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.

Hill Times Letter to the Editor ~ We need parliamentarians to stop project, prevent Ottawa River from being permanently contaminated by gigantic radioactive landfill

January 18, 2021

Re “CNL working to accomplish responsible action in managing Canada’s nuclear research and development legacy” (The Hill Times, Letters to the Editor, December 14, 2020).

This letter from Joe McBrearty, President and CEO of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) deepens my concern about the handling of Canada’s $8 billion nuclear waste liability. 

Mr. McBrearty claims that the Chalk River Mound beside the Ottawa River, 150 km north of Ottawa-Gatineau, “will contain only low-level radioactive waste which contains radionuclides that require isolation and containment for only a few hundred years.”

Unfortunately this claim does not stand up to scrutiny.

Last month CNL published its final environmental impact statement listing a partial inventory of radionuclides that would go into the gigantic five-to-seven story radioactive mound (aka the “NSDF”).

Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in the inventory are long-lived, with half-lives ranging from four centuries to more than four billion years. To take just one example, the man-made radionuclide, Neptunium-237, has a half-life of 2 million years such that, after 2 million years have elapsed, half of the material will still be radioactive. 

The inventory includes four isotopes of plutonium, one of the most deadly radioactive materials known, if inhaled or ingested.

It is incorrect to say that these materials “require isolation and containment for only a few hundred years.” Many of them will be dangerously radioactive for more than one hundred thousand years. The International Atomic Energy Agency states that materials like this must be stored tens of meters or more underground, not in an above-ground mound.

The CNL inventory also includes a very large quantity of cobalt-60, a material that gives off so much strong gamma radiation that lead shielding must be used by workers who handle it in order to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency considers high-activity cobalt-60 sources to be “intermediate-level waste” and specifies that they must be stored underground. Addition of high-activity cobalt-60 sources means that hundreds of tons of lead shielding would be disposed of in the mound along with other hazardous materials such as arsenic, asbestos, PCBs, dioxins and mercury.

CNL’s environmental impact statement describes several ways that radioactive materials would leak into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River during filling of the mound and after completion. It also describes CNL’s intent to pipe water polluted with tritium and other radioactive and hazardous substances from the waste treatment facility directly into Perch Lake which drains into the Ottawa River.

I stand by my original conclusion: We need parliamentarians to step up now to stop this deeply flawed project and prevent the Ottawa River from being permanently contaminated by a gigantic, leaking radioactive landfill that would do little to reduce Canada’s $8 billion nuclear waste liability.

Letter to the editor published in the Hill Times Monday January 18, 2021

Hill Times letter ~ No, not all nuclear materials and by-products are safely stored in a highly regulated environment

The Hill Times, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021
Letters / opinions
No, not all nuclear materials and by-products are safely stored in a highly regulated environment, says letter writer (

Re: “We cannot afford to be naive about climate change—renewables and nuclear must work together,” by John Gorman, The Hill Times, Dec. 14, 2020.

Mr. Gorman states “the nuclear industry is the only energy industry that can account for all its by-products. While fossil-fuel emissions go into the atmosphere and other industrial waste goes to landfill, all nuclear materials and by-products are safely stored, managed, and monitored in a highly regulated environment.”

Mr. Gorman appears to be unaware that all CANDU nuclear reactors routinely emit large volumes of radioactive water vapour and other radioactive gases into the atmosphere. CANDU reactors also routinely emit radioactive materials into water bodies (including drinking water sources) such as tritium, carbon-14 and radioactive cesium, strontium and cobalt.

There are numerous leaking radioactive waste areas on the Chalk River Laboratories site north-west of Ottawa-Gatineau on the Ottawa River. These leaking waste sites were described in detail in an Ottawa Citizen article in 2011 by Ian McLeod, entitled “Chalk River’s Toxic Legacy.”

The multinational consortium running Chalk River Laboratories is planning to build a gigantic above-ground landfill for one million tonnes of radioactive waste including plutonium and other materials that would remain radioactive for more than 100,000 years. This way of dealing with radioactive waste contravenes international safety standards and best practices.

The consortium’s own studies show that the mound would leak during operation and after closure. The mound is expected to eventually disintegrate in a process referred to as “normal evolution” described in a study called the “Performance Assessment,” produced by the proponent as part of a protracted and controversial environmental assessment that is ongoing.

So much for Mr. Gorman’s assertion that “all nuclear materials and by-products are safely stored, managed, and monitored in a highly regulated environment.”

Lynn Jones

Ottawa, Ont.

