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.

Who will fix Canada’s nuclear governance gaps?: citizens’ groups (Hill Times)

The following letter to the editor was published in the Hill Times, March 3, 2021

https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/03/03/who-will-fix-canadas-nuclear-governance-gaps-citizens-groups/285921

Our respective public interest citizens’ groups from Manitoba and Ontario along with colleagues in Quebec submitted Petition 427 to the federal auditor general in June 2019 to flag serious problems in Canada’s nuclear governance regime and recommend solutions. The concerns raised in our petition are shared by many other groups from across Canada.

Our research into nuclear governance was sparked by a desire to understand why and how substandard radioactive waste projects have come to be planned for sites on the Winnipeg and Ottawa Rivers. OECD documents allowed for comparisons between Canada and other OECD countries on many aspects of nuclear governance.

Canada came up short on many metrics. For example, Canada has:

  • Weak and outdated primary legislation with purposes that do not explicitly aim to protect the public from the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation;
  • No legislation dealing with the vast majority (by volume) of nuclear reactor wastes in Canada;
  • Delegated almost all nuclear oversight to one agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, resulting in a lack of checks and balances found in other OECD countries;
  • A serious and ongoing perception of regulatory capture of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, reported by the Expert Panel on environmental assessment reform. The CNSC promotes the projects it is tasked with regulating;
  • A serious conflict of interest in the reporting relationship of CNSC to the minister of natural resources, who has a mandate to promote nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act;
  • Delegated to a nuclear industry group, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), the job of developing strategies for radioactive waste, counter to guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA);
  • A serious policy vacuum on radioactive waste and nuclear reactor decommissioning, currently being addressed but with problems that include leadership by the minister of natural resources who has a conflict of interest as noted above, and delegation to the NWMO, counter to IAEA guidance.

Why does it matter that Canada has one of the least robust systems of nuclear governance in the world? The nuclear business comes with risks of catastrophic accidents and produces dangerous and potentially deadly wastes. There is no safe level of exposure to the radioactive substances produced in nuclear reactors. These materials remain hazardous for many millennia. Robust nuclear governance is needed to protect humans, other life forms, and the environment from these risks.

We believe that Canada’s weak nuclear governance regime is a root cause of the substandard proposals to build a giant radioactive waste mound upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau and to entomb highly radioactive nuclear reactors in concrete beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers.

In our view, Canada’s weak nuclear governance regime also makes federal funding for new nuclear reactors risky and liable to compound serious existing nuclear waste problems and liabilities in this country.

Remedies are offered for many of these problems in Petition 427, but to our knowledge, no one in government is considering them. A letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 11 months ago, on April 3, 2020, requesting urgent attention to these matters and others raised by a recent IAEA peer review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework has gone unanswered. It appears that no one is minding the shop.

It’s a vexing conundrum: in a country with a weak nuclear governance regime consisting of a “one-stop shop,” “captured regulator” that reports to a minister responsible for promoting nuclear energy, who will take responsibility for fixing Canada’s nuclear governance gaps?

Anne Lindsey, OM, MA
Winnipeg, Man., Concerned Citizens of Manitoba

Lynn Jones, MHSc
Ottawa, Ont., Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Does the CNSC president meet IAEA requirements for “independence”?

The International Atomic Energy Agency provides explicit guidance on the necessary independence of the nuclear regulatory agency in order to ensure safety and public confidence. The guidance is provided in the  IAEA “General Safety Guide No. GSG-12, Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety”. Here is a screen capture from page 22 of that publication (emphasis added).

The guidance is quite clear that the regulatory body must be separate from the “promoters of nuclear technology”. The guidance also suggests that CNSC should be independent from NRCan; more detail on this is provided in this post.

The CNSC’s current president, Rumina Velshi, prior to her appointment at CNSC, worked for Ontario Power Generation for eight years in senior management positions and led the OPG commercial team involved in a multi-billion dollar proposal to procure new nuclear reactors as noted below in the announcement of Ms. Velshi’s appointment on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission website. 

It would seem that Rumina Velshi fails to meet the IAEA’s guidance that staff of the regulatory body must be separate from “promoters of nuclear technology”. As the leader of a multi-billion dollar project to procure new nuclear reactors, Ms. Velshi was quite clearly a “promoter of nuclear energy” before her appointment at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

CNSC president should not report to the Minister of Natural Resources, according to IAEA guidance

Having the CNSC report through the Minister of Natural Resources who is charged with producing (and promoting) nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act is not consistent with the IAEA’s guidance on “independence”.  


IAEA General Safety Guide No. GSG-12, Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety says:

2.3  …the credibility of the regulatory body with the general public depends on whether the regulatory body is regarded as being independent from the organizations it regulates, as well as independent from other government agencies or industry groups that promote nuclear technologies.

The IAEA recommends that the CNSC’s independence from Parliament and government not be absolute:

2.6. Paragraph 2.8 of GSR Part 1 (Rev. 1) [2] states that:“To be effectively independent from undue influences on its decision making, the regulatory body: …Shall be free from any pressures associated with political circumstances or economic conditions, or pressures from government departments, authorized parties or other organizations”.  

2.7. The regulatory body should, however, be accountable to the government and to the general public with regard to effectively and efficiently fulfilling its mission to protect workers, the public and the environment…

More specifically, it is unacceptable that the CNSC’s funding requests come through the Minister of Natural Resources:

2.14. …Review and approval of the regulatory body’s budget should be performed only by governmental agencies that are effectively neutral in respect of the development, promotion or operation of facilities and conduct of activities. Such an approach provides additional assurance of the independence of the regulatory body 

Under the Nuclear Energy Act, the Minister of Natural Resources is Canada’s promoter of nuclear technologies:

Powers of Minister 10(1) The Minister may

(a) undertake or cause to be undertaken research and investigations with respect to nuclear energy;

(b) with the approval of the Governor in Council, utilize, cause to be utilized and prepare for the utilization of nuclear energy;

(c) with the approval of the Governor in Council, lease or, by purchase, requisition or expropriation, acquire or cause to be acquired nuclear substances and any mines, deposits or claims of nuclear substances and patent rights or certificates of supplementary protection issued under the Patent Act relating to nuclear energy and any works or property for production or preparation for production of, or for research or investigations with respect to, nuclear energy



The President of Canada’s nuclear regulatory body (CNSC) reports to the Minister of Natural Resources.  The Nuclear Safety and Control Act says

12(4) …the President shall make such reports to the Minister as the Minister may require concerning the general administration and management of the affairs of the Commission…

Hence, the Minister in charge of nuclear energy, including federal (AECL) properties for production and research of nuclear energy, is also in charge of the regulatory body that is supposed to protect workers, the public and the environment. 

