This letter was sent to CNSC president Rumina Velshi on March 14, 2022. (Click on the blue hyperlink below the box, to read in your browser without downloading.)
From: Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
To: Rafael Mariano Grossi
International Atomic Energy Agency
Date: May 31, 2021
We thank the IAEA for organizing the September 2019 Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) Mission to Canada.Recommendation R1 in the report of this Mission is that ““The Government should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in the Canadian Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework.”
This is a still work in progress, as illustrated by Canada’s Seventh National Report to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. As appropriate, we would be grateful if you could forward this note to participants in the 7th review meeting of the Joint Convention.
Article 32 of the Joint Convention says:
2. This report shall also include… (iv) an inventory of radioactive waste that is subject to this Convention that: (a) is being held in storage at radioactive waste management and nuclear fuel cycle facilities; (b) has been disposed of; or (c) has resulted from past practices. This inventory shall contain a description of the material and other appropriate information available, such as volume or mass, activity and specific radionuclides;
Canada’s 7th report says that data are “not available” (N/A) for activity and specific radionuclides in the Government of Canada’s waste at the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL). This is where most federal radioactive waste is stored and is Canada’s only facility for commercial radioactive waste storage. CRL is managed by “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories”, a private company owned by a consortium of multinational engineering firms under a 2015 contract with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).
Table B-2 provides activity values of 1040 TBq beta/gamma, 2.1 TBq alpha, 1070 TBq tritium, and ~ 75 TBq unspecified for a portion of the Chalk River wastes. Data gaps in Table B-2 include CRL’s oldest Waste Management Area, WMA A, and one of its newest, WMA H, where the Shielded Modular Above-Ground Storage (SMAGS) facilities are found. Despite the data gaps in Table B-2, the activity and radionuclide data found therein should be included in Table D.8 of Canada’s 7th report.
Table B-2 also lists additional activity data as being “AVAILABLE” for certain CRL waste areas, including the WMA B circular concrete bunkers, rectangular concrete bunkers, and tile holes; the WMA C extension unlined trenches; the potentially contaminated equipment, materials and drummed liquids in WMA D; and the reprocessing wastes in the Thorium Pit from operation of the 233U extraction facility.
These data should also be reported pursuant to Article 32 of the Joint Convention.
There are major differences between the waste volume data for CRL in Canada’s 7th report and in Table B-2. Table B-2 shows a total volume of all waste types of 235,165 m3, with an additional 380,000 m3 of contaminated soils and slags. These are far higher values than those in Table D.8 of Canada’s 7th report. It gives a total of only 154,858 m3 of all waste types, and only 156,276 m3 of contaminated soils, at CRL.
Comparing data from Table D.8 (p. 48) in Canada’s 7th report to data in the 6th report (Table D.3, p. 27) for CRL, the reported volume of intermediate-level waste (ILW) decreased by 95% – from 19,648 to 1,050 m3.
A footnote to Table D.8 says:
“Prior estimates were based on a conservative assumption that all waste stored within a structure that could contain ILW would be categorized as ILW until better characterization data became available. Between 2016 and 2019, retrieval and processing operations were conducted on selected legacy wastes in storage, and records were verified to extrapolate the current volumes.”
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the operator of CRL, is not listed as a contributor to Canada’s 7th report. Canada’s 7th report should identify the body that did the “better characterization” of ILW, provide details on how it was done, and specify quantities of ILW that were reclassified as low-level waste (LLW). More generally, clarification is needed as to how the Government of Canada’s ILW and LLW are differentiated.
The disappearance of 18,598 m3 of ILW at CRL can only be partly accounted for by a 12,873 m3 increase in LLW (comparing Table D.8 in Canada’s 7th report to Table D.3 in the 6th report).
This apparent reclassification of federal ILW as LLW has implications for a proposed landfill at CRL, listed in section 3.0 of the 7th report as a “current priority”:
a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) for the disposal of up to 1,000,000 m3 of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) at CRL. Pending regulatory approval, the proposed disposal facility will be constructed, and the forecasted date of operations is 2024.
Although this proposed “NSDF” facility is termed a “near surface disposal facility” in the 7th report, the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this facility says (p. 1-5) that it “would resemble a conventional landfill for municipal or industrial refuse, with measures to cover the waste.”