Frequently Asked Questions

Citizens’ groups and multinational consortium still at odds over plans for two nuclear waste dumps beside the Ottawa River

SNC-Lavalin and two Texas-based corporations fail to convince the public that radioactive dumps will be safe

For immediate release
(December 17, 2019, Ottawa, Ontario). Civil society groups remain staunchly opposed to two radioactive waste dumps beside the Ottawa River, despite new studies released December 12 by the embattled multinational consortium behind the proposals. Citizens groups and NGOs say no amount of tweaking by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories can make the proposed projects meet international safety standards.

Announced in 2016, the consortium’s plans to build a giant mound for more than one million tonnes of radioactive waste and to entomb a defunct reactor in concrete along side the Ottawa River have raised the ire of citizens and retired nuclear scientists alike. First Nations, NGOs, federal government departments, the Quebec government, and over 140 municipalities have also weighed in with serious concerns about the proposed projects.

“These proposals violate the principle that radioactive waste must be kept out of contact with the biosphere for as long as it remains radioactive,” according to Ole Hendrickson, a scientist and researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. “The mound and the tomb are the wrong strategies; they simply can’t do the job of keeping radioactive toxins out of our air and drinking water,” Hendrickson said. “In addition to radioactive materials, both facilities would release heavy metals and toxic organic compounds during and after construction.” 

Critics are calling on the federal government to cancel these quick-and-dirty radioactive dumps and step up with funding to support world class radioactive waste storage facilities for Canada’s $8 to $10 billion nuclear waste legacy. Ottawa has admitted it has not even formulated a detailed policy on the long-term management of radioactive wastes.

“Radioactive wastes should never be abandoned right beside major water bodies”, says Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, “They should be maintained in a monitored and retrievable fashion so that future generations can cope with them. These wastes will be hazardous and radioactive for more than one hundred thousand years, essentially for eternity. They must be carefully packaged and labelled and stored securely, well away from drinking water sources.”

Hendrickson adds that the lack of a careful siting process concerns many citizens groups and NGOs. “It is obvious that the consortium chose the proposed sites based on convenience and low cost, not public safety.” 

The proposed facilities do not comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines. The IAEA requires that long-lived radioactive waste be placed in a moderately deep or very deep underground facility.  The IAEA also says that flooding a defunct reactor with concrete can only be used in cases of extreme emergency such as a meltdown.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories misrepresents the amount of long-lived radioactive material that would go in its gigantic five-to-seven story surface mound. The revised environmental impact statement includes a partial inventory of 30 radioactive materials destined for the dump, and 25 of them are very long-lived indeed, each with a half-life of more than four centuries. Of the 30 materials listed, 22 have half-lives over a thousand years, 17 have half-lives over 100,000 years, and 7 have half-lives over a million years.  None of these materials would meet the IAEA definition of short-lived waste. Nevertheless, the revised environmental impact statement, released last week by the consortium, asserts only low level waste that “primarily contains short-lived radionuclides” would go into the mound.

“This is a clear example of the ways that CNL misleads the public and decision-makers by playing fast and loose with terms such as “near surface” “low level” and “short-lived”, says Johanna Echlin, of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association.

According to Echlin, a federal commitment to create world class facilities for its radioactive waste is urgently needed and would have many benefits.
“We have the expertise in Canada to be a world leader in looking after these radioactive wastes,” Echlin said. “Many well-paying jobs and careers will be created when the government of Canada takes this issue seriously and does the right thing. We can do this. We can keep radioactive waste out of our rivers. We’ll all sleep easier knowing that our health, our property values, the beautiful Ottawa River, and future generations are all protected.”

The proponent of the two nuclear waste dumps, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is owned by the “Canadian National Energy Alliance”, a consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two Texas-based engineering firms. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is under contract by the federal government to reduce Canada’s $8 billion federal nuclear waste “legacy” liabilities quickly and cheaply.

Environmental assessments of the giant mound and the reactor tomb are in progress. Licensing hearings for the projects are expected in late 2020. 

More information:
Quick Facts about Low Level Waste
How would the Chalk River Mound leak? Let us count some of the ways
International agency’s findings confirm serious concerns  about Canada’s radioactive waste handling and radiation protection practices
Petition to the Auditor General: Nuclear governance problems in Canada
Scientists decry plan for Ontario nuclear-waste site
Revised Environmental Impact Statement and supporting documents

Environmental Petition: Nuclear governance problems in Canada

June 13, 2019

Petition summary (Office of the Auditor General website)

PDF version of the full petition available here

Environmental Petition: Nuclear governance problems in Canada

This petition is being submitted to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in accordance with section 22 of the Auditor General Act by Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (Ontario), Pontiac Environmental Protection (Quebec), and Concerned Citizens of Manitoba. The concerns highlighted in this petition and the answers sought are also matters of importance to our colleagues in other organizations including the Alliance of the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (Quebec), Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Friends of the Earth (Canada), the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan, the Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Cooperative (Saskatchewan), the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Physicians for Global Survival, Mining Watch, Watershed Sentinel Educational Society (British Columbia), Green Coalition Verte (Montreal), and First United Church Water Care Allies (Ottawa).