 
This creates a lack of independence of the regulatory body. 

 
The Nuclear Safety and Control Act does allow for the President of the CNSC to report to a minister other than the Minister of Natural Resources.  From section 2, Definitions:

Minister means the Minister of Natural Resources or such member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada as the Governor in Council may designate as the Minister for the purposes of this Act.


A quick and cheap fix to CNSC’s lack of independence would be to designate the Minister of Environment and Climate Change as the “the Minister for the purposes of this Act”. 

 
That being said, both the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Energy Act are more than 23 years old and have never been reviewed by Parliament.  Such a review is long overdue.

International Atomic Energy Agency still says “entombment” is not an acceptable decommissioning strategy

November 2, 2020

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s “captured” nuclear regulator, had hoped that the latest updated guidance from IAEA would allow entombment of old reactors as a decommissioning strategy.

Here is CNSC in 2017, “dispositioning” critical comments on the proposed entombment of old (and still highly radioactive) nuclear reactors at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba:

“Yes, the document referenced, IAEA GSR 6, indicates that
entombment is not recognized internationally, in principle,
as a preferred decommissioning strategy (entombment may
be considered a solution only under exceptional
circumstances, such as following a severe accident). The
IAEA is currently working on a document to provide
guidance with respect to their position on entombment
in situ decommissioning the applicability of entombment in
the context of decommissioning and in particular, the
regulatory requirements and expectations for applying
entombment as a decommissioning option strategy. There is
no scheduled date for the publication of this document;
however, CNSC staff will keep apprised of its development
to inform this EA and licensing review process.
Irrespective of the IAEA guidance document, under the
CNSC’s regulatory framework, applicants are responsible
for selecting and justifying their proposed decommissioning
strategy.”

That quotation is from this document: https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/118863E.pdf
Page 9, top right.

The CNSC must have been disappointed when the new IAEA guidance document was published in 2018 and it STILL says that entombment is not acceptable as a decommissioning strategy.

The new IAEA document is

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

The relevant text is section 5.17 on page 32 and it reads as follows:

Entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long lived material, should not be considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning. It might be considered as a last option for managing facilities that have been damaged in an accident, if other options are not possible owing to high exposures of workers or technical difficulties.

The IAEA explicitly recommended that Canada align its decommissioning strategy with this standard, during a peer review mission in September 2019. See a summary of IAEA recommendations to Canada here.

Undeterred, the CNSC is attempting to make entombment acceptable in its own “RegDocs”, pseudo regulations that rely heavily on nuclear industry created CSA standards, but that is another story, that is covered elsewhere. See Ole Hendrickson’s recent Op Ed in the Hill Times and the recent letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that requests urgent action to address nuclear safety gaps in Canada.

Groups urge Trudeau to fix serious gaps in nuclear safety and governance

For immediate release (Montreal, April 8, 2020) Three independent organizations — the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and the Ottawa River Institute – have written to the Prime Minister saying that Canada’s nuclear safety standards and nuclear governance are failing to adequately protect Canadians from dozens of dangerous radioactive pollutants from nuclear facilities.


An April 3rd letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cites serious deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework and nuclear governance that require urgent attention by government. The authors draw on the contents of a recent report to the government by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear safety in Canada.

The IAEA review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework found that “CNSC regulations do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The report confirmed several concerns raised previously by Canadian public interest groups.


Specific deficiencies noted by the IAEA include:

  • Canada’s regulator is considering allowing future nuclear facilites (such as small modular reactors) and old radioactively contaminated nuclear reactors to be entombed and abandoned on site, a practice that is explicitly rejected by the IAEA;  
  • The IAEA found “no evidence… of a governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management”;
  • Canada’s nuclear legislation does not require justification of radiation risks from nuclear facilities; the IAEA says for nuclear facilities and activities to be considered justified, the benefits must be shown to outweigh the radiation risks to which they give rise; 
  • Canada’s system for managing the transport of radioactive materials does not align with IAEA regulations;
  • There are problems in the ways that Canada authorizes radiation releases from nuclear facilities; 
  • Canada’s current and proposed regulations don’t adequately protect pregnant workers, students, and apprentices from radiation risks; eg. they allow four times higher radiation doses for pregnant nuclear workers than IAEA standards.

“These deficiencies concern us very much,” said Dr. Éric Notebaert of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “We feel strongly that Canada is failing to adequately protect Canadians from dangerous radioactive substances that are known to cause cancers, serious chronic diseases, birth defects, and genetic damage that is passed on to future generations.”


The letter to the Prime Minister points out that these gaps in Canada’s nuclear safety practices, identified by the IAEA and others, leaves Canada vulnerable to unwise decisions on investment in new nuclear technology.


“Canada’s rush to promote and invest in small modular nuclear reactors is ill-advised” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, “especially when these reactors have been exempted from environmental assessment. Such reactors will produce radioactive wastes of all varieties, yet there is no policy for their safe long-term disposition. With no need to “justify” the radiation exposures from such new reactors, entrepreneurs and provinces can proceed without any explicit consideration of faster, cheaper and lower risk energy alternatives to reduce carbon emissions.”


The letter also draws attention to nuclear governance problems cited in Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada. These include (1) outdated and inadequate legislation, (2) inadequate government oversight, (3) lack of checks and balances, (4) a federal policy vacuum on nuclear waste and nuclear reactor decommissioning, and (5) the problem of regulatory capture on the part of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 
The authors of the letter support the recommendation in Petition 427 for the creation of a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force to advise the government on the needed reforms to nuclear governance in Canada.


– 30 –

Contacts:
Dr. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility514-489-5118    cell: 514-839-7214 ccnr@web.ca
Dr. Ole Hendrickson, Ottawa River Institute613-234-0578 ole@nrtco.net

Links:
Letter to the Prime Minister, April 3, 2020:http://ccnr.org/Letter_Trudeau_03_04_2020_e.pdf

IAEA Report: https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/documents/review-missions/irrs_canada_2019_final_report.pdf

Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada, June 2019. Petition summary:https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_427_e_43421.html Full text of petition: https://concernedcitizens.net/2019/11/30/environmental-petition-nuclear-governance-problems-in-canada

Letter to Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau requesting urgent attention to nuclear safety gaps in Canada

April 3, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister of Canada

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

We are writing to request your urgent attention to a number of serious concerns related to nuclear governance and nuclear safety in Canada. 

