A call for World-class Cleanup at Chalk River Laboratories

April 2022

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

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

What do experts say is needed?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORLD-CLASS NUCLEAR WASTE CLEANUP would involve: 

Thoroughly characterizing all wastes

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

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

Regional mapping to locate a site with stable bedrock 

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

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

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

Inadequate siting process for the NSDF

April 14, 2022 (Updated May 13, 2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk River Laboratories

MEDIA RELEASE: Nuclear regulator’s case to approve giant nuclear waste mound is fraught with serious errors and omissions, citizens’ groups say

OTTAWA, February 22, 2022 – Citizens’ groups from Ontario and Quebec provided Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) President Rumina Velshi with a searing critique of CNSC’s case to approve a giant radioactive waste mound alongside the Ottawa River in advance of a February 22nd hearing.

If approved, the giant landfill would stand 60 feet high and hold one million tonnes of mixed radioactive and hazardous wastes. Some of the contents would remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, but the mound itself is only expected to last a few hundred years according to studies produced by the proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, owned by a consortium of multinational corporations. International safety standards prohibit disposing of long-lived radioactive wastes in landfills.

The citizens’ critique of key licensing documents found eleven critical flaws ranging from a failure to provide detailed information about what would go into the dump, as required under the Nuclear Safety and Control Regulations, to a failure to note serious deficiencies in the siting process for the facility.

“You couldn’t find a worse site for this dump if you tried,” said Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, one of the groups that co-authored the citizens’ critique. “The site is on the side of a hill, and is surrounded on three sides by wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River, a kilometre away. The water table is just inches under the surface at that location and the bedrock is highly fractured.” 

The site of the proposed facility is also of concern to downstream communities who take their drinking water from the Ottawa River, including Ottawa, Gatineau and Montreal. The three cities are among the more than 140 municipalities that have passed resolutions of concern about the proposed dump. The Assembly of First Nations has also passed a resolution opposing the facility.

Ole Hendrickson, a scientist and researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area said there are a number of serious errors in the licensing documents including a 1000-fold overestimate of radioactivity in nearby uranium ore bodies. “That gross overestimate is used by the proponent and the regulator to make the case that the giant mound would be less radioactive than surrounding rocks after a few hundred years,” Hendrickson said.  “In fact, high-radioactivity waste containers in the dump would exceed levels in surrounding rocks for thousands of years.”

The Quebec-based Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive contributed a number of findings to the critique. The group is very concerned about the presence of cobalt-60, which alone will provide 98% of the initial radioactivity in the dump, even though its radioactivity will decline rapidly thereafter. Used cobalt-60 sources require lead shielding because they emit intense gamma radiation that endangers workers. 

Physicist Ginette Charbonneau, a spokeswoman for the Ralliement, says that only low-level cobalt-60 sources could be accepted in an above-ground mound and that the criteria for accepting such waste in the dump must be tightened.

“It is also out of the question that long-lived radioactive substances like plutonium be disposed of in a landfill,” Charbonneau said. “This is simply a senseless proposal, which is not in line with international standards at all,” she added.

The citizens’ groups say the case to approve the giant radioactive landfill, called the NSDF by the proponent, is so seriously flawed that CNSC Commissioners cannot make a sound licensing decision based on the contents of the documents. They have asked that the citizens’ critique be distributed to Commissioners at the hearing on Feb 22 and that all of the flaws, errors and omissions be fully addressed before the Commission is asked to make a decision on the license for the dump. 

The licensing hearings for the giant radioactive waste dump will take place in two parts. Part 1 will take place February 22.  Part 2 will start on May 31, but is expected to take several days as it will include presentations from Indigenous communities, municipal representatives, NGOs and members of the public. Requests to intervene in the hearings must be submitted in writing to the CNSC by April 11, 2022.  See Notice of Public Hearing for details.

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Graphic above from Radio Canada Découverte, March 2018, showing the mound overflowing as part of the degradation and erosion process, described by the proponent in its Performance Assessment report.