We request that the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, and Justice undertake to address serious governance problems in the management of Canada’s nuclear waste legacy. These problems, highlighted in this petition, must be corrected to support sustainable development, protect the biosphere and avoid undue financial, health and environmental burdens for current and future generations of Canadians. 


A consortium of SNC-Lavalin and other multinational corporations has assumed ownership of “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” (CNL) and now controls all of Canada’s federally-owned nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes. A “Government-owned, Contractor-operated” (GoCo) arrangement was put in place by the former Conservative government in September 2015, just prior to the October 2015 federal election.  Environmental petition 405 and Environmental Petition 405b to the Auditor General raise questions about whether this GoCo arrangement is providing value for Canadian taxpayers (1, 2).  These questions remain relevant.

In May 2016 the consortium put forward three proposals for permanent radioactive waste disposal, the first such proposals ever in Canada. These proposals are currently undergoing environmental assessment (EA) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. They include construction of a giant, above-ground radioactive waste mound at Chalk River, Ontario and “entombment” in concrete of defunct, federal-government-owned nuclear reactors at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba (3, 4, 5). 

These project proposals disregard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety standards on entombment of reactors and above-ground disposal of waste (6, 7, 8). They would permanently contaminate the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers with radioactive materials such as plutonium, caesium, strontium and tritium, some of which will be remain hazardous for over 100,000 years (3, 4, 5). 

Over 140 downstream municipalities that use the Ottawa River for drinking water have passed resolutions against the consortium’s projects (9). First Nations, Ontario, Quebec, civil society groups, independent scientists, municipalities, federal government departments and concerned individuals have submitted hundreds of critical comments on the project descriptions and EAs that are posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry (10, 11, 12).

Seeking to understand how the consortium’s nuclear waste proposals came to be undergoing EAs despite their lack of alignment with IAEA safety guidelines, the petitioners have researched nuclear governance in Canada and have identified problems in the way nuclear waste is dealt with by the Government of Canada, and in Canada’s system of nuclear governance generally.


Canada’s system of nuclear governance is described in a report  to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) entitled “Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries ~ Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities: Canada” (13). This is part of a series consisting of similar reports from all OECD countries that carry out nuclear activities (14).

Canada’s radioactive waste management program is described in a profile (15) that is part of an OECD series entitled “Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency) Member Countries” (16).

In addition to IAEA and OECD resources we have drawn on Access to Information requests and our own experience for this review.

Problems with Canada’s nuclear governance

1)  Legislation 

Two main acts govern nuclear activities in Canada.  These acts are very “hands off”, providing limited direction and delegating to non-governmental agencies responsibilities that in other countries are managed by government departments and elected representatives.

Weak purposes and value-laden judgments

The primary legislation governing nuclear activities in Canada is the Nuclear Safety and Control Act of 2000 (NSCA). It establishes a regulatory body, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and provides the CNSC with a mandate to limit risks of nuclear energy to health and national security to a “reasonable level” and meet international non-proliferation obligations (17).

The Act’s weak and indirect purpose is “to provide for the limitation to a reasonable level…of the risks…”.  Use of the word “reasonable” implies that there are “reasonable” levels of exposure to man-made ionizing radiation and that it is acceptable for the Commission to make decisions to expose certain members of the public to ionizing radiation without their permission and without any benefit to them. Similarly, the NSCA allows the Commission to decide what constitutes a “reasonable” risk to national security.

Value laden judgments on what risks are “reasonable” or “acceptable” should be made by elected officials who can ultimately be held accountable by the electorate. These are not scientific decisions, but rather value judgments informed by science, economics and social values.  They should not be made by non-elected appointees, especially if they have past associations with the sector being regulated.

Acts in other countries are more direct with clear intentions to protect health and the environment. Two examples are instructive. The purpose of Finland’s Nuclear Energy Act is “To keep the use of nuclear energy in line with the overall good of society, and in particular to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is safe for man and the environment” (18).  The purpose of Germany’s Atomic Energy Act is “to protect life, health and property against the hazards of nuclear energy and the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation” (19).

Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act of 2002 (NFWA) sets up a private non-profit corporation owned by waste producers to manage nuclear fuel waste and recommend and implement strategies for dealing with it. Its purpose is

“to provide a framework to enable the Governor in Council to make, from the proposals of the waste management organization, a decision on the management of nuclear fuel waste that is based on a comprehensive, integrated and economically sound approach for Canada.” (20)

Nowhere in this Act is there any mention of protecting people or the environment.

“Delegation” (or abdication?) of responsibilities

The organizations created by the NSCA and NFWA are independent of the Canadian government. The NSCA delegates responsibilities for decision making to the CNSC.  The NFWA delegates the development of an approach to manage high level, irradiated nuclear fuel waste to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a corporation run by nuclear industry waste owners. 

This is in striking contrast to the way most other OECD countries manage their nuclear governance responsibilities. Requirement #1 of the IAEA’s Governmental, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Safety is that “The government shall establish a national policy and strategy for safety,” that “shall express a long term commitment to safety,” and that “shall be promulgated as a statement of the government’s intent.” (21). The Government of Canada has not expressed a long-term commitment to safety in its nuclear policy or legislation.  

No mention of the word “waste” in the NSCA

As the primary act governing nuclear activities and nuclear safety in Canada, it is surprising the word “waste” appears nowhere in the NSCA. This is in contrast to primary acts in other countries such as Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic which mention waste 197, 239 and 174 times respectively (14).

The NFWA does not address any type of radioactive waste other than irradiated nuclear fuel.  Thus neither Act addresses the vast majority (by volume) of nuclear reactor wastes, including the shut-down reactors themselves.

2) The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Sole agency responsible for almost all aspects of nuclear governance. 

In contrast to the situation in other OECD countries, the federal government has conferred most of its nuclear governance responsibilities on the CNSC. One ensuing problem is that CNSC has assumed the role of creating policy, even though an IAEA standard explicitly states that policy should be developed and approved by the federal government and not by a regulatory agency (21).

For example, in all OECD member countries other than Canada, decisions about licensing of radioactive waste disposal are made by government bodies – not by a national regulatory agency (22). Canada is unique in giving CNSC sole and final decision-making power in this domain.

Too much independence from Parliament

As noted on the CNSC website: 

“The CNSC … reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources on the Commission’s activities under the Act. While the Chair and Board of CNSC are appointed by Order in Council, neither the Minister nor the Governor in Council has a role in CNSC’s decision making or the power of appeal. Its decisions are reviewable only by the Federal Court of Canada.” (23) 

In other countries, recommendations made by the regulatory body are generally forwarded to a government minister for a final decision. The CNSC’s “independence” from the elected government of the day arguably limits its responsibility to the Canadian people who are affected by its decisions. 

No independence from industry

The CNSC is widely perceived to be a “captured regulator” that promotes projects it is tasked with regulating.  This was noted by the Expert Panel on Reform of Environmental Assessment in its April 2017 report “Building Common Ground” (24). (Footnote 1) According to Wikipedia, “Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating… leading to a net loss for society”(25).

Examples of the CNSC’s tendency to promote the projects it is tasked with regulating are presented in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General, which describes the CNSC’s handling of environmental assessments for the consortium’s nuclear waste projects (26).

The international nuclear industry also appears to perceive the CNSC as a captured agency. The CNSC was recently described in an international nuclear industry publication as presiding over a “benign regulatory environment” (27).

Mandate to protect health but no health department

Despite having a mandate to protect health, the CNSC lacks a health department.  A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it (28).

3) Radioactive waste policy vacuum

The IAEA provides detailed guidance on national policy requirements for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management (6, 7, 8, 29). 

On waste management, the IAEA says: “To ensure the effective management and control of radioactive waste, the government shall ensure that a national policy and a strategy for radioactive waste management are established.”  The IAEA adds that “The national policy on radioactive waste management has to set out the preferred options for radioactive waste management.” (4)  

On decommissioning, the IAEA says “the government should establish the overall objectives of decommissioning as part of its obligation to establish and maintain a governmental, legal and regulatory framework for all aspects of decommissioning, including management of the resulting radioactive waste. The policy should be developed by the government in cooperation with relevant organizations, including the licensee, and in consultation with the public.” (29)

Canada has no policy that sets out its objectives and preferred options for decommissioning or radioactive waste management.  The Government of Canada itself has never undertaken public consultations on these matters, but instead delegates consultation to the NWMO and CNSC. 