We recognize that you are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and that many urgent matters demand your attention at this time. We appreciate your leadership and the actions of your government to date. However, inadequate nuclear safety and governance in the nuclear field entail very serious risks for the health of current and future generations of Canadians. We therefore earnestly urge that the issues raised herein be given their rightful place on the priority list of your government in the coming months.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently reviewed Canada’s nuclear safety framework and its final report [1], released in Canada on February 18, identified numerous deficiencies [2] requiring attention by the Government of Canada. Deficiencies include:

  • failure to establish a national policy and a strategy for radioactive waste management,
  • lack of alignment with IAEA guidance on nuclear reactor decommissioning, 
  • failure to expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a nuclear facility, 
  • failure to explicitly address the principle of justification – a requirement to demonstrate an overall net benefit prior to approval of any new sources of radiation exposure, new nuclear facilities or activities, 
  • inconsistent dose constraints for nuclear facilities, 
  • unsatisfactory transportation management systems for nuclear materials, and 
  • inadequate radiation protection for nuclear workers such as regulations allowing four times higher radiation doses for pregnant women than IAEA standards would countenance

We believe all these failings require urgent attention by the Government of Canada.

Environmental Petition 427  [3], “Nuclear Governance Problems in Canada, submitted to the Auditor General of Canada in June 2019, identified numerous serious problems in Canada’s nuclear governance regime, including outdated and inadequate legislation, lack of government oversight, no checks and balances, a federal policy vacuum on nuclear waste and nuclear reactor decommissioning, and regulatory capture of the 

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The petition recommended creation of a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force with representation from civil society groups, First Nations and industry to advise on nuclear governance reforms in Canada.

It is our strong conviction that Canada’s nuclear governance and nuclear safety framework are failing to adequately protect Canadians from hundreds of dangerous radioactive substances that are produced by nuclear reactors. Exposure to these radioactive substances can cause serious chronic diseases, birth defects and genetic damage that is passed on to future generations. According to the US National Research Council  BEIR VII report  [4], there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiation released from nuclear reactors and nuclear waste facilities. We urge you to make it a priority to correct the deficiencies noted by the IAEA peer review and in Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canadian Press photo


We also have serious concerns about the recent appointment of CNSC President Rumina Velshi to chair the IAEA Commission on Nuclear Safety Standards. Our concerns are explained in a letter to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi [5] which requests that the appointment be reconsidered. Briefly, we believe the CNSC is a captured regulator with a documented record of disregarding IAEA safety standards or watering down their domestic application; therefore its president – a previous senior officer within Ontario Power Generation – should not chair this IAEA commission.


In the absence of a strong nuclear governance regime and a comprehensive nuclear safety framework, the Government of Canada’s rush to promote and to invest in small modular nuclear reactors is, we believe, ill-advised. In particular, the absence of a requirement in Canada’s nuclear safety framework to justify the increased radiation exposures and increased legacy of radioactive waste of all kinds that would result from developing and deploying SMNRs, is enabling your government to proceed without due consideration of faster, cheaper and lower risk alternatives available for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, as documented in Environmental Petition 419 to the Auditor General of Canada [6] “Concerns about investment in new nuclear technology”.


Finally, we note a fundamental conflict of interest in having the CNSC report to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources, who is responsible for promoting nuclear power under the Nuclear Energy Act. This reporting relationship could be changed through an Order-in-Council decision without any change to existing legislation.

We urge you to act swiftly to establish sound nuclear governance and a comprehensive nuclear safety framework in Canada. We respectfully point out that the needed reforms are not only an issue for your Minister of Natural Resources, but also require attention from departments including Justice, Health, Finance, Treasury Board, and Environment and Climate Change. 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,

Gordon Edwards, Ph.D, 

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Éric Notebaert, MD, M.Sc.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D

Ottawa River Institute

CC:

The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Hon. Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources

The Hon. David Lametti, Minister of Justice

The Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance

The Hon. Patti Hajdu, Minister of Health

The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board

The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party of Canada

Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party

Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada, Parliamentary Caucus Leader

Sylvain Ricard, Auditor General of Canada

Andrew Hayes, Interim Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development

Contact Information:

Links

  1. REPORT OF THE INTEGRATED REGULATORY REVIEW SERVICE MISSION TO CANADA, International Atomic Energy Agency https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/documents/review-missions/irrs_canada_2019_final_report.pdf
  2. International Peer Review Finds Deficiencies in Canada’s Nuclear Safety Framework. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, February 2020. https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/03/07/international-peer-review-finds-deficiencies-in-canadas-nuclear-safety-framework/
  3. Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada, June 2019. Petition summary: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_427_e_43421.html and full text of petition: https://concernedcitizens.net/2019/11/30/environmental-petition-nuclear-governance-problems-in-canada/
  4. National Research Council. 2006. Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2. Washington, DC : The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/11340/health-risks-from-exposure-to-low-levels-of-ionizing-radiation
  5. Letter to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, March 12, 2020. http://ccnr.org/Letter_IAEA_2020_e.pdf
  6. Environmental Petition 419 to the Auditor General of Canada, November 2018. Petition summary: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_419_e_43275.html and full text of petition: https://tinyurl.com/Env-Petition-419

The new definition of low-level radioactive waste is confusing, harmful and unworthy of the CNSC

New comments from the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

on the new Canadian classification of radioactive waste

and on the safety case in the draft CNSC regulations

REGDOC 2.11.1: Management of radioactive waste

The new definition of low-level radioactive waste

is confusing, harmful and unworthy of the CNSC

March 22, 2020

 The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (RCPR) is very worried about the draft REGDOC 2.11.1 on the management of radioactive waste and especially the extremely confused redefinition of the border between “low activity” waste and “intermediate activity” waste. It is apparently a deliberate maneuver to muddy the concepts and to prevent any intelligent public debate on this issue that will affect the health of all Canadians.

Worse, CNSC staff informed us that this flawed draft regulation will be presented for adoption to CNSC commissioners in just a few days, in April 2020.

They are now talking about postponing it, only because the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed the whole planet in recent days.