According to SSR-5, Disposal of Radioactive Waste, such a landfill facility would be suitable only for disposal of very low level radioactive waste (VLLW) – waste with low concentrations or quantities of radioactive content. Plans to put LLW – and possibly ILW reclassified as LLW – in such an above-ground, landfill-type mound are a matter of concern. Again, clarity is needed on how Canada’s wastes are classified.
Note that Canada’s 7th report does not provide data for wastes considered to be VLLW.
The final EIS indicates that CNL intends to put 134,000 m3 of packaged wastes in this proposed disposal facility (Table 3.3.1-1, p. 3-24). The final EIS (p. 3-23) and the NSDF Project Waste Acceptance Criteria (pages 12 and 24) identify as packages intermodal containers (e.g., 20-foot ISO containers), steel waste boxes (e.g., B-25 boxes), drums (e.g., 205-L drums), shielded waste packages, and disused sources.
These packages could contain a variety of long-lived and high-activity radionuclides, possibly not well characterized, and very likely unsuitable for landfill disposal.
An NSDF Project Reference Inventory Report notes that there are data gaps “compared to what would be required for disposal assessment” of packaged wastes to be put in the facility. This report describes assumptions, methods, use of scaling factors, qualitative assessments, etc. used to estimate activities of specific radionuclides in the packaged wastes at CRL. These estimates do not appear in Canada’s 7th report.
Canada’s reduced inventory of contaminated soils also has implications for wastes to be put in the proposed landfill. The April 2017 draft EIS for this facility gave a volume figure of 370,000 m3 for “Soil and Soil‐like Waste” (p. 3-8) – similar to the figures of 380,000 m3 of contaminated soils and slags in WMA F found in Table B-2, and 382,842 m3 in the 6th report. The final EIS has no figure for contaminated soils to be put into the facility – only a combined figure of 866,000 m3 for all types of non-packaged wastes.
An explanation for the change in contaminated soil volume at CRL between Canada’s 6th and 7th reports is needed.
Table D.12 and section 8.1 of Canada’s 7th report indicate that CNL was actively decommissioning various facilities (e.g., the waste water evaporator building, NRX delay tanks, NRX fuel bay, NRX ancillary buildings, plutonium recovery laboratory, plutonium tower) at Chalk River during the April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2020 reporting period. However, whereas the 6th report had separate tables for wastes from “normal operations” (Table D.3) and wastes from “decommissioning activities” (Table D.5), the latter table was omitted from Canada’s 7th report.
An explanation is needed as to why a table describing wastes arising from decommissioning activities has been removed from Canada’s 7th report.
Table D.8 (p.49) in Canada’s 7th report has a row labeled “Decommissioning waste” for CRL. The dates given for this row are January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2016. This would seem to indicate that data for decommissioning waste for Chalk River in the 7th report were not updated from the 6th report, which shows the same time period.
However, the two reports have greatly different volumes – 332 m3 ILW and 16,894 m3 LLW in the 7th report; compared to 125 m3 ILW and 2,876 m3 LLW in the 6th report.
This inconsistency should be addressed.
Of particular concern is the absence of data on activity and specific radionuclides for the Government of Canada’s decommissioning wastes. GSR Part 6, Decommissioning of Facilities, states that
During the preparation and updating of the final decommissioning plan, the extent and type of radioactive material at the facility (e.g. activated and contaminated structures and components) shall be determined by means of a detailed characterization survey and on the basis of records collected during the operational period. (p. 16)
Absence of data on activity and specific radionuclides for federal decommissioning wastes in Canada’s 7th report indicates that final decommissioning plans and detailed characterization surveys may not have been done prior to conduct of decommissioning activities. This would be problematic given that
With the implementation of the government-owned contractor-operated (GoCo) model at AECL sites, CNL continues to significantly accelerate decommissioning and remediation activities. (Canada’s 7th report, p. 2)
The data shown in Table D.8 in Canada’s 7th report for the Government of Canada’s Whiteshell Laboratories, currently undergoing accelerated decommissioning, differ substantially from those found in the 6th report.
The category of “Research reactor waste and decommissioned reactor waste” for the Whiteshell Laboratories, included in the 6th report, is missing from the 7th report. Both LLW and ILW at Whiteshell are now labelled as “Decommissioning waste (January 1, 2005, to December 31, 2016).”