Non-fuel waste

Environmental Petition 411 to the Auditor General describes in detail the lack of federal policies for management of non-fuel radioactive waste. The petition reviews documents provided by NRCan in response to an Access to Information request for Canada’s radioactive waste policies.  It states that these documents:

 “… do not contain information recommended by IAEA. These documents contain no strategies, and no timeframes. They contain no goals or requirements for safe handling of radioactive wastes. They do not define how and when the goals and requirements will be achieved. They do not set out preferred options for radioactive waste management. They include non-standard, inconsistent and incomplete waste classifications. The policy framework includes the phrase “in accordance with approved waste disposal plans”, implying that such plans exist, but we were unable to find any”. (30)

Canada’s sole radioactive waste policy document is a “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” (emphasis added) consisting of 143 words in three bullet points (31).  Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr wrote in July 2018 that “Canada does not yet have a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.” (32)


The absence of federal policies for nuclear reactor decommissioning is described in detail in Environmental Petition 418 to the Auditor General, “Need for a national policy on decommissioning of nuclear reactors”. The petitioners note that the lack of federal policy has enabled the consortium that controls federal nuclear sites to propose to entomb reactors in concrete, based solely on cost, with no consideration of international safety guidelines (33).  Government, not private industry, should develop policies and strategies for nuclear decommissioning.

Canada also lacks a policy on the management of irradiated nuclear reactor fuel waste. As noted earlier, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act delegates the responsibility to develop an approach for high level irradiated nuclear fuel management to an industry-run corporation, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (20).

4) No checks and balances

A review of OECD documents reveals that Canada has one of the least robust systems of nuclear governance in the world, relying as it does on one agency for nearly all aspects of nuclear governance in the country.  By comparison, most other OECD countries involve high ranking public officials and have multiple government departments involved in nuclear governance. They also have high-level, multi-stakeholder, and interdisciplinary advisory committees and commissions set up to govern nuclear activities. Appendix A provides more details on this. 

As noted earlier, the side-by-side comparison of OECD countries on various aspects of nuclear governance indicates that Canada is the only OECD country that leaves decisions on nuclear waste disposal projects solely in the hands of its nuclear regulatory agency. Canada is also the only OECD country where industry has exclusive responsibility for “cost estimation” (22). Questions have arisen about cost estimates for the project proposals of the multinational consortium that manages federal nuclear sites and wastes under the current GoCo arrangement. Having only a single industry cost estimate creates risks that Canadian taxpayers are not receiving “value for money” from these project proposals. Parliamentary appropriations for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management amounted to $737 million in the 2019-2020 federal budget alone.

The lack of checks and balances in Canada’s nuclear governance system and the absence of a clearly defined purpose to protect health in the environment in the NSCA create an over-riding emphasis on promotion of nuclear energy.  The Minister of Natural Resources, who is responsible for the NSCA, also has powers under the Nuclear Energy Act to “cause… the utilization of nuclear energy” (34), thus creating a conflict of interest in which promotion of nuclear energy tends to be given priority over efforts to limit risks. Recently, Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada have been promoting nuclear energy as “clean” and “sustainable”, despite the fact that all nuclear reactors produce hazardous radioactive waste that Canada is ill-equipped to deal with as outlined above. Environmental Petition 419 (35)  and Environmental Petition 421 (36) to the Auditor General present the cases against referring to nuclear energy as “clean” and against federal spending on new nuclear technologies. 


Canada’s policies and legislation governing radioactive waste management, and decommissioning of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities, have serious deficiencies. This puts Canada in contravention of international safety standards that clearly express a requirement for government leadership in these areas.

Elected representatives, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples and ordinary Canadians, should be directly involved in making decisions about nuclear wastes. These wastes will be hazardous and radioactive for millennia, long after the nuclear industry has ceased to exist.  Decisions should be made in the best interests of current and future generations of Canadians.

Recommended Remedies 

The Government of Canada should formally and publicly review its nuclear governance framework in the context of IAEA standards and guidelines, with a specific focus on policies and legislation for decommissioning and nuclear waste management.  This review is urgently needed to identify gaps, to recommend reforms, and to assure compliance with international standards. 

Two types of reviews would be helpful:

  1. A review by a highly credible, independent and transparent body such as the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and
  2. An ARTEMIS  review (Footnote 2) by the International Atomic Energy Agency that would 

review the safety cases for the three radioactive waste disposal projects advanced by the consortium that owns CNL, and broadly examine Canada’s policies and legislation for decommissioning and waste management.

Both review bodies should be provided with this petition as background information. The results of both reviews should be made public, as soon as possible after completion of the reports.

Drawing upon the results of these reviews, Canada should undertake a program of restructuring and reform of the CNSC to eliminate the problem of regulatory capture and ensure that Canada’s nuclear regulator has a clear mandate and adequate capacity to protect health and the environment.  Actions might include transparent, merit-based selection of board members and senior staff, training of board and senior staff, and establishment of a CNSC office of public service ethics.