We are extremely frustrated with the cavalier manner in which the staff of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) responded to our worries with one or two short sentences during this last phase of public consultation. Their answer falsely suggests that we are wrongly concerned since this redefinition of the classes would only formalize the status quo.

On the contrary, this regulatory process obviously aims to surreptitiously increase the level of radioactivity and the risk of radioactive waste admissible in a surface nuclear landfill. These new provisions already apply to the first above-ground dump that the Government of Canada is trying to set up in Chalk River. They thus muddy any public debate, even before being formally adopted.

This is an obvious violation of the CNSC’s legal obligation to provide the population with objective and credible information on nuclear energy and on its regulations, under section 9 (b) of the Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

This harsh judgment is based on an analysis of the CNSC’s consultation procedure and its little-known international context, as we will show in the first part of this document.

Our second part will show how incoherent and ambiguous the new categories of radioactive waste are, especially when compared to the very clear definitions of France.

Finally, we want to examine the benefits and dangers of this “non-prescriptive regulation” that the CNSC is trying to implement in Canada, without any public knowledge.

1) A misleading consultation procedure

The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (RCPR) is among only three citizen organizations that have participated in this debate so far. It alone brings together mainly French-speaking citizens. Here is why our involvement in this debate was so late, at the end of the last consultation:

• First, there did not appear to be any significant issues. The CNSC has itself downplayed the importance of its initiative. In 2016, its consultation document DIS-16-03 Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning was talking about simply “modernizing the vocabulary” and about “formally adopt the four main waste categories as defined in CSA N292.0-14, which are in turn, based on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s GSG-1 Classification of Radioactive Waste.” They said they wanted to formalize the traditional distinction between low and intermediate level radioactive waste in Canada, by ensuring that the classes of radioactive waste remain based on their intrinsic radioactive characteristics:

    Low-level waste does not give off any heat and “it is not particularly dangerous to handle,” explained the CNSC: At worst, a person might receive a dose rate of 2 milliSieverts per hour (2 mSv/h) if he/she touches this waste without protective packaging or shielding.

   On the contrary, intermediate-level waste is radioactive enough to spontaneously release up to 2 000 watts of heat per cubic meter and its radiation is too dangerous for it to be handled without shielding.

    First assessment of this preliminary consultation, in December 2017: “Industry further recommended, according to CNSC, that the definitions of radioactive waste be consistent with CSA N292.0, General principles for the management of radioactive waste and irradiated fuel, and also requested the addition of a very low-level waste (VLLW) category.” 

Almost the status quo, in other words.

• At that date, at the end of 2017, we had many other fish to fry. The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories had just announced that they would avoid placing any intermediate-level waste in their future radioactive dumping ground in Chalk River, leaving only “low-level waste”.

    For its part, the CNSC had just published a summary of all the comments made by government experts (its own and those of other federal or provincial departments). It was also about to do the same with all the public comments that seemed worthy of note.

Although no one has ever made it clear, these two summaries listed the countless issues that are still the subject of intense secret negotiations between the CNSC and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. We had to make multiple access to information requests to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) to get a rough idea of ​​the progress of these negotiations. With great difficulty, we tried to follow the advancement of the safety case of the Chalk River near-surface landfill, in order to understand the countless changes that occurred as time went by. Tens of thousands of technical pages, all in English, sometimes contradictory and always censored. We had to understand and compare them several times. All the while the CNSC and the CNL denied us access to the joint reviews they were doing periodically about their consensus and disagreements.

    In this marathon, we lost sight of the resumption of the consultation on the CNSC’s new definitions of waste, in the spring of 2019. We were too busy confirming that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories NEVER excluded from the landfill any waste that would be too dangerous to touch without protection. They still want to place 134 000 cubic meters of radioactive packages in their landfill, even if NONE of these packages will contain waste whose toxicity is less than 2 mSv/hr on contact. There are even plans to place in this dump cobalt-60 radioactive sources that could be fatal on contact.

    This cobalt-60 alone will represent 98% of the total radioactivity of the Chalk River landfill, according to the promoter’s documents. However, he reiterates to us in writing that he will only receive “low level waste, complying with the requirements of standard CSA 292.0”. In November 2019, he is still repeating the same in his second Environmental Impact Statement (Table 2.2.1): “Low Level Waste does not require significant shielding during handling and transportation”, says this official document which is not available in French! Translation : Un déchet de faible activité ne requiert aucune protection significative pendant sa manipulation ou son transport.     

Our efforts to participate in the debate

Brutal awakening on July 29, 2019, when an activist told us that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories explicitly admitted, in their comments on REGDOC 2.11.1, that they still intend to put intermediate-level waste in their aboveground dump. They even seem to ask the CNSC to change its regulations in order to allow anybody to pile up such radioactive waste in a near-surface landfill.

Naturally, we immediately checked the consultation documents about the REGDOC 2.11.1 project. LNC effectively write: “There are current plans to place ILW in aboveground mounds”. This document has even been endorsed by the entire Canadian nuclear industry, which has asked with one voice to be allowed to dispose of their ILW (intermediate level waste) in a near-surface landfill.

Secondly, we re-examined the REGDOC2.11.1 itself. It quickly became apparent to us that the redefinition of the radioactive waste classes appears to be a maneuver to allow the disposal of much more radioactive waste in nuclear near-surface landfills, without alarming the public too much. In order to do this, the CNSC writes inconsistent definitions for intermediate and low-level waste. It eliminates any precise border between the two classes. Most importantly, it eliminates any requirement that low-level waste will be harmless enough for it to be safely handled.

Second surprise: the nuclear industry agrees with CNSC’s objective but disagrees with the method: Yes, it wants to place more hazardous waste in future nuclear near-surface landfills. But no, the nuclear industry refuses to distort the definitions. There is also no question of eliminating the traditional limit between low and intermediate level waste; it wants to keep the contact dose rate threshold of 2 mSv/hr.

Since we had barely two days left to react, we joined the industry to demand that they keep the 2 mSv threshold. On the other hand, we have denounced the idea of ​​adding “intermediate level” nuclear waste in a simple near-surface landfill, especially if this waste were to remain dangerous many centuries after the dump had disintegrated, according the new draft REGDOC definition.

