look into radioactive waste, nuclear decommissioning and the remediation of contaminated lands in the Ottawa Valley. Seven candidates from the NDP and Green Party and one Independent agreed to push for a regional assessment.

In May 2021, the City of Ottawa wrote to federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson asking for a regional assessment on nuclear waste in the Ottawa Valley, but the minister declined the request. 

Ottawa CentreGreen Party candidate Angela Keller-Herzog said: “The fact that a regional assessment has been requested by the Council of the City of Ottawa and then declined by the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change is disturbing. These decisions will affect residents and the environment for thousands of years. I will continue to press for a comprehensive assessment.”

The groups also asked the candidates if they would oppose the current plans for a million-cubic-metre radioactive waste disposal facility at Chalk River and a reactor entombment at Rolphton, Ont., both next to the Ottawa River.

Of the 16 candidates who replied, almost three-quarters (11) said they oppose the current plans or had serious concerns. They included Greens Keller-Herzog, Jennifer Purdy (Kanata-Carleton) and Gordon Kubanek (Nepean), NDPer Konstantine Malakos (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell), independent candidate Stefan Klietsch (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke), the Bloc’s Geneviève Nadeau and PPC’s Mathieu St-Jean (both in Gatineau).

Directly across the Ottawa River from the proposed waste facilities, candidates in the Quebec riding of Pontiac (where former Liberal MP Will Amos is not running) all responded, including:

·         NDP candidate Denise Giroux pledged to work tirelessly to oppose these “irresponsible” waste management plans and added she would “refuse to stand idly by, as the former MP did, while these projects forge ahead. Nearly 40 Indigenous groups, along with 6 million people downstream from these projects. . .have tried to voice their opposition to these plans.”

·         Bloc Québécois candidate Gabrielle Desjardins said her party is opposed to “any risk for Quebec of contamination with nuclear waste from projects such as the Chalk River dump, along the Ottawa River. . . .The option as proposed at Chalk River is not acceptable and is not sufficiently safe.” [Translated from French]

·         “It’s time to rethink the plan to build Canada’s first permanent nuclear waste dump less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River,” said Shaughn McArthur of the Green Party. “The near surface waste mound uses geomembranes and a cover that will disintegrate over time, whereas the waste can be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.”

·         Conservative candidate Michel Gauthier, said he is opposed to the nuclear waste facility at Chalk River: “This project is far from achieving the standard of social acceptability and should not go ahead until a serious study of alternative sites, far from populated regions, has been made and the population has been clearly informed.” [Translated from French]

·         Liberal candidate Sophie Chatel did not oppose the waste dump but said she would monitor the project  “extremely closely” if elected, and called for it to be “rigorously monitored to ensure that no radioactive materials leach into the Ottawa River.”

The radioactive waste facility and entombment of an old reactor are proposals of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which is owned by a private-sector consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two Texas corporations under contract to the federal government. The contract was signed in 2015 by the Harper government during the federal election campaign and was renewed last year by the Liberal government. 

As shown in Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) annual reports, contractual amounts spent by the federal government on radioactive waste management, nuclear decommissioning and contaminated sites, through the CNL contract, have tripled from $332 million in 2016 to $955 million in 2020.

The questionnaire was organized by the Council of Canadians – Ottawa Chapter, the Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River (CANDOR) and the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association. The candidates’ full responses can be read here on the website of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

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Media contact:Eva Schacherl
Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River (CANDOR)

Chalk River Laboratories on the Ottawa River, site of proposed giant radioactive waste mound.

Certains candidats et candidates s’opposent à la décharge de déchets radioactifs près de la rivière des Outaouais et demandent une évaluation fédérale régionale

OTTAWA, le 16 septembre 2021 – Des groupes communautaires opposés à la construction d’un immense monticule de déchets radioactifs près de la rivière des Outaouais trouvent du soutien chez certains candidats et candidates aux élections fédérales.

Les groupes ont demandé aux candidats et candidates fédéraux dans 13 circonscriptions de l’ouest du Québec, de l’est de l’Ontario et d’Ottawa s’ils entreprendraient une évaluation régionale en vertu de la Loi sur l’évaluation d’impact fédérale pour examiner les déchets radioactifs, le déclassement des installations nucléaires, et l’assainissement des terres contaminées dans la région. Sept candidats du NPD et du Parti vert et un indépendant ont accepté de faire pression pour une évaluation régionale.