Canada should establish a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force with representation from civil society groups, First Nations and industry to advise on the development of policies and strategies for managing Canada’s post-fission, non-fuel radioactive waste that meet or exceed international safety requirements. 

Canada should strengthen existing legislation (NSCA and NFWA) to reflect international standards, and to better balance long-term human and environmental health considerations with short-term economic interests.

Overall Conclusion

This petition identifies serious weaknesses in Canada’s system of nuclear governance.  This creates risks for Canadians and their environment from nuclear waste, now and in the future. A formal commitment by the Government of Canada to review and remedy these weaknesses will protect current and future generations of Canadians and their environment from the hazards of improperly managed radioactive waste.


These questions are addressed to the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, and Justice.  We ask that this petition also be sent for information to the Ministers of Health, Finance, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

1) Will you commit to addressing the problems with nuclear governance identified in this petition? If yes, what steps will you take to do so?

2) Will you commit to strengthening the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act to reflect international standards and to better balance long-term human and environmental health with economic interests?

These questions are addressed to Minister of Natural Resources Canada and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

3) Given the problems with nuclear governance in Canada outlined in this petition, what immediate steps will you and your cabinet colleagues take to ensure that any nuclear waste disposal project that is licensed in Canada will meet or exceed international safety standards, and will protect drinking water for current and future generations of Canadians?

4) Will you request a review of Canada’s nuclear governance by a highly credible, independent and transparent body such as the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada?

5) Will you request an IAEA ARTEMIS review of the nuclear governance problems identified in this petition and will you provide the IAEA ARTEMIS team with this petition as background for its review?

6) Will you commit to establishing a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force with representation from civil society groups, First Nations and industry to advise on the development of policies and strategies for managing Canada’s post-fission, non-fuel radioactive waste that meet or exceed international safety requirements.


  1. “A frequently cited concern was the perceived lack of independence and neutrality because of the close relationship the NEB and CNSC have with the industries they regulate. There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities promote the projects they are tasked with regulating. The apprehension of bias or conflict of interest, whether real or not, was the single most often cited concern by participants with regard to the NEB and CNSC as Responsible Authorities. The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities. The apprehension of bias on the part of these two Responsible Authorities eroded confidence in the assessment process.“
  2. In 1998 the IAEA instituted an “Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS)”, which is available to both government and private sector entities. ARTEMIS reviews can cover national frameworks and regulatory systems as well as specific aspects of national programs. (37). CNSC Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer Ramzi Jammal indicated that the CNSC would “request an IAEA review mission for radioactive waste and spent fuel management, decommissioning and remediation programs (ARTEMIS) to review the safety cases for CNL’s proposed major projects” in a May 2018 presentation to the 42nd International Nuclear Regulators Association Meeting in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea (38).


1. CCRCA and CELA 2017. Canadian nuclear legacy liabilities: Cleanup costs for Chalk River Laboratories. Environmental Petition No. 405. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

2. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Follow-up petition on Canada’s nuclear legacy liabilities. Environmental Petition No. 405b.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

3. CNL 2017.  Near Surface Disposal Facility Environmental Impact Statement.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Chalk River, Ontario.

4. CNL 2017. Environmental Impact Statement – NPD Closure Project. NPD Decommissioning, Revision 0. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Chalk River, Ontario.

5. CNL 2017b. Environmental Impact Statement – In Situ Decommissioning of WR-1 at the Whiteshell Laboratories Site, Revision 1. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Pinawa, Manitoba.

6. IAEA 2011. Policies and Strategies for the Decommissioning of Nuclear and Radiological Facilities. Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-G-2.1. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. 

7. IAEA 2009. Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste. General Safety Requirements. Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 5. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

8. IAEA 2009. Policies and Strategies for Radioactive Waste Management. IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-G1.1. International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna.

9. CCRCA. 2019. Updated list of municipal resolutions opposing the Chalk River and Rolphton nuclear waste dumps. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

10. CEAA 2019.  Near Surface Disposal Project. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

11. CEAA 2019. Nuclear Power Demonstration Closure Project.Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

12. CEAA 2019. In Situ Decommissioning of the WR-1 Reactor. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

13. OECD 2009. Nuclear Legislation in OECD and NEA Countries. Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities: Canada

14. OECD undated.  Nuclear Energy Agency.  Nuclear Legislation.  OECD and NEA Countries

15. OECD 2015.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in OECD/NEA Member Countries: Canada.

16. OECD 2018a.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries.

17.  Government of Canada 2019.  Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Justice Laws Website.

18.  Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. 2008.

19.  German Atomic Energy Act.  2002.

20. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Justice Laws Website.