CNSC’s refusal

Our effort was totally wasted! The CNSC simply made its definitions even more vague, rejecting collective requests both from the nuclear industry and from the three groups of citizens who are still asking for more precise standards. The CNSC therefore discards the results of its own “public consultation”! the CNSC even hosted a half-day webinar to “explain” its decisions on February 26. This webinar held in English was aborted due to technical difficulties and was due to be repeated on March 26. This is why we were asked to submit this document before March 24. CNSC staff also suggested that we should read carefully all the responses already provided to stakeholders.

What have we been told, by the way?

• About the type of radioactive waste that can (or cannot) be placed in a near-surface landfill, we are told that it is up to the dump promoter to prove that his installation can safely contain all the waste he wants to put in: (our translation) «Within the framework of the non-prescriptive Canadian regulatory context, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the safety assessment specific to the proposed facility for waste management supports and justifies the proposed waste inventory.” Word for word, the same answer also provided to the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services!

• On the vague definition of low and intermediate activity waste and on the elimination of the 2mSv/hour threshold for the waste contact dose rate, they simply dodge the issue: (our translation) “The definition of intermediate activity radioactive waste remains unchanged so that the Canadian regulatory framework remains faithful to the definition found in the CSA N292.0 standard and to the IAEA orientation. “

Shifting international rules

However, the draft regulation is actually NOT in CONFORMITY with the traditional definition of CSA N292.0 that the CNSC had outlined in its 2016 document! To better understand the issues, we therefore turned to the IAEA document GSG-1 Classification of Radioactive Waste since the CNSC often refers to it in its responses to other stakeholders.

And there, we went from one surprise to another!

• First, this GSG-1 document is only available in Russian, Spanish and English. Although the CNSC has claimed to have consulted with Canadian citizens since 2016 on how Canada should apply this guide, no one has ever seen fit to make it available in French. We asked for a french version in vain, both from the IAEA office in Toronto and from the CNSC staff in Ottawa.

• Contrary to what the CNSC still claims, the recommendations in the GSG 1 document are completely incompatible with the Canadian standard CSA N292.0 that our nuclear industry wants to keep. The CSA N292 standard was rather inspired by a previous version of the GSG-1 document, published in 1994. This old document was completely redone on a different footing in 2009.  And the draft Canadian regulation is now in line with this “new” incompatible text.

(Here is our translation of) Here are two crucial paragraphs from the new GSG-1 document. They shed light on the radical turn of 2009 as well as the hidden issue of REGDOC 2.11.1:

“Low level waste (LLW)

2.21.   In previous classification schemes, low level waste was defined to mean radioactive waste that does not require shielding during normal handling and transport. Radioactive waste that requires shielding but needs little or no provision for heat dissipation was classified as intermediate level waste. A contact dose rate of 2 mSv/h was generally used to distinguish between the two classes of waste. Contact radiation dose rate is not used to distinguish waste classes in the present, revised classification scheme, which is based primarily on long term safety. However, it remains an issue that has to be considered in handling and transporting the waste, and for operational radiation protection purposes at waste management and disposal facilities but is not necessarily a determining factor for the long-term safety of a disposal facility.

2.22.   In the classification scheme set out in this Safety Guide, low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal. This is a disposal option suitable for waste that contains such an amount of radioactive material that robust containment and isolation for limited periods of time up to a few hundred years are required. This class covers a very wide range of radioactive waste. It ranges from radioactive waste with an activity content level just above that for VLLW, that is, not requiring shielding or particularly robust containment and isolation, to radioactive waste with a level of activity concentration such that shielding and more robust containment and isolation are necessary for periods up to several hundred years.”

• Note the beginning of paragraph 2.22: In this new classification of the IAEA, ” low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal”. This lies at the heart of the 2009 changes. They no longer define low-level waste according to its intrinsic properties, as the CNSC claimed to do in its 2016 consultation document, but rather according to the characteristics of the near-surface landfill that should receive it. It is no longer because a low-level waste is harmless that it can be discarded in a near-surface landfill; it’s the opposite: As soon as the CNSC accepts that a waste may be discarded in a near-surface landfill, it becomes ipso facto “low activity waste”, whatever its hazard level!

    This explains why Canadian Nuclear Laboratories are planning to place deadly cobalt-60 radioactive sources of in their near-surface landfill at Chalk River, while repeating to Canadians that they will only place “low level waste” in accordance with the guidelines for the IAEA! As for the CNSC, they never protest! Rather, they dismiss our own protests with their usual langue de bois: (our translation) “The definition of intermediate level radioactive waste remains unchanged so that the Canadian regulatory framework remains faithful to the definition found in the CSA N292.0 standard and to IAEA orientation,” they write.

• We do not know why the International Atomic Energy Agency made such a radical U-turn in 2009, but we presume that this shift comes from the pressures of large nuclear countries, struggling with large quantities of highly radioactive military waste which they want to get rid of at a lower cost. A little change of definition … and it’s done, without any real public debate! In the United States, the Trump administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently jumped at the opportunity by “reinterpreting” the rules for managing their nuclear waste. https ://www.cbc.ca/news/world/nuclear-waste-reclassify-cleanup-1.5163992

• Last observation: The text of the draft REGDOC 2.11.1 on radioactive waste management closely aligns with the formulations proposed in this IAEA document GSG-1, despite the protests from the nuclear industry and those from the rare citizen groups who spoke out on the issue.
   Meanwhile, the CNSC President reiterates everywhere the need to “harmonize” Canadian regulations with international standards and boasts of working hand in hand with the US NRC.

CNSC is at fault

Whatever the content of REGDOC 2.11.1, it was up to the CNSC to explain clearly to Canadians what problems these new regulations want to solve, the pros and cons of the various possible solutions, the possible conflicts between Canadian legislation and the news. global rules, without forgetting the consequences sought in each of the new provisions they suggest.

CNSC DIDN’T DO ANY OF THAT. On the contrary, they seemed to be relentless in scrambling the cards and hiding their true intentions. In doing so, the CNSC has actively contributed to preventing any intelligent public debate on the issues raised by Canada’s draft regulations, in violation of section 9 (b) of Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act. This article entrusts the CNSC with the obligation ” to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public concerning the activities of the Commission and the effects (of nuclear activities) on the environment and on the health and safety of persons.”

    The Commission’s negligence in this regard is unacceptable. Above all, it is very worrying for citizens who wonder what unavowable objectives the CNSC is secretly pursuing.

2) Scrambled waste definitions 

Although the CNSC has grossly failed in its responsibilities as an objective informant and a delegated regulatory body, it does not necessarily follow that the draft regulations will be completely unacceptable. That’s why we’ll take a closer look.