En mai 2021, la Ville d’Ottawa a écrit au ministre fédéral de l’Environnement Jonathan Wilkinson pour demander une évaluation régionale des déchets nucléaires dans la vallée de l’Outaouais; le ministre a refusé la demande.

La candidate du Parti vert d’Ottawa-Centre, Angela Keller-Herzog, a déclaré : « Le fait qu’une évaluation régionale ait été demandée par le Conseil de la Ville d’Ottawa puis refusée par le ministre fédéral de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique est inquiétant. Ces décisions affecteront les résidents et l’environnement pour des milliers d’années. Je continuerai à faire pression pour une évaluation complète. »

Les groupes ont également demandé aux candidats s’ils s’opposeraient aux projets actuels d’un dépotoir nucléaire d’un million de mètres cubes à Chalk River et de mise en tombeau d’un réacteur à Rolphton, en Ontario, tous deux aux abords de la rivière des Outaouais.

Sur les 16 candidats qui ont répondu, près des trois quarts (11) ont déclaré qu’ils s’opposaient aux plans actuels ou avaient de sérieuses inquiétudes. Parmi eux, on compte les Verts Keller-Herzog, Jennifer Purdy (Kanata-Carleton) et Gordon Kubanek(Nepean), Konstantine Malakos du NPD (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell), le candidat indépendant Stefan Klietsch (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke), la bloquiste Geneviève Nadeau et Mathieu St-Jean du PPC (tous deux à Gatineau).

De l’autre côté de la rivière des Outaouais, juste en face des projets proposés, les candidats et candidates de la circonscription québécoise de Pontiac (où l’ancien député libéral Will Amos ne se présente pas) ont tous répondu, notamment :

• La candidate du NPD Denise Giroux s’est engagée à travailler sans relâche pour s’opposer à ces plans de gestion de déchets « irresponsables » et a ajouté qu’elle « refuse de rester les bras croisés, comme l’a fait l’ancien député, alors que ces projets vont de l’avant. Près de 40 groupes autochtones, ainsi que 6 millions de personnes en aval de ces projets. . . ont tenté d’exprimer leur opposition à ces plans. » 

• La candidate du Bloc québécois Gabrielle Desjardins a déclaré que son parti s’oppose à « tout risque pour le Québec de contamination aux déchets nucléaires qu’impliquent des projets comme le dépotoir de Chalk River, le long de la rivière des Outaouais. . . L’option telle que proposée à Chalk River n’est pas acceptable et n’est pas suffisamment sécuritaire. »

• « Il est temps de repenser le plan de construction du premier dépotoir permanent de déchets nucléaires au Canada à moins d’un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais », a déclaré Shaughn McArthur du Parti vert. « Le monticule de déchets en surface utilise des géomembranes et une couverture qui se désintégreront avec le temps, alors que les déchets peuvent être dangereux pendant des centaines de milliers d’années. »

• Le candidat conservateur Michel Gauthier s’est dit opposé à l’installation de déchets nucléaires de Chalk River : « Ce projet est loin d’obtenir la norme de l’acceptabilité sociale et ne doit pas aller de l’avant tant et aussi longtemps qu’une étude sérieuse de sites alternatifs, loin des régions peuplées, n’aura été faite et que la population aura été clairement informée. »

• La candidate libérale Sophie Chatel ne s’est pas opposée au dépotoir, mais a déclaré qu’elle suivrait « de très près » le projet si elle était élue, et a demandé qu’il soit « rigoureusement surveillé pour assurer qu’aucune matière radioactive ne s’infiltre dans la rivière des Outaouais. »

Le dépotoir et la mise en tombeau d’un ancien réacteur sont des propositions des Laboratoires Nucléaires Canadiens (LNC), qui appartiennent à un consortium du secteur privé composé de SNC-Lavalin et de deux sociétés texanes sous contrat avec le gouvernement fédéral. Le contrat a été signé en 2015 par le gouvernement Harper lors de la campagne électorale fédérale et a été renouvelé l’an dernier par le gouvernement libéral.

Selon les rapports annuels d’Énergie atomique du Canada limitée (EACL), les montants dépensés par le gouvernement fédéral pour la gestion des déchets radioactifs, le déclassement nucléaire et les sites contaminés, dans le cadre du contrat des LNC, ont triplé, passant de 332 millions de dollars en 2016 à 955 millions de dollars en 2020.