21.  IAEA. 2016. Governmental, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Safety. General Safety Requirements.  IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 1 (Rev. 1).  International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

22.  OECD 2009.  The Regulatory Infrastructure in NEA Member Countries.

23. CNSC. 2018.  The Commission.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

24. Government of Canada. 2017. Expert Panel Report. Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada., 

25. Wikipedia. 2019. Regulatory Capture.

26. CCRCA and OFWCA. Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects. Environmental Petition No. 413.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Old Fort William Cottager’s Association.

27.  Nuclear Energy Insider. 2013. Whitepaper: Understand potential market deployment opportunities in Canada.  December 13, 2013.

28. CNSC 2018.  Organization.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.,

29.  IAEA. 2018. Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities.  Specific Safety Guide No. SSG-47.

30. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Policies and strategies for managing non-fuel radioactive wastes. Environmental Petition No. 411. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

31. NRCan. 1996. Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. Natural Resources Canada. 

32. Carr, J. 2018. Letter from the Minister of Natural Resources to the Honourable Francis Scarpaleggia, M.P., Member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis (Quebec). July 17, 2018. 

33. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Need for a national policy on decommissioning of nuclear reactors. Environmental Petition No. 418.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

34. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Energy Act. Justice Laws Website.

35. CCRCA 2018. Concerns about investment in “new” nuclear technologies. Environmental Petition No. 419. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area  

36.  CCRCA 2018.  Questioning nuclear power as clean energy.  Environmental Petition No. 421.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

37. IAEA 2019.  Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS). International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

38. Jammal, R. 2018.  Canadian Update to the International Nuclear Regulators Association. Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 

Appendix A

What Canada can learn about nuclear governance from other OECD countries

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has produced two series of documents that are informative about nuclear governance in Nuclear Energy Association (NEA) member countries. These are: 

  1. “Regulatory and institutional framework for nuclear activities”. and 
  2. “Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries”

Each OECD country has a report. Review of these documents indicates that Canada’s governance system is less robust than others, lacks checks and balances that exist in other countries, lacks attention to radioactive waste and is overly reliant on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Some highlights of nuclear governance in other OECD countries are presented below:

1) Finland 

Finland is advanced in terms of handling its radioactive waste. An examination of its report in the OECD series suggests some reasons for this. Finland has a very comprehensive “Nuclear Energy Act” that deals extensively with radioactive waste. It also has a “Radiation Protection Act” which aims to protect human health from the adverse effects of radiation, an Advisory Committee on Nuclear Safety and a State Nuclear Waste Management Fund that reports to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority is an independent body that reports to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Its principal functions are to prevent harmful effects of radiation, to regulate the safe use of nuclear energy and radiation, to carry out research on radiation protection and to provide training and information. Its secondary functions are to licence nuclear facilities and for this aspect of its mandate it reports to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

2) Germany

In Germany there are three advisory committees to the federal government on nuclear issues: a Reactor Safety Commission, a Radiation Protection Commission, and a Disposal Commission which advises the Environment Ministry on all aspects of nuclear waste including transport.

3)  France

France has an elaborate system of nuclear governance, with several high level committees, councils, commissions and directorates.  The Atomic Energy Commission in France was renamed and became the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission; it now also deals with renewable energy. The National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA)  deals with all types of radioactive waste. It is supervised by the Ministries of Ecology and Industry and Research and is independent of waste producers. France has a National Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety. The President of France sits on the Council for Nuclear Policy. 

France also has an independent High Committee for Transparency and Information in Nuclear Safety. In France there is a National Plan for the Management of Radioactive Materials and Waste that is updated every three years. There is also an expert assessment committee that evaluates and reviews the various programs carried out for the management of high-level and long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste; it is neither a regulator nor an operator.

4) The United Kingdom

In the UK, there is a National Radiological Protection Board and a Radiological Protection Act aimed at protecting mankind from radiation hazards; there is no equivalent for these in Canada. The UK also has two important advisory boards relevant to nuclear waste and decommissioning with no equivalent in Canada; these are the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. The UK also has a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that reports to the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; its role is to implement government policy to “ensure the safe and efficient cleanup of the UK’s nuclear legacy”.

5) The United States

A very large share of nuclear governance responsibilities in the US is vested in The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy. However there is also a major role for the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Research Council in the United States produces regular reports on health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation. Further there is a National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement with a mission to support radiation protection by providing independent scientific analysis, information, and recommendations that represent the consensus of leading scientists.

6) Sweden

Sweden has an Act on Nuclear Activities and a Radiation Protection Act that contains provisions for both radioactive waste management and decommissioning. The Nuclear Activities Act requires all holders of nuclear reactor licenses to establish and carry out an R & D program on the safe handling and disposal of nuclear waste including decommissioning and they must submit reports on this every three years to the government.