REGDOC becomes the Canadian standard

On the one hand, the CNSC has rejected many proposals under the guise of respecting the status quo and remaining faithful to the CSA-N292 standard which, it says, will still be in force.

    On the other hand, article 1.2 of the first volume specifies nevertheless that the REGDOC will henceforth take precedence; the CSA standard will only be a complement. “This document is complemented by the requirements and guidance in CSA N292.0, General Principles for the Management of Radioactive Waste and Irradiated Fuel”, says the English version.

(To add to the confusion, the French version of REGDOC erroneously states the exact opposite: « Le présent document constitue un complément aux exigences et à l’orientation de la norme CSA N292.0 », says the French text. It also contains several other inaccuracies. Even its numbering is offset from that of the English text!)

Definitions that cloud the debate

In popular parlance and in their traditional definition in Canada, low-level waste is almost harmless waste that can be safely touched. This traditional meaning has been completely obliterated in the new definition. No way of being able to touch it. No attempt to quantify its radiotoxicity for a human being (in milliSieverts/hour).

Even more serious, the CSSN regulations purport to define the level of “activity” of radioactive waste, when this is not the case. (The activity of an element designates its number of radioactive disintegrations per second, measured in becquerels.) However, the new definition of low activity or intermediate activity waste eliminates any reference to their radioactive activity!

The only remaining criterion is the duration of this waste, according to article 7.1 of the draft regulation: “Low-Level radioactive waste (LLW) (…) generally has limited amounts of long-lived activity. LLW requires isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years. “

    There is a problem: the longer or shorter “period” of a radioactive material does not define its level of radioactivity or danger; it just defines its lifespan. If the period is long, it will disappear slowly and its activity will generally be weak, with a small number of disintegrations per second. This definition of a low-level waste therefore becomes quite contradictory: It requires to LIMIT long-lived radionuclides (the most persistent), that is to say those which would have LOW activity and which decay slowly! This is how we end up with a Chalk River landfill dominated 98% by the radioactivity of cobalt-60 alone, an radionuclide whose period is very short.

Moreover, even if the definition requires a limited quantity of persistent elements, it at the same time underlines the importance of confining them for … a few hundred years! And in the very same definition, they manage to use the word “period” many times, with two different meanings. Sometimes it means “a radioactive half-life”; sometimes it just means a time lenght.

How can the CNSC and Canada’s best nuclear professionals confuse concepts and definitions so much? Why does the CNSC derail any intelligent public debate in this way, when the law entrusts it with the mission of providing the public with objective scientific information on nuclear energy?

CNSC is defining something else than what they claim

The only likely explanation is that the new definition of low-level waste does not really relate to what it claims to define, but rather to the type of radioactive waste that can be placed in a near-surface landfill, like in Chalk River. The CNSC applies the far-fetched definition we quoted earlier from the IAEA’s GSG-1 document: “low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal.”

Here we must remember that the main weakness of a near surface site is its short useful life. It is vulnerable to weathering, erosion and plant, animal or human intrusions (to recycle precious metals for example), etc. Waste should therefore never be placed a landfill if it remains dangerous for much longer than the useful life of the dump itself. And for the waste to disappear quickly, its radionuclides must have a short period (i.e. a short half-life).

In the same way, they no longer define “Intermediate-Level Waste” according to the intensity of their activity or their radiotoxicity but rather according to their much longer persistence, which compels us to confine them will force them to be confined for “periods greater than several hundred years”. Here again, they confuse concepts and public debate.

Blur at all costs!

The redefinition of low and intermediate level waste therefore eliminates all the old distinctions. Since they don’t want to impose new constraints on themselves, they also eliminate any specific limit on acceptable “low-level waste” in a surface landfill such as at Chalk River.

Admire the precision of the vocabulary! “Low-Level waste (…) generally (but not always) has limited amount (what quantity, exactly? 1%? 4%? 15%?) of long-lived radionuclides (how long? The period of a radionuclide is often said to be ‘long’ when it lasts more than 30 years, but the regulations avoid specifying it). LLW requires isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years (how many centuries? 2? 10?)”. The same is unclear for intermediate-level waste which must be confined for “periods greater than several hundred years”. (how much more than how many centuries, exactly?)  And if LLW goes up to “a few” hundred years and ILW start at “several” hundred years, what happen between a few and several centuries? All answers are good! 

No wonder the CNSC must now organize webinars to clarify things for the nuclear industry! What else will it take to be sure the general public understands clearly?

France has a good waste classification

The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive submits that Canada should adopt the same classification system as France for radioactive waste. Not only has this classification stood the test of time, but it has the immense advantage of being clear, complete and nuanced. Above all, it always distinguishes the definition of a class of radioactive waste and the description of the type of long-term storage they require.

This system provides for four classes according to the level of activity (high, intermediate, low and very low) and for three other classes according to the period length (long-lived, short or very short). These classes do also intersect to define up to twelve distinct classes of waste (high activity with short life, for example). Such a system allows for clear and nuanced public discussion, with well-defined concepts, and there is no reason why Canada could not learn from it.

More fundamentally, we submit that no one has the slightest advantage in making the waste definitions so blurry and confusing like CNSC is trying to do in Canada, insofar as the real criteria for acceptance of waste will henceforth depend only on the “safety case” specific to each installation, as explained in the third volume of this REGDOC.

This is what the CNSC itself pointed out to us when our Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive objected to the possibility of discarding ILW in a near-surface landfill:

“(our translation) In the non-prescriptive Canadian regulatory context, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the safety assessment specific to the proposed waste management facility supports and justifies the proposed waste inventory. “

The RCPR recognizes that this “safety case” concept could possibly provide an interesting flexibility to decide which kind of waste would be acceptable in each particular waste facility, without being constrained by a priori technical solutions.

The most important thing is to never compromise security and our next chapter will examine how this essential objective could be confidently ensured.

3) How “non-prescriptive” can you be?

Nowhere has the CNSC clearly defined what is “non-prescriptive” regulation. At first glance, the concept seems contradictory: Regulation are normally created to prescribe actions and to dictate obligations, aren’t they?  

 We understand that the CNSC’s initiative aims to give the greatest possible freedom and the widest possible initiative to nuclear developers so that they can come up with original and safe solutions. In short, proposing objectives and imposing a performance obligation, rather than prescribing pre-defined cast in stone solutions.