Le questionnaire a été organisé par le Conseil des Canadiens – Section d’Ottawa, la Coalition contre les décharges nucléaires sur la rivière des Outaouais (CANDOR) et la Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association. Les réponses complètes des candidats se trouvent sur le site Web de Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

Five good reasons to support the City of Ottawa’s call for an assessment of Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects

On April 14, 2021 the City of Ottawa council passed a resolution of concern about the Chalk River and Rolphton radioactive waste disposal projects, joining more than 140 municipalities, the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus, and the Assembly of First Nations.

Prior to being passed by the full Ottawa City Council, the resolution was studied and passed unanimously by the City’s environment committee after an eight hour meeting on March 30, 2021 which can be viewed here. Among other things, the resolution calls on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to initiate a regional assessment of Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects under the Impact Assessment Act of 2019.  (See Mayor Jim Watson’s letter to Minister Wilkinson here.)

Here are five reasons to support the City of Ottawa’s call to Minister Jonathan Wilkinson:

1. Radioactive waste in the Ottawa Valley is a very large and complex problem. It makes up the lion’s share of federally-owned “legacy” radioactive wastes, an $8 billion liability for the citizens of Canada.

The radioactive wastes currently on site at the Chalk River Laboratories, upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau, make up most of the Government of Canada’s eight billion dollar nuclear liability. This federal radioactive cleanup liability exceeds the sum total of 2000 other federal environmental liabilities . As Canada’s largest and most complex federal environmental liability, this challenge is worthy of the best and most thorough assessment available under the new Impact Assessment Act.

2. Proposed Ottawa Valley radioactive disposal projects are substandard, highly controversial, and would NOT address many parts of the needed cleanup.

The proposed Chalk River Mound (“Near Surface Disposal Facility”) and Rolphton Reactor Tomb (“NPD Closure Project”) are low budget, inadequate proposals meant to quickly and cheaply reduce Canada’s federal nuclear liabilities. The two projects were proposed five years ago by a consortium of private companies contracted by the Harper government in 2015. The proposals ignore safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency and have been found wanting in thousands of critical comments submitted by Indigenous communities, municipalities, former AECL scientists and managers, NGOs, citizens’ groups and individuals.

The projects are expected to leak radioactive contaminants into the Ottawa River for millennia, according to Environmental Impact Statements produced by the proponent. The giant Chalk River Mound is expected to disintegrate as part of a process of “normal evolution” according to the proponent’s “performance assessment” study.

The vast majority of radioactive wastes in the Ottawa Valley would NOT be addressed by these two projects.

3. Environmental assessments of the giant mound and reactor tomb are being badly fumbled.

The environmental assessments of the NSDF and NPD closure projects were initiated in 2016 by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Numerous problems with the CNSC’s handling of the EAs were identified in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada in January 2018. Problems have continued to arise including lack of opportunity for public input, lack of transparency, and lack of firm deadlines for completion of the assessments. The EAs have been ongoing for far longer than is normal or reasonable for such assessments.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been identified as a captured regulator that promotes the projects it is supposed to regulate. The CNSC is therefore not an ideal agency to be overseeing assessments of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley.

4. The complex challenge of nuclear waste in the Ottawa Valley is NOT addressed by the assessments that are currently ongoing.

Again, the eight billion dollar federal radioactive cleanup liability is the biggest and most expensive federal environmental challenge by far. The vast majority of the wastes comprising this liability are already in the Ottawa Valley at the Chalk River Laboratories. For an indication of the complexity of this challenge at Chalk River see the Ottawa Citizen article by Ian McLeod, Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy. Radioactive wastes not addressed by the mound and the tomb proposals include the three reactor cores dumped in the sand at Chalk River (including one from the 1952 NRX partial meltdown), the highly radioactive solidified medical isotope production wastes (including weapons-grade uranium-235), the tanks of intermediate- and high-activity liquid wastes at the ‘Waste Tank Farm”, the spent fuel from the NRX, NRU and NPD reactors, and the NRX and NRU reactors themselves.

The private sector consortium running Canadian Nuclear Laboratories plans to consolidate the federal governments’s radioactive waste from across Canada in the Ottawa Valley and is already shipping radioactive wastes from Manitoba, Quebec and elsewhere in Ontario to Chalk River. There are serious concerns about consolidating federal nuclear wastes at the Chalk River site, in a seismically-active area, beside a major river (The Kitchissippi/ Ottawa) that provides drinking water for millions of Canadians. Serious concerns about long term storage of radioactive waste in close proximity to water bodies are noted in the Joint Declaration of the Anishinabek Nation Iroquois Caucus on transport and abandonment of radioactive waste. Consolidation of federal government nuclear wastes in the Ottawa Valley and First Nations’ guidance to store waste away from major water bodies are not addressed by the current NSDF and NPD environmental assessments.