As with the CRL decommissioning waste, this December 31, 2016 date may be an error. A correction or further explanation is needed.
Table D.5 in Canada’s 6th report gave volume and activity data for decommissioning wastes at Whiteshell (22 m3 and 148 TBq ILW, 1598 m3 and 6 TBq LLW); Table D.3 in the 6th report gave volume and activity data (863 m3 and 2,794 TBq ILW, 19,700 m3 and 325 TBq LLW) for Whiteshell operations wastes.
Canada’s 7th report (Table D.8, p. 51) does not provide separate values for Whiteshell decommissioning and operations wastes – both are combined as “Decommissioning waste”. Activity data for these wastes are now listed as “Not Available”.
With regard to the volume of Whiteshell wastes, Table D.8 (p. 51) in Canada’s 7th report provides a figure of 240 m3 of ILW. This represents only 27% of the 885 m3 of Whiteshell ILW in the 6th report (adding together the separately reported volumes of decommissioning and operations waste). The 6th report had a footnote stating that “Volumes for ILW/LLW are based on method of storage and do not necessarily represent the actual breakdown of waste into ILW and LLW”.
Canada’s 6th report listed a total of 21,298 m3 of LLW at Whiteshell, including 19,700 m3 of “operations” LLW (in “above-ground concrete bunkers and trenches”) and 1,598 m3 of “decommissioning” LLW (in “above-ground concrete bunkers”). In Canada’s 7th report, this total volume decreased by 21% to a value of 16,861 m3 of LLW in “above-ground concrete bunkers”.
Canada’s 7th report gives no explanation for these considerable decreases in the ILW and LLW inventories at Whiteshell. One possibility is that decommissioning wastes have already been shipped to Chalk River, even though Canada’s 7th report implies that this would not be done until approval was granted for the proposed CRL landfill:
“For the wastes that are currently on-site, CNL is planning to transport certain LLW and other suitable wastes from Whiteshell to CRL for disposal in the proposed NSDF” (p. 297).
Accurate accounting of volumes and activities for the Whiteshell decommissioning wastes is of particular importance, given that the contract between AECL and the consortium of multinational engineering firms includes a special “target cost” agreement that provides bonuses for decommissioning Whiteshell as quickly as possible.
With regard to Canada’s method of waste classification, the 6th report says:
A definitive numerical boundary between the various categories of radioactive waste – primarily between LLW and ILW – cannot be provided because activity limitations differ between individual radionuclides and radionuclide groups, and will be dependent on short- and long-term safety-management considerations. For example, a contact dose rate of two millisieverts per hour (mSv/h) has been used in some cases to distinguish between LLW and ILW.
A much different waste classification is found in the 7th report:
LLW contains material with radionuclide content above established clearance levels and exemption quantities, but generally has limited amounts of long-lived activity. For orientation purposes only, a limit of 400 Bq/g on average (and up to 4,000 Bq/g for individual waste packages) for long-lived alpha emitting radionuclides can be considered in the classification process. For long-lived beta and/or gamma emitting radionuclides, such as carbon-14, chlorine-36, nickel-63, zirconium-93, niobium-94, technetium-99 and iodine-129, the allowable average activity concentrations can be considerably higher (up to tens of kBq/g) and can be specific to the site and disposal facility. LLW requires isolation and containment for up to a few hundred years.
A similar classification of LLW is found in the NSDF Project Waste Acceptance Criteria (p. 36). Both resemble the description of LLW in IAEA General Safety Guide GSG-1, Classification of Radioactive Waste. However, neither the new LLW classification in Canada’s 7th report, nor CNL’s LLW classification for its “NSDF”, would appear to identify wastes suitable for disposal in a landfill-type facility.
As noted earlier, landfill-type facilities are suitable for disposal only Very Low Level Waste (VLLW) – typically, soil and rubble with low levels of radioactivity and very limited concentrations of longer lived radionuclides. Past activities at CRL related to extraction of isotopes from irradiated fuels and targets (e.g., the plutonium recovery facility, the plutonium tower, the waste water evaporator, the nitrate plant, the thorium pit, the molybdenum-99 processing facility), have left a legacy of long-lived wastes that almost certainly will require management as ILW.