The entire third volume of REGDOC 2.11.1 aims to finely describe the “safety case” with which a promoter should eventually prove that his project is safe. Obviously, the CNSC has done a noteworthy job of detailing with such precision all the required steps in order to credibly demonstrate that a particular project will be safe.

That doesn’t make it a fascinating read. We would certainly have fallen asleep reading this endless series of guidelines if we had not had the invaluable and exceptional benefit of having already seen it in operation.

We can already judge this REGDOC by its fruits

Thanks to our multiple Access to Information  Act requests, we were able to follow the main technical documents that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories submitted to the CNSC to demonstrate the safety of their project for an aboveground radioactive landfill in Chalk River. We found that this portion of REGDOC has been applied long before its eventual adoption. We can also attest that this evaluation followed the steps provided for in volume 3 of REGDOC 2.11.1. And since the CNL published a revised description of their project for a surface radioactive dump at Chalk River, we must also recognize that this procedure has a certain efficiency: the 2nd version of the NSDF project is clearly safer than the initial version, in 2017.

On the other hand, we were also able to observe some weaknesses… and we find the same loopholes in REGDOC 2.11.1.

The public must be able to monitor the process

First weakness of this 3rd volume of this REGDOC: it does not say anywhere that the safety case negotiation must be done in public. In this actual case, both the CNL and the CNSC have tried to prevent any access to their working papers and to the status reports of their negotiations, as if they had incriminating actions to hide. Although intermittent, our stubborn surveillance could effectively have prevented them from making too many indefensible compromises. Public access helps to restrict arbitrariness.

 Canada’s Access to Information Act only applies to the federal government itself. It’s almost unheard of that we have been able to successfully invoke it against a private consortium. The law certainly would have no control whatsoever over an electricity company or over the private developer of a small modular reactor, for example.

This is why the REGDOC must require that all technical studies underlying the safety case be accessible to the public, as well as all the negotiation steps with the CNSC, when the promoter is not covered by Canada’s Access to Information Act.

 In such cases, someone could at least raise the alarm if, for example, the safety case did not take into account the urban development that will occur around an installation over the next few centuries. We bring this example because we have seen this particular weakness in the NSDF safety case in Chalk River. And it’s not the only one. The safety assessment does not take into account the risk that the landfill may soon become the target of recyclers who would like to dismantle it. (The dump mound is expected to contain up to 7 000 tons of copper and 20 000 tons of steel, according to the latest forecasts.)

REGDOC must impose ultimate safety criteria 

Second observation: Even if the promoter of a dumping ground can draw up his safety case himself, that does not justify the systematic elimination of any prescriptive provision. In the new formula, the real standards are said to be found in section 8.1.1.1 of volume 3, entitled “Acceptance criteria used in the assessment”. This section claims to set the criteria by which the safety results will be deemed acceptable. 

    Unfortunately, the present REGDOC is far too weak and not prescriptive enough here. The first paragraph of section 8.1.1.1 even states that “the license holder should also define the precise criteria of the level of security to be achieved”. Thereafter, the regulation “suggests” the rules that should apply. Or, it signals the existence of external “guides”, which have no binding value.

    We completely disagree with such laxity. It is a question here of clearly defining what degree of security the promoter must achieve. This is a task that clearly belongs to the CNSC. The precise criteria for the level of safety to be achieved must be specified in the REGDOC, explicitly.

In the area of ​​radiological protection of persons, for example, REGDOC first recalls the current rule according to which a radioactive dump site must never expose any member of the public to more than 1 millisievert of radiation per year. In order for the promoter to be sure of always respecting this standard, the REGDOC therefore suggests aiming for a lower target, in the simulations. It states that the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the IAEA document SSR-5 both recommend targeting a dose constraint of 0.3 mSv per year.

    Again, it is not enough to point out the existence of these international proposals, especially when they are non-binding. The CNSC must formally assess the validity of these IAEA proposals. And if they are valid, the CNSC must then impose them in its regulations. Otherwise, the CNSC is in serious breach of its obligations to protect the public.

Inadequate target doses

On the next page of section 8.1.1.1 of volume 3, REGDOC addresses the risk of human intrusion. This is the main vulnerability of an above-ground dump whose integrity must be preserved for several centuries. Here again, the draft REGDOC settles for a simple reference to the IAEA’s SSR-5 document which suggests target doses which should protect the public during a human intrusion into the landfill. Unfortunately, these IAEA proposals turned out to be dangerously inadequate when the CNL attempted to apply them to their Chalk River dump project. REGDOC will therefore have to strengthen those suggested doses and impose them as mandatory requirement. 

In the IAEA proposal, the promoter is not bound to any improvement when he “expects” that the public will not be exposed to more than 1 milliSievert per year due to human intrusion. Also, according to the IAEA, the public dose has to exceed 20 mSv per year before the promoter is invited to exclude the most dangerous radionuclides in his waste acceptance criteria. This is 20 times the maximum radiotoxicity allowed in Canada! Once again, this language is MUCH TOO WEAK, especially if the CNSC settles for quoting these international suggestions, without even adopting and imposing them.

 Our criticism is not theoretical. Some scenarios from the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories have concluded that future public doses of more than 20 mSv/year could happen at the Chalk River landfill. The proponent tried to ignore its own conclusion and the CNSC had to intervene to lower the acceptance criteria for the problematic radionuclides. There is no reference to these incidents in the revised project description, of course.

We also noted with concern that the results of these simulations can change by one or two orders of magnitude, by modifying very slightly the initial hypotheses: if a family built a house on the mound, in a few centuries, would it have a dug out basement? Where exactly would his drinking water well be? What diameter, the borehole? So many nuances that can completely change the conclusions! The CNSC cannot let any promoter adjust these criteria as he sees fit, especially when such “details” threaten the survival of his project!

Finally, this 3rd volume of REGDOC 2.11.1 systematically transforms into suggestions (i.e.: “the promoter should do such a thing) provisions which have no meaning when they are not mandatory. Section 8.1.2.1 says, for example, that the applicant “must” include site characterization data in his security assessment. On the other hand, the precision of this definition becomes a simple recommendation: he “should” make sure that these characteristics are detailed enough to allow a credible projection of their future evolution!

    In the paragraph on the protection of persons against dangerous substances, the REGDOC only advises (“should”) that the proponent respects the recommendations of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment or the provincial recommendations on human health.