CCRCA recently learned that the consortium is going ahead with radioactive waste projects such as a new cask facility to receive shipments of highly-radioactive spent fuel from the Whiteshell (MB) and Gentilly-1 (QC) reactors, and a new intermediate-level waste storage facility that would likely contain dangerous commercial wastes. The consortium is making determinations about the significance of the impacts of these projects on behalf of Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) with no transparency or public input. Assessment of the risks and implications of these projects should be done through a transparent public process. AECL, which has been reduced from thousands of employees to around 40, appears to be shirking its role of overseeing its contract with the consortium. 

The cumulative impacts of all wastes and all current and future projects need to be considered together. A regional assessment could do this.

5. A regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal in the Ottawa Valley could address all problems noted above.

A regional assessment could:

  • make existing baseline data publicly accessible and produce a broad-based analysis of the problem
  • look at cumulative impacts of all the current and proposed management strategies for Ottawa Valley radioactive wastes, and transport of wastes from Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec to Chalk River.
  • address leaking waste management areas at the Chalk River Labs, radioactive waste imports to the Ottawa Valley and the potential creation of new wastes associated with the proposed new “small modular” reactor research and development
  • incorporate Indigenous knowledge and priorities
  • look at the big picture including the need to protect drinking water, property values and tourism and provide secure long-term employment opportunities for Ottawa Valley communities.
  • provide assurance to the federal government and other levels of government that the largest federal environmental cleanup liability is being properly addressed.

To support the City of Ottawa’s call, please consider writing to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada  For your reference, Mayor Jim Watson’s letter to Minister Wilkinson is available for download here.

Letters should be sent to The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson <>

with cc to: OttawaValley-ValleeOutaouais (IAAC/AEIC) <> Please be sure to state that you letter is Re: Canadian Impact Assessment Registry reference number 81624, “Potential regional assessment of radioactive waste disposal in the Ottawa Valley”

and: your member of parliament. Please forward a copy of your letter to us at <>

The Minister is required to respond to Ottawa’s request by July 31, 2021, so send your letters as soon as possible. But don’t hesitate to send them after July 31st too, as this issue is not going away any time soon.

Debunking myths about the Chalk River Mound (aka “NSDF”)

The Chalk River Mound or “near surface disposal facility” is a proposed giant above ground landfill for one million tons of radioactive waste on the property of Canadian Nuclear Labs, less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal. We debunk below two of the most misleading myths about the proposed facility. Please contact us if you need more references for the material presented below, or browse our list of all posts for more information.

Myth # 1: It’s only “low level waste”

“Low level” in the context of radioactive waste does not mean “low hazard”

This is a really big mistake that almost everyone makes. “Low level” simply means the wastes can be handled by nuclear industry workers without the use of lead shielding because the wastes give off relatively low levels of gamma radiation. But they can and do contain high levels of other types of radiation such as “alpha” and “beta.”  “Low level” radioactive waste can remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years and includes some of the most toxic radioactive poisons known such as plutonium.

No “Intermediate waste” in the NSDF is a red herring.
Neither “Low level” OR “Intermediate level” radioactive wastes are supposed to be disposed of in above-ground engineered mounds (landfills) according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is because both categories are dangerous and pose risks to all life on earth for the duration of their radiological hazard, which is hundreds of thousands of years for BOTH CATEGORIES of waste.  The main thing that distinguishes “Low level” from “intermediate level” radioactive waste is that “low level” can be handled without shielding or robots because its risks come from inhalation or ingestion. “Intermediate level” waste on the other hand gives off strong gamma radiation and therefore requires lead shielding and/or remote handling.

Much of the legacy waste at the Chalk River site is a poorly characterized or uncharacterized MIXTURE of “low” and “intermediate” level wastes.
The dividing lines between the categories are blurry. There are many different definitions around the world. Canada’s definitions are inferior to those in other countries. The wastes are not all sitting around in nice neat packages labelled “low level” and “intermediate level”. It would be the work of decades to properly categorize, package and label all the legacy wastes, and arguably, this should be done before choosing technologies for managing the wastes. We are in touch with a former engineer at AECL who was in charge of waste characterization for decades and worked as a consultant for the IAEA. He says the knowledge level of legacy wastes at Chalk River was and likely still is “abysmal”.