After AECL contracted a consortium of multinational engineering firms to operate the Government of Canada’s nuclear sites in 2015, Canada’s Parliament greatly increased annual appropriations to AECL for decommissioning and waste management. With this increased funding for accelerated decommissioning, and plans for three new disposal facilities for the Government of Canada’s wastes (the CRL landfill, and entombment of the NPD and WR-1 reactors), clear, transparent, accurate and up-to-date data on federal radioactive wastes should be a high priority for Canada.
In summary, Canada’s 7th report could be revised to
- include all available data on activity and specific radionuclides for the Government of Canada’s radioactive wastes stored at CRL and Whiteshell;
- explain the changes in data for ILW, LLW, and contaminated soils at CRL and Whiteshell in the 7th report relative to the 6th report, including information on the “better characterization” of ILW;
- explain why data for wastes arising from decommissioning activities at Chalk River and Whiteshell are shown as not having been updated since 2017;
- clarify whether final decommissioning plans and detailed characterization surveys were completed prior to conduct of accelerated decommissioning activities at CRL and Whiteshell;
- explain why the separate table of wastes arising from decommissioning activities found in the 6th report was removed from the 7th report;
- clarify that the proposed “NSDF” at CRL would resemble a municipal landfill; and
- provide evidence that long-term solutions have been developed for remediation of the CRL waste management areas.
Addressing these issues would add rigour and credibility to Canada’s 7th report.
We hope this note can stimulate discussions during the Seventh Review Meeting
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Researcher, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
Table B-2 Summary of Waste Management Areas at CRL and Estimates of Waste Volumes and Radioactivity Content
Source: Chalk River Laboratories Comprehensive Preliminary Decommissioning Plan, CPDP-508300-PDP-001, Revision 2, March 2014
|Area||Period of Operation||Description||Waste Volume (m3)||Major Activity (1)||Notes|
|Waste Management Area A|
|Liquid Wastes||Various drummed and bottled liquids emptied into below-grade concrete structures.||n.a.||33||N/A||N/A||Limited records for drummed and bottled liquids buried prior to 1956|
|Solid Wastes||1946-1955||Liquid wastes discharged into trenches in 1953 (4,500 m3), 1954 September (7.2 m3) and 1955 February (50 m3) resulting in contaminated soil. Solid wastes emplaced in unlined trenches and a variety of “special burials”, such as the NRX calandria.||21,200||Misc. liquids||Mixed FP||N/A||Limited records for solid wastes buried prior to 1955. Source of a groundwater plume.|
|Liquid Dispersal Area|
|Reactor Pit #1||1953-1998||Liquid waste discharged to natural depression between 1953 and 1956 resulting in contaminated soil. Lightly contaminated equipment and suspect soils later used to fill depression.||7,100||n.a.||β/γ α||100 0.1||Estimated disposal of 74 TBq 90Sr plus 100 g (Pu equivalent) of alpha-emitters. Source of a groundwater plume.|
|Laundry Pit||1956-1957||Aqueous waste from Decontamination Centre and Laundry discharged to engineered pit resulting in contaminated soil.||4,000||n.a.||β/γ α||0.06 0.0003||Small inventory compared with other LDA pits.|
|Chemical Pit||1956-1995||Liquid aqueous waste from site labs and chemical operations discharged to a gravel-filled pit resulting in contaminated soil.||17,700||n.a.||β/γ α Tritium||230 0.4 70||Source of a groundwater 90Sr plume. Groundwater from Chemical Pit plume is subject of pump and treat program.|
|Reactor Pit #2||1956-2000||Lightly contaminated water from Rod Storage Bays, and NRX & NRU operations resulting in contaminated soil.||28,200||n.a.||β/γ α Tritium||500 0.5 1,000||Source of a groundwater plume.|
|Waste Management Area B|
|Sand Trenches||1953-1963||Solid wastes in unlined trenches covered with sand: Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste (ILW) emplaced prior to 1956 August, only Low Level Waste (LLW) emplaced after 1956 September.||~9,000||Misc. bottled liquids||Mixed LLW and ILW||~75||Use discontinued in favour of engineered structures. Limited inventory data. Source of two separate groundwater plumes.|
|Asphalt-lined trenches||1955-1959||Intermediate-level solid wastes, i.e., wastes having external fields >100 mR/h at 30 cm, that were emplaced in asphalt-lined and –capped trenches||1,600||Misc. bottled liquids||ILW||N/A||Estimated to contain 0.6 TBq of 239Pu.|
|Rectangular Concrete bunkers||1959-1979||Low level solid wastes in rectangular concrete bunkers. (Below grade but above the water table)||8,500||Residual||LLW||A|