MEDIA RELEASE: MPs and groups oppose hearings to license Canada’s first permanent radioactive waste dump

Le français suit

OTTAWA, February 16, 2022 – Members of Parliament and 50 environmental and citizen groups are opposed to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)’s forthcoming hearings to license Canada’s first permanent “disposal” facility for radioactive waste.

statement calling for suspension of the hearings is signed by three MPs: Laurel Collins, NDP environment critic; Elizabeth May, Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party of Canada; and Monique Pauzé, environment spokesperson for the Bloc Québécois. 

Union signatories of the statement include SCFP Québec, Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) and Health, safety and environment committee of Unifor Québec.

Other signatories include Friends of the Earth, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, National Council of Women of Canada, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, and Quebec’s Front commun pour la transition énergétique. Ottawa Valley groups include Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Action Climat Outaouais, and Pontiac Environmental Protection, among others.

On January 31, the Kebaowek First Nation asked that the hearings be halted until a consultation framework between them and the CNSC is in place. The hearings are for authorization to build a “Near Surface Disposal Facility” for nuclear waste at Chalk River, Ontario, on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabeg lands alongside the Ottawa River.

The CNSC staff report recommends licensing the construction of the mound for 1 million cubic metres of radioactive and toxic wastes accumulated by the federal government since 1945. The CNSC has scheduled licensing hearings on February 22 and May 31. No separate environmental assessment hearing is scheduled.

The proposed facility would be an aboveground mound a kilometre from the Ottawa River, upstream from Ottawa and Montréal. 140 municipalities have opposed the project and fear contamination of drinking water and the watershed.

In 2017, the CNSC received 400 submissions responding to its environmental impact statement, the overwhelming majority of them opposed to the plan.

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Des députées et des groupes s’opposent aux audiences pour autoriser la première décharge permanente de déchets radioactifs au Canada

OTTAWA, le 16 février 2022 – Des députées et 50 groupes environnementaux et citoyens s’opposent aux prochaines audiences de la Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire (CCSN) pour autoriser la première installation permanente de « gestion » de déchets radioactifs au Canada. 

Trois députées ont signé une déclaration appelant à la suspension des audiences : Laurel Collins, porte-parole du NPD en matière d’environnement; Elizabeth May, Chef parlementaire du Parti vert du Canada; et Monique Pauzé, porte-parole de l’environnement pour le Bloc Québécois. 

Les signataires syndicaux de la déclaration incluent le Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP) – Québec, la Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ) et le Comité de santé, de sécurité et environnement d’Unifor Québec.

On retrouve, parmi les autres signataires, les Amis de la Terre, le Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, l’Association canadienne des médecins pour l’environnement, le Conseil national des femmes du Canada, l’Ontario Clean Air Alliance et le Front commun pour la transition énergétique du Québec. Des regroupements de la vallée de l’Outaouais l’ont également signée, dont Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Action Climat Outaouais, et Protection environnementale de Pontiac, entre autres. 

Le 31 janvier, la Première Nation de Kebaowek a demandé que les audiences soient suspendues jusqu’à ce qu’un cadre de consultation entre elle et la CCSN soit mis en place. Les audiences portent sur l’autorisation de construire une « installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface (IGDPS) » pour les déchets nucléaires à Chalk River, en Ontario, sur les terres algonquines Anishinaabeg non cédées le long de la rivière des Outaouais.

Le rapport du personnel de la CCSN recommande d’autoriser la construction du monticule pour 1 million de mètres cubes de déchets radioactifs et toxiques accumulés par le gouvernement fédéral depuis 1945. La CCSN a prévu des audiences d’autorisation les 22 février et 31 mai. Aucune audience d’évaluation environnementale distincte n’est prévue.

L’installation proposée serait un monticule hors sol situé à un kilomètre de la rivière des Outaouais, en amont d’Ottawa et de Montréal. 140 municipalités se sont opposées au projet, craignant une contamination de l’eau potable et du bassin versant.

En 2017, la CCSN a reçu 400 soumissions en réponse à son étude d’impact environnemental : la grande majorité d’entre elles s’opposent au plan.

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Nuclear waste dump would tip $445b into South Australian ...