The proponent is playing games with Waste Acceptance Criteria to enable maximum disposal of legacy wastes in the NSDF
Definitions are being finagled to enable claims that “only” low-level wastes would go in the facility.  Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, allows proponents to make up their own definitions of waste classes.  The NSDF proponent defines wastes with long-lived beta/gamma activity as high as ten thousand radioactive disintegrations per second per gram of waste (Bq/g) as “low level”.  Finland puts any waste with activity greater than one hundred Bq/g in an underground facility, 65-90 meters deep in crystalline rock.5.

The proponent’s contract with Atomic Energy of Canada states that it will dispose of ALL wastes quickly and cheaply.
The main objective of the GoCo contract was to reduce Canada’s legacy radioactive waste liabilities. The ONLY strategies being advanced by the consortium are the above ground engineered mound (landfill) and in-situ burial of reactors on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers.  Thus, the contract provides a strong incentive for the consortium to dispose of uncharacterized legacy wastes in the NSDF since it’s the only project on the table.

Myth #2: It’s a “sound project from an engineering point of view.”

The engineered containment mound is expected to disintegrate within a few hundred years and the contents flow out of the mound into the surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River. The NSDF draft environmental impact statement includes 25 occurrences of the phrase “liner and cover failure as a result of normal evolution” and three occurrences of the phrase “inevitable failure of the cover.”  The “bathtub scenario” is mentioned 30 times in the draft EIS. It is projected to occur in the year 2400 when the cover fails, water enters the mound and overflows, and takes contaminants into Perch Creek and the Ottawa River. The Performance Assessment for the NSDF includes a graphic illustration of the bathtub scenario, a table listing quantities of radionuclides flowing out of the mound into the Ottawa River, and a pie chart showing estimated doses of various radionuclides to an infant downstream in Pembroke. Given the expected eventual disintegration of the mound and migration of its contents into the Ottawa River, it would seem to be inappropriate to refer to the project as “a sound proposal from an engineering point of view.” 

The image below is a simulation of the “bathtub effect” from the Radio Canada Decouverte documentary “Chalk River Heritage.”

Hendrickson: Council can do more to protect the Ottawa River from radioactive leaks (Ottawa Citizen)

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ plan for a radioactive waste landfill and a nuclear reactor disposal facility upstream from Ottawa must be rethought. Our local politicians should insist on it.Author of the article:Ole HendricksonPublishing date:Apr 13, 2021  •  

An aerial view of Chalk River laboratories on the shores of the Ottawa River.
An aerial view of Chalk River laboratories on the shores of the Ottawa River. SunMedia

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is planning a radioactive waste landfill and a nuclear reactor disposal facility near the Ottawa River, upstream from Ottawa and many other communities.

CNL claims these plans would be an improvement over the status quo. How credible is that claim? While a landfill might help in the short term, exposing wastes to extreme weather events is risky. In the longer term, CNL’s own reports suggest that our descendants could be living downstream from a leaking and disintegrating pile.

CNL says 10 per cent of the landfill’s radioactive waste would be imported. That would mean 100,000 tonnes of a total of one million tonnes: 50,000 tonnes from other contaminated federal nuclear sites in Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec; and another 50,000 tonnes of commercial wastes from across Canada.

Ottawa’s environmental protection committee recently heard from dozens of groups and individuals opposed to CNL’s plans. The committee passed a motion urging CNL to stop transferring radioactive waste from other provinces to the Chalk River federal site.

The remaining waste would be buildings and soil contaminated by nuclear operations at Chalk River since 1945, and waste containers already stored there. Once in the giant landfill, the containers would rust and disintegrate. The concentrated radioactive wastes in them would mingle with the soil and other materials. The result: a radioactive mess where it’s impossible to tell what’s what or to ever separate or extract the more toxic elements if things go wrong.

Meanwhile, the landfill would release large amounts of tritium which, when swallowed or breathed in, increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

One way it could go wrong, described in CNL’s own report, is called the bathtub scenario. The top cover of the landfill is breached, the base fills up with water from rain and snow, and the now-contaminated precipitation overflows downhill to the Ottawa River a kilometre away.

CNL claims the landfill’s liner is good for 550 years. Many are skeptical of this claim. But eventually it is certain to fail.

Even after hundreds of years, the landfill would contain radioactive forms of plutonium, radium, polonium, uranium, thorium, chlorine, iodine and more. These radioactive substances take thousands to billions of years to decay. The landfill would also hold dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, arsenic and lead.