|Special burials||1955-1973||Various materials including the NRU and the second NRX calandrias.||914*||220*||Estimates are available for individual burials.|
|Circular concrete bunkers||1979 – present||Low level solid wastes. (Below grade but above the water table)||6,850||Residual||LLW||A|
|Tile Holes – Nuclear Reactor Fuels||1956 – present||Reactor fuel high-level wastes in vertical, below-grade facilities.||120||n.a.||Used Fuel||A||Estimates available for fissile material quantities. Fuel-bearing structures are the subject of a remediation program. Certain HEU fuels are candidates for return to U.S.|
|Tile Holes – 99Mo wastes||1970 -present||High-level wastes from 99Mo production||200||n.a.||ILW||N/A||Estimates available for fissile material quantities.|
|Tile Holes – other wastes||1956 -present||A variety of high level wastes including reactor components.||950||n.a.||ILW||N/A||Cell wastes, reactor components, Rod Bay wastes.|
|Waste Management Area C|
|C Extension||1993-2006||Low level solid waste (external fields <100 mR/h at 30 cm) in unlined trenches. Higher proportion of drummed waste than Area C.||9,000||Residual||LLW||A||Characterization data available for some radionuclide inventories. Source of groundwater plume.|
|Sand Trenches||1963-2006||Low-level solid waste (external fields <100 mR/h at 30 cm) in unlined trenches. Total area is approx. 4.5 ha; impermeable cover installed on entire area in 2013. Waste is half from CRL and half from across Canada including NPD.||100,000||Drummed & bottled liquids||LLW||N/A||Limited characterization data for inventories. Source of a groundwater plume.|
|Area||Period of Operation||Description||Waste Volume (m3)||Major Activity (1)||Notes|
|Waste Management Area D||1976 – present||Fenced gravel compound used for aboveground storage of potentially contaminated equipment, materials and drummed liquids. Not a burial site. A Mixed Waste Facility used for temporary storage, sampling and bulking is also in WMA D.||760 (LLW)||LLW||A||Small numbers of transient drums may be stored at any particular time. The drummed liquids (lightly contaminated aqueous wastes and waste oils) are stored in marine containers.|
|Acid, Chemical and Solvent Pits||1982-1987||Small fenced compound containing three small pits, which as the names imply were used for different non-active liquid wastes and very small quantities of solid wastes.||Acid: minor||Acid: 11.2 Chem.: 2.7 Sol.: 5.3||Acid: Hydrochloric, Sulphuric, Nitric, Chromic acids, potassium carbonate powder, citric powder and acid batteries. Chemical: Scintillation fluids, Alconox and other cleaning agents, ammonia, alkylating agents, others. Solvent: Mixed solvents, oils, scintillation solutions, ammonia, varsol, acetone, others.|
|Waste Management Area E||1977-1984||Used for disposition of lightly contaminated & suspect bulk materials (building debris and soils) from the CRL Controlled Area.||N/A||n.a.||Suspect slightly contaminated||N/A||The volume of suspect contaminated materials is believed to be a small fraction of the total volume of materials stored here.|
|Tank Farm||1961-1968||Tank Farm with intermediate to high-level wastes in tanks in concrete vaults with leak-detection systems Intermediate – T-40F (secondary concrete containment), T-40E (empty), T-40D (concrete pad) High level – T-283A, B, C, D (all with secondary concrete containment)||n.a.||68||β/γ α||150||Monitoring & surveillance confirms containment of these wastes and the facility includes emergency transfer lines.|
|Waste Management Area F||1976-1979||Contaminated soils and slags from Port Hope, Albion Hills, Mono Mills and Ottawa stored above the water table in sand valley. Unsuccessful clay cover.||~380,000||zero||Radium||0.5||Approx. 515 GBq Total 226Ra, 4 – 13 Mg Arsenic, 80 Mg U.|
|Waste Management Area G||1989-present||NPD spent fuel dry storage facility – aboveground concrete canisters.||4,921 (bundles)||zero||Irrad. U||A||Complete inventory data available. Monitoring & surveillance confirms containment within structures.|
|Waste Management Area H (MAGS and SMAGS)||2001-present||Prefabricated metal and concrete storage buildings with capability of storing 865 m3and approximately 4,000 m3 each, respectively, of compacted LLW in B-1000 compactor boxes, 45-gallon drums (204 liters), wooden crates, boxes and B-25 containers. Bulk materials and NRX stack pieces are also stored in WMA H.||9,000||n.a||Mixed FP||N/A||All waste will be removed by Operations prior to turnover to Decommissioning. Some residual contamination may be present as a result of operational activities.|
|WMA J Bulk Material Landfill (BML)||2010–present||Engineered landfill used for the storage of sewage sludge for the CRL sewage treatment plant||1,600||n.a.||Mixed FP|