The National Council for Nuclear Waste is an independent committee attached to the Ministry for the Environment. The Council’s mandate is to study issues relating to nuclear waste and the decommissioning of nuclear installations and to advise the Government and certain authorities on these issues. The Council reports to the Ministry of the Environment. In Sweden, the Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the regulatory policy for nuclear activities, including management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

2000 nuclear waste shipments planned, from Pinawa Manitoba to Chalk River, Ontario

This is page 41 of the application for renewal of the Whiteshell Labs license. The CNSC hearing for this license renewal is scheduled for October 2-3, 2019. This page outlines CNL’s plans for transport of low, intermediate and high level radioactive waste from Pinawa, Manitoba to Chalk River, Ontario. The full license application can be viewed at

A total of 2,000 shipments are described in this excerpt, including shipments of liquid waste and irradiated nuclear fuel rods. Shipments are already underway as of March, 2019.

Canada setting a terrible example for nuclear decommissioning, citizens’ groups say

(Ottawa, October 4, 2017) Experts from around the world are meeting in Ottawa this week, October 3-5, to discuss decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear facilities.  Delegates to the meeting of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Working Party on Decommissioning and Dismantling, cohosted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) will exchange information about decommissioning policy, strategy and regulations.

Responding to promotional material for the upcoming meeting, Citizens’ groups were quick to point out that Canada is an excellent place to come to see examples of how not to do decommissioning.

Three badly-flawed decommissioning projects are currently on the table in Canada: the widely criticized proposal to construct a giant radioactive landfill at Chalk River, Ontario, and two proposals for “entombment” of old reactor facilities, one on the Winnipeg River and the other on the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario.  According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “entombment” is only supposed to be employed in exceptional circumstances such as after a severe accident. “Entombment” and above-ground landfilling of long-lived radioactive wastes are being promoted by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), a multinational consortium contracted by the previous Conservative government to cut costs for nuclear decommissioning in Canada.

Retired scientists and citizens have slammed CNL’s three proposals for being unsafe, irresponsible, and badly out of sync with international guidance and best practices.

“There is great irony in the hosting of this meeting by CNSC and NRCan, since there is a virtual absence in Canada of polices and strategies for wastes arising from decommissioning” according to Dr. Ole Hendrickson, researcher for the group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. On September 21, 2017, Concerned Citizens along with the Canadian Environmental Law Association submitted a petition to the Auditor-General on gaps in policies and strategies for dealing with non-fuel, post-fission radioactive wastes, which are the main challenge in decommissioning nuclear facilities.

A letter sent to Prime Minister Trudeau last month by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, also called attention to Canada’s sloppy handling of non-fuel, post fission radioactive wastes. “The absence of any policies or strategies for dealing with these wastes, many of which will be hazardous for more than 100,000 years is a serious problem”, said Edwards. “This must be addressed as soon as possible in consultation with the Canadian public and aboriginal groups.” Edwards’ letter was co-signed by 35 leaders of organizations and First Nations in Canada.

Co-host of this week’s international meeting, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, is presently embattled in its dual role as regulator and environmental assessment (EA) authority for the aforementioned decommissioning proposals from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, all three of which have set alarm bells ringing and elicited serious criticism from retired scientists, citizens’ groups and First Nations.

A petition to the government of Canada, House of Commons e-petition 1220, asks the government to suspend the EA’s of the three decommissioning projects and strip the CNSC of its decision-making role in environmental assessment as recommended by the Expert Panel on EA reform in April of this year. The Expert Panel noted that the CNSC is not sufficiently independent of the industry it regulates to be responsible for EA decisions about nuclear projects. The e-petition has been signed by Canadians from ten provinces and two territories.

Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association notes that nuclear decommissioning is faltering badly in Canada at present. “The take-away message for international delegates to this meeting is clear”, said Echlin. “Do not do what Canada has done and hand control of decommissioning and radioactive waste to a multinational private sector consortium, in the absence of policies and strategies that ensure safety. This has been a disaster for us”.

A visit to Chalk River Laboratories, site of the giant proposed radioactive landfill, is on the agenda for the visiting international delegates. “I hope their eyes are wide open and they will not be fooled by this proposed quick, cheap and dirty fix to Canada’s non-fuel radioactive waste” said Echlin.  “Our international guests must know that an above ground landfill is only acceptable for very low-level radioactive waste and entirely inadequate for wastes that will endure for a hundred thousand years”, she added. “The proposed Chalk River mound would contaminate the Ottawa River and drinking water for millions of Canadians downstream for millennia. This is a terrible example to set for the world.”

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