MEDIA RELEASE: Nuclear regulator recommends approval of giant radioactive waste dump beside the Ottawa River; citizens’ groups say report is flawed and recommendation to approve dump is irresponsible

OTTAWA, February 3, 2022 – Staff of Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), have recommended approval of a controversial giant above-ground nuclear waste dump for one million tonnes of mixed radioactive and hazardous waste alongside the Ottawa River. The recommendation was contained in a licensing document and environmental assessment report released on January 25. Citizens’ groups say the document is seriously flawed and vow to fight the recommendation in licensing hearings scheduled for February 22 and May 31, 2022.

Ole Hendrickson, scientist and researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, said the CNSC “has failed to assess the project in an objective and scientifically credible manner.”  Hendrickson noted a number of “critical omissions in the document” that he says “make it impossible for the Commission to make a sound decision about whether or not to license the dump.”

“The recommendation to approve this dump, given that it would leak and eventually disintegrate, is reckless and irresponsible on the part of CNSC staff,” said Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association. “The CNSC is supposed to protect Canadians from radioactive pollution created by the nuclear industry, not enable it,” she added.

Some of the critical omissions in the environmental assessment report noted by citizens’ groups include the following:

  • Failure to consider future human exposures to nuclear waste packages containing plutonium and other long-lived substances that will remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years
  • No identification of the impacts of constructing a pipeline to discharge contaminated effluent into Perch Lake, which drains into the Ottawa River; presented un-ironically as a “mitigation measure”
  • Failure to seriously consider alternative sites that would avoid rapid discharge of radioactive and hazardous substances to a major water body, and avoid placing wastes in an area of high water with risk of flooding
  • Inadequate consideration of alternative facility types that would not expose wastes to rain, wind, and snow; and that would not require unproven water treatment and “weather cover structure” technologies
  • No consideration of risks to workers from accidents involving highly-radioactive industrial cobalt-60 irradiator wastes
  • Failure to consider contamination of groundwater from the hundreds of tonnes of lead required to shield these highly-radioactive commercial wastes
  • Astonishingly, the environmental assessment report contains no references
  • The report fails to address the fact that the mound would degrade and that mixed radioactive and hazardous industrial wastes (arsenic, beryllium, mercury, benzene, dioxins, PCBs, etc.) would leak into the Ottawa River, essentially forever.

Echlin and Hendrickson point to previous studies by the dump proponent that identified many ways the mound would leak, and described the inevitable disintegration of the mound within 400 years through a process of “normal evolution.” Leakage from the dump is expected to flow into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River less than a kilometre away, contaminating a drinking water source for millions of Canadians downstream.

(Photo above from Radio Canada Découverte, March 2018, showing the mound overflowing as part of the degradation and erosion process, described by the proponent in its Performance Assessment report.)

According to Hendrickson, “CNSC has outdone itself in promoting the dump project.  This is an object lesson in what happens when government agencies are captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.”

The release of the environmental assessment report marks the end of a long “underground” phase of the licensing process for the giant radioactive dump, called the “NSDF” by the proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, owned by a consortium of multinational corporations that run Canada’s nuclear laboratories under a contract initiated by the Harper government in 2015.


Opportunities for public comments on the project’s environmental impacts ended in August 2017 after a flood of negative comments and concerns from First Nations communities, civil society groups, municipalities, independent scientists and individuals. 


The Assembly of First Nations, and more than 140 downstream municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the dump plan. Members of the public will have their final opportunity to submit concerns about the proposed project at the “Part 2 licensing hearing” that is scheduled to begin on May 31, 2022.  

“Interventions at that point are very unlikely to influence the Commission’s decision,” says Hendrickson, adding that “it is basically a rubber stamping process.”  A planned environmental assessment hearing that was to have preceded the licensing hearing was canceled by the CNSC.

April 11 is the deadline to apply to “intervene” inn the May 31 public hearing. Interventions can be oral or written.  Information about the intervention process is available here. If you are submitting written comments, your final intervention must be submitted with your application. If you wish to make an oral presentation at the hearing, you need to submit an outline of your presentation by April 11.

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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: https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/proj/80122

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)613-316-9450candorottawa@gmail.com

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 <Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca>

with cc to: OttawaValley-ValleeOutaouais (IAAC/AEIC) <iaac.ottawavalley-valleeoutaouais.aeic@canada.ca> 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 <concernedcitizensofrca@gmail.com>

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.”