|Leachate is transferred to the sewage treatment plant.|
|Nitrate Plant||1953-1954||Discharges of mixed fission products in salt solutions to limed pit following a process accident. Decontaminating solutions also released. Contaminated rubble from Building 233 demolition.||3,400||n.a.||β/γ||60||Estimated 60 TBq of β/γ activity (35% 90Sr) in liquid releases – small α inventories. Plant demolished and buried on-site, no data for solid waste inventories.|
|.Thorium Pit||1955-1960||Reprocessing wastes from operation of the 233U extraction facility.||150||n.a.||Nat. Th, 233U and mixed FP||A||Approximate total of 45 m3 reprocessing solution discharged in separate dispersals to crib containing ammonium carbonate (~4,000 kg of nat. Th, 27 g 233U).|
|Above Ground Buildings and Structures in Waste Management Areas|
|Buildings and Structures in WMAs||1953 – present||Various buildings/gatehouses||N/A||n.a.||N/A||N/A|
(1) Activity at time of emplacement – not corrected for decay N/A = no quantitative data available n.a. = not applicable A = quantitative data available
April 12, 2021
Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says it’s the “World’s best nuclear regulator” on its website. That “self-image” of the CNSC’s is inconsistent with statements made in recent years by international peer reviewers, high-ranking Canadian officials, international nuclear proponents and others.
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reviewed Canada’s nuclear safety framework. It identified numerous serious deficiencies including: not following IAEA guidance on nuclear reactor decommissioning, failure to justify practices involving radiation sources, inadequate management systems for transporting nuclear materials and allowing pregnant nuclear workers four times higher radiation exposures than IAEA would permit.
In testimony before the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in November 2016, Canada’s Environment Commissioner said:
“the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission… was quite difficult to work with… I would say that the commission was aggressive with the auditors.”
In April 2017, the Expert Panel on reform of environmental assessment, in its final report noted that it had heard many concerns about lack of independence at the CNSC:
“There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities (CNSC and NEB) promote the projects they are tasked with regulating…The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities.”
Counter to Expert Panel recommendations, the CNSC is the agency responsible for making environmental assessment and licensing decisions for three controversial radioactive waste disposal projects on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers.
The nuclear industry publication, Nuclear Energy Insider, recently touted Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” as a reason for SMR developers to come to Canada to experiment with and promote “small”, “modular”, nuclear reactors.
A Globe and Mail article in November 2018, revealed that CNSC officials had engaged in backroom lobbying to exempt small modular nuclear reactors from environmental assessment.
A June 2020 briefing session for MPs and media,“Sham regulation of radioactive waste in Canada,” by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and other NGOs, outlined several ways in which the CNSC was creating “pseudo regulations” to benefit the nuclear industry and allow cheap and ineffective nuclear waste facilities to receive approval and licensing.
A recent petition to the Auditor General from our respective public interest citizens’ groups and Quebec colleagues, entitled “Nuclear governance problems in Canada,” noted that the CNSC has a mandate to protect health but lacks a health department. A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it.
We believe the CNSC is in need of serious reform if Canadians want it to become a world-class nuclear regulator that prioritizes the health of Canadians and the environment over the health of the nuclear industry. The Government of Canada should address regulatory capture and other serious problems at the CNSC as soon as possible.
Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
Anne Lindsey, OM, MA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba
The images below are screen shots from the CNSC website, on April 13, 2021, illustrating that the word “health” does not appear on the organizational chart, despite the fact that CNSC’s primary legal mandate is to protect the health of Canadians from the adverse effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.
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)  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.