Nearby, CNL plans to “entomb” the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor that was shut down in 1987. Instead of removing the reactor, it would fill it with cement and grout. Like the landfill idea, this would leave no option for removing wastes once they start to leak into groundwater and the Ottawa River.

Both the proposed landfill and the NPD reactor site are on fractured bedrock with high rates of groundwater movement into the river.

In my presentation to Ottawa‘s environment committee I outlined a better approach:

• Stop transferring wastes from other federal nuclear sites to Chalk River;

• Dismantle (do not entomb) the NPD reactor;

• Upgrade the existing Chalk River groundwater treatment facilities to fully capture plumes of pollution coming from areas where wastes (even reactor cores) were dumped in the past;

• Remove the wastes that are the sources of these plumes, analyze them, repackage them, record the results, and put the packages in above-ground storage units as an interim measure; and

• Find a site well away from the river with stable, solid rock for an underground repository that can isolate long-lived radioactive wastes from the biosphere.

Ottawa’s environment committee has recognized this potential threat to our drinking water by requesting a regional impact assessment of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley. This would fall under the federal minister of environment and the 2019 Impact Assessment Act.

Let’s hope city council agrees and claims a place at the table as decisions are made that will affect countless future generations of Ottawa residents.

Ole Hendrickson, PhD., is an environmental scientist living in Ottawa.

City of Ottawa passes resolution of concern about CNL’s radioactive waste activities



That Council: 

1. Approve that the City of Ottawa urge the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, to take action on the City of Ottawa’s concerns related to the proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF), Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) and related activities, including: 

a. stopping current and future import or transfer of external Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) waste from other provinces (e.g. Manitoba); 

b. increasing safeguards to protect the river during site demolition and waste transfer activities; 

c. preventing precipitation from entering the NSDF; 

d. providing the City of Ottawa with timely access to ongoing environmental monitoring data on the Ottawa River; and 

e. committing to prompt notification of spill/release events to City of Ottawa, and; 

2. Direct the Public Works and Environmental Services Department to provide an update to the Standing Committee on Environmental Protection, Water and Waste Management on City concerns being submitted through the NSDF Environmental Assessment process, and provide an annual update on radioactivity as part of the Drinking Water Summary Report that is issued to Council in fulfillment of the Safe Drinking Water Act 2002, and;

3. Request that the Minister of Environment and Climate Change initiate a regional assessment of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley under the Impact Assessment Act, as amended in 2019, and; 

4. Direct the Mayor to write to the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, Infrastructure and Crown-Indigenous Relations, as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to express the City of Ottawa’s concerns and call for action; and, 

5. Direct the City Clerk to share Council’s position and call to action with the Iroquois Anishinabek Nuclear Alliance as well as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

Passed at


To Prime Minister Trudeau and members of the federal cabinet ~ Stop the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

January 25, 2021

Dear Mr. Trudeau and members of the federal cabinet:

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 plans to hold a licensing hearing this year. 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.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Members of Cabinet, we urge you to take the decision-making authority out of the hands of CNSC for this project and stop the Chalk River nuclear waste dump. Protect the Ottawa River for current and future generations of Canadians. 

Yours sincerely,

Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Montreal, QC

Éric Notebaert, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Montreal, QC

Réal Lalande, Action Climat Outaouais, Gatineau, QC

Paul Johannis, Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, Ottawa, ON

Lynn Jones, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Ottawa, ON

Johanna Echlin, Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, Sheenboro, QC

Robb Barnes, Ecology Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

Beatrice Olivastri, Friends of the Earth Canada, Ottawa, ON

Ole Hendrickson, Ottawa River Institute, Ottawa, ON

Eva Schacherl, Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River, Ottawa, ON


Hon. Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition

Yves-François Blanchet, Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada

Annamie Paul, Leader of the Green Party of Canada

Ottawa River looking north; photo taken opposite Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

Presentation – Update on Chalk River radioactive waste disposal -BCI Jan. 2021

This presentation was given at the AGM of Biodiversity Conservancy International, January 14, 2021

This slide from the presentation shows Chalk River Labs in 1948.  The original 10 megawatt version of the NRX reactor had been completed a year earlier, in July 1947.   Plutonium was extracted from uranium irradiated in the NRX and shipped to the U.S. to make nuclear weapons.  Later, irradiated targets containing plutonium were shipped to the U.S, for processing there.  This continued until the mid-1960s.  

Natural Resources Canada estimates that over half the nuclear wastes at Chalk River – including contaminated buildings, buried wastes, and contaminated lands – came from Cold War weapons-related activities.