Obviously, this REGDOC project must therefore be thoroughly reviewed.

4) Recommendations:

  1. The RCPR requests that the new REGDOCs on radioactive waste, on their management and on decommissioning, be thoroughly reworked before their adoption by the CNSC.

2) The RCPR requests that the CNSC broaden the consultation of Canadian citizens in both official languages ​​by first explaining clearly :

a. the problems that its draft regulations would solve;

b. the potential conflicts between IAEA rules and Canadian practices, including CSA standards;

c. the pros and cons of the major strategies under study;

d. the consequences sought through each of its new regulatory provisions.

3) The RCPR requests that the regulations be inspired by France’s classification system to provide short definitions for each radioactive waste class, based on their own physical characteristics, so as to clarify the public debate and, particularly:

a. Expand the number and variety of these classes;

i. according to the level of radiation activity (number of radionuclide disintegrations in Bq, their absorption in the human body or their dose factor in milliSieverts and their heat generation);

ii. according to their persistence (period, required protection length, etc.);

b. That the subclasses be organized logically within each waste class;

c. That the boundary values ​​between classes and between subclasses be defined as precisely as possible.

4) The RCPR recommends that the identification of the types of containment (geological or surface storage for example) required for various waste classes should not be included in the definition of each waste class; these specifications should rather appear in separate articles for each type of radionuclide.

5) If the CNSC continues to base public safety on the safety case submitted by each applicant,

a. It must clearly impose the precise criteria which will define the level of security required of each radioactive waste landfill.

b. It must carefully reassess the recommendations of external organizations (international or canadian) and justify their adoption before incorporating them into this REGDOC.

c. It must avoid transforming into simple advice any expectation that is essential to obtaining credible conclusions in the safety case.

d. It must require that all the elements of the safety case be accessible to the public, as well as all the stages of its evolution during the negotiations between the promoter and the CNSC.

Gilles Provost, science reporter

and Ginette Charbonneau, physicist,

Spokespersons for the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

N.B: This brief was approved not only by the members of the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive but also by Action Climat Outaouais – ACO

Health and environmental groups appeal to International Atomic Energy Agency to nix Canadian appointment


For immediate release 
(Montreal, March 23, 2020) Three independent civil society organizations — the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and the Ottawa River Institute —  are asking the Director General of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to reconsider the recent appointment of a Canadian as chair of its commission on safety standards.

In a recent letter to IAEA Director General Rafael M. Grossi, signed by Dr. Gordon Edwards, Dr. Éric Notebaert, MD, and Dr. Ole Hendrickson, the authors say they are concerned about the appointment of Rumina Velshi, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), to chair the IAEA’s commission on nuclear safety standards because the organization she heads has a documented record of disregarding IAEA safety standards and advocating for exemption of smaller nuclear reactors from environmental assessment in Canada. 

“We fear that Ms. Velshi’s chairmanship could result in the lowering of international standards, with an emphasis on benefits to the nuclear industry and support of ‘innovation’ at the expense of public protection,” says the letter.

According to the letter, Ms. Velshi might not meet the IAEA’s standards for regulatory officials’ independence from the nuclear industry. Before her appointment as CNSC president, she worked for Ontario Power Generation for eight years in senior management positions and led the OPG commercial team involved in a multi-billion dollar proposal to procure new nuclear reactors. 

published statement from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission dated February 26, 2020 says its president, Rumina Velshi, “intends to use her chairmanship to champion the importance of greater harmonization of standards and ensure they support nuclear innovation.”  In a recent address to the Canadian Nuclear Association Ms. Velshi reiterated these sentiments.

The letter’s authors cite the final report of a recent IAEA review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework as evidence of the CNSC’s failure to meet IAEA safety standards. The review identified numerous deficiencies and found that “CNSC regulations do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The review also found Canada to be out of alignment with IAEA standards for nuclear reactor decommissioning.

“The CNSC is proposing to permit entombment and abandonment of very long-lived radioactive entrails of shutdown ‘legacy’ nuclear reactors as an acceptable strategy for decommissioning in Canada. This approach is expressly rejected by IAEA safety standards, except in emergency circumstances such as severe reactor accidents (i.e. meltdowns),” says Dr. Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.  “We are alarmed by this attempt of the CNSC to permit practices in Canada that the IAEA warns against and we don’t want to see this approach exported to the rest of the world.”

The letter to the IAEA Director General cites the CNSC’s handling of three controversial proposals for nuclear waste disposal as further evidence of the regulatory agency’s disregard of IAEA safety standards. The proposed facilities include: a giant, above-ground mound, close to the Ottawa River, for one million tons of mixed radioactive and other toxic wastes including long-lived radionuclides such as plutonium-239, americium-243, zirconium-93, nickel-59, carbon-14 and many more; as well as the planned entombment in concrete of two shutdown federal reactors beside the Winnipeg and Ottawa rivers, which provide drinking water for millions of Canadians.

The groups call on the IAEA director to maintain the integrity of IAEA safety standards and to continue to emphasize the vital importance of ensuring independence and objectivity, stating:  “We value IAEA safety standards; at the moment they are all that is of an official nature standing between Canadians and three nuclear waste disposal projects that would adversely affect the environment and public health in Canada for generations.”

The letter notes that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a “captured regulator”, that prioritizes needs of the nuclear industry over protection of the public from radioactive pollutants released from nuclear facilities.
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Links:

  1. Letter to IAEA Director General March 12, 2020. https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/03/20/letter-to-iaea-director-general-march-12-2020/ 
  2. Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review. Globe and Mail, November 6, 2018.  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-federal-nuclear-regulator-urges-liberals-to-exempt-smaller-reactors/ 
  3. CNSC president wants to harmonize international nuclear safety standards, Email message from CNSC February 26, 2020. https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/03/20/cnsc-president-wants-to-harmonize-international-nuclear-safety-standards/
  4. Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the Canadian Nuclear Association 2020 Conference. CNSC February 27, 2020. https://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/resources/presentations/president-velshi-remarks-canadian-nuclear-association-2020-conference.cfm
  5. REPORT OF THE INTEGRATED REGULATORY REVIEW SERVICE MISSION TO CANADA, International Atomic Energy Agency. https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/documents/review-missions/irrs_canada_2019_final_report.pdf
  6. International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework. Blog post. March 7, 2020. https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/03/07/international-peer-review-finds-deficiencies-in-canadas-nuclear-safety-framework/