Canada’s first formal license application for an SMR is the “Micro Modular Reactor” in Chalk River.
CCRCA, and many others provided written interventions to the CNSC on “the scope of an environmental assessment for the proposed Micro Modular Reactor Project at the Chalk River Laboratories” prior to the one-person “Panel of Commission: R. Velshi, President” that rendered its decision on July 26th.
The CCRCA submission noted, in particular, that under the Impact Assessment Act, the proponent would be required to include as a “factor” in the EA ““the extent to which the effects of the designated project hinder or contribute to the Government of Canada’s ability to meet its environmental obligations and its commitments in respect of climate change.”
We added, “the CNSC has proposed that proponents assess the total GHG production as part of CNSC-led environmental assessments” in its fact sheet entitled “Greenhouse gas emission assessments for the Canadian nuclear fuel cycle,”
Somehow, the Record of Decision on the project scope omits any mention of climate change.
The CNSC’s decision on the scope of the MMR project indicates that climate change is not a relevant factor in the consideration of environmental impact of SMRs.
Here’s our take-away:
- Reducing GHG emissions is a government priority. This is reflected in the Impact Assessment Act. The Minister of Natural Resources says nuclear power is essential to reduce GHGs (no path to net zero without nuclear)
- The CNSC did not include GHG emissions as a factor in assessing its first SMR license application – even when requested to do so – and even when its own “interim strategy for environmental assessments” calls for this.
- The CNSC should not lead environmental assessments of nuclear reactors, including SMRs.
- The Physical Activities Regulations under the Impact Assessment Act should be changed to remove exemptions for new nuclear reactors.
Office of/Bureau du Richard Cannings MP South Okanagan – West Kootenay
June 17, 2020
Don’t approve Nuclear Waste regulations which put Canadians at risk,
says NDP Natural Resources Critic Richard Cannings
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) should not approve a suite of regulatory documents on radioactive waste at its meeting June 18, 2020 and instead live up to the Liberal government’s commitment to openness and transparency for regulatory development. Some of these regulations developed by commission staff are at best vague guidelines that leave nuclear waste policy decisions in the hands of private industry, instead of actually prescribing actions that are in the public interest.
These regulatory changes would pave the way for several controversial nuclear waste disposal projects, including a giant mound at Chalk River, Ontario, two entombments of shut- down reactors, and a proposed deep geological repository for the burial of high-level nuclear fuel waste.
This proposal does not meet Canada’s commitment to meeting or surpassing international standards for the handling of nuclear waste. For example, the entombment of nuclear reactors is designated as “in-situ decommissioning”, a practice that the International Atomic Energy Agency says should only be used as a last option for facilities damaged in accidents.
Of further concern is the lack of clarity in the proposed regulations. In many cases the licensee is directed to develop safety requirements with no explicit directions as to what those safety requirements are. The giant mound at Chalk River is meant to contain up to 1 million cubic metres of low- to intermediate-activity nuclear waste but these activity levels are not defined and the private owner of the facility would get to decide what materials are stored in that mound of nuclear waste.
The Minister of Natural Resources has committed to consulting Canadians on a policy framework and strategy for radioactive waste. Instead we have this backdoor process with limited public input and no parliamentary oversight. The minister should be conducting a public process to develop a Canadian framework for radioactive waste management that meets or exceeds international best practices, a framework that does not allow the nuclear industry to police itself.
Proposed radioactive waste disposal rules are weak and industry-friendly
By OLE HENDRICKSON JUNE 12, 2020
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is on the cusp of approving new rules for the disposal of nuclear waste in Canada.
Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan, pictured delivering the opening keynote at the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2020. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission reports to Parliament through Mr. O’Regan. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
On June 18th, Canada’s industry-friendly regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), will formalize new guidance and requirements for disposal of radioactive waste. The CNSC’s new rules are tailored to allow the nuclear industry to “solve” its waste problem as easily and cheaply as possible.
While the CNSC claims to have consulted the public in preparing five new regulatory documents (“REGDOCs”) for radioactive waste storage and disposal, the documents largely reflect the agency’s separate interactions with industry giants such as Cameco, Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (a privately-owned corporation controlled by U.S. interests).
With Canadian nuclear reactors approaching the end of their useful life, or already shut down, the CNSC’s proposal to allow permanent, on-site disposal (and eventual abandonment) of radioactive waste at existing nuclear facilities is attracting criticism.
This strategy, known as “in-situ decommissioning”, is expressly supported in a new CNSC decommissioning REGDOC, even though its use is specifically proscribed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Plans to use existing nuclear facilities for permanent waste disposal were initially set out in a 2014 Canadian Standards Association document prepared by industry and government nuclear officials. This document identifies “in situ confinement—to place the facility in a safe and secure condition with the intention to abandon in-place” as a decommissioning strategy option.
In 2015, the consortium of multinational companies that owns Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and operates the federal government’s nuclear sites (including six shut-down reactors) proposed to use this option for federal reactors in Ontario and Manitoba—to entomb them in concrete and grout. These proposals triggered federal environmental assessments that are being led by the CNSC.
In February 2020 the IAEA released a review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework, and observed that “The CNSC is currently considering two licence applications related to in situ confinement of legacy reactor facilities. This strategy of in-situ confinement is not consistent with SSG-47.”
SSG-47 is the 2018 IAEA Specific Safety Guide, Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities. The IAEA suggested that CNSC “consider revising its current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance.”
But tather than following IAEA guidance that “entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning,” the CNSC decommissioning REGDOC to be approved on June 18th says “In situ decommissioning may be considered a solution… for legacy sites.”
The REGDOC then goes further, opening the door for abandonment of future nuclear facilities such as small modular reactors if their removal is not “practicable”.
Approval of this REGDOC and four others dealing with radioactive waste is being rushed by the CNSC behind closed doors during the coronavirus pandemic. The CNSC dismissed a written request from civil society groups to speak at, or even make written submissions for, its so-called “public meeting” on June 18th.
Civil society groups have long noted that Canada lacks policies and strategies for managing radioactive waste. Federal policy is limited to a 143-word Radioactive Waste Policy Framework that does not mention the fundamental principle of dealing with radioactive waste in a manner that protects human health—now and in the future—without imposing undue burdens on future generations.
In February, the IAEA recommended that “The Government of Canada should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in its Radioactive Waste Policy Framework.” The government responded that “Natural Resources Canada will review its existing policy for radioactive waste, and consider how it may be enhanced.”
NRCan officials say this review will include consultation with Indigenous groups and the public, but its start has been delayed by the pandemic.
It appears that the CNSC has decided to move quickly to pre-empt this government review, so as to allow maximum flexibility for the nuclear industry to use quick and cheap options to deal with its vexing challenge of radioactive waste disposal. When it comes to protecting people from exposure to harmful radiation, the fox is guarding the chicken house.
Ole Hendrickson is a retired environmental scientist, and a member of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.
Civil society urges suspension of decisions involving radioactive waste after international body finds Canada’s nuclear waste policy deficient
Ottawa (May 19, 2020) – Over one hundred civil society organizations and prominent scientific experts from across Canada have called on the federal minister of Natural Resources (Hon. Seamus O’Regan) to suspend all decision-making involving radioactive waste disposal until Canada has a sufficient radioactive waste policy in place.
In February 2020, it was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Canada’s Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework “does not encompass all the needed policy elements nor a detailed strategy” necessary to provide a national strategy for long-term radioactive waste management in Canada. In the letter, signatories request that the development of Canada’s radioactive waste policy and associated strategy must be based on “meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples and strong public engagement from the outset.”
Signatories underscored the urgency of their request as Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, presses ahead with regulatory licence decisions on a number of radioactive waste projects. Fearing Canada’s deficient radioactive waste framework will imprint itself on decisions affecting the health and safety of future generations and the environment, signees urged Canada to provide leadership, and establish sufficient guidance and federal policy.
Other commitments requested by signees included that Canada establish objectives and principles to underly a nuclear waste policy and strategy. They also requested Canada identify the problems and issues posed by existing and accumulating radioactive waste.
The full text of the letter sent to the Minister, may be found on the Nuclear Waste Watch website here: “Canada Needs a National Radioactive Waste Policy” May 15, 2020
Links:Find the letter to Minister Seamus O’Regan and the media release in English and French here: https://nuclearwastewatch.weebly.com/May2020Mai.html
A full list of deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework, identified by the IAEA, is available here: “International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework”
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.
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 184.108.40.206 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 220.127.116.11 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 18.104.22.168 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 22.214.171.124 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.
- 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