Majority of federal candidates surveyed oppose radioactive waste mound at Chalk River

Ottawa, October 9, 2019 – The Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area announce the results of a federal election candidate survey on nuclear waste policy and management by the federal government.

Candidates were contacted in 14 ridings in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario and West Québec.

The NDP, Green Party and People’s Party of Canada candidates who replied were virtually unanimous in opposing the construction of a permanent aboveground radioactive waste mound at Chalk River by the federal government through its multi-billion-dollar contract with SNC-Lavalin and two American corporations. All NDP candidates and the Green Party respondents were opposed; however, two PPC candidates, Mario Belec of Pontiac and Azim Hooda of Nepean, disagreed.

No responses were received from Liberal or Conservative candidates. The survey was also sent to all members of the Liberal Cabinet, with zero responses.

The ridings surveyed were Ottawa Centre, Ottawa South, Ottawa Vanier, Orleans, Ottawa West Nepean, Carleton Kanata, Renfrew Nipissing Pembroke, Glengarry Prescott Russell, Carleton, Nepean, Argenteuil-La Petite-Nation, Gatineau, Hull-Aylmer, and Pontiac.

The NDP, Green Party and PPC candidates who responded were unanimous in agreeing that:

  • “Small” nuclear reactors should NOT be exempted from federal impact assessment.  Reactors under 200 MW were exempted from impact/environmental assessment under Bill C-69 in regulations announced by the Liberal government at the end of August. The nuclear industry, supported by Natural Resources Canada, proposes to build “small modular” nuclear reactors (SMRs) in Indigenous and remote northern communities.
  • The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts should examine whether federal funding of nuclear waste management through the multi-billion-dollar contract with SNC-Lavalin and its American partners is providing “value for money” to taxpayers;
  • Canada should develop policies and strategies for long-term radioactive waste management before approving permanent disposal facilities;
  • There should be full public disclosure, environmental assessment, and federal oversight of the plan to consolidate federal radioactive wastes at Chalk River;
  • They would work with their House of Commons colleagues to initiate reform of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Canada’s nuclear legislation to address long-term management of radioactive wastes;

·    They would advocate for a large, scientifically valid Canadian study into the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.

In 2015, the Harper government privatized the management of its contaminated nuclear sites and nuclear wastes to a consortium of SNC-Lavalin and U.S. companies, and gave them ownership of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL). CNL plans to consolidate 1,000,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste in an aboveground mound at Chalk River near the Ottawa River. It also plans to entomb two defunct reactors near the Ottawa River and the Winnipeg River by filling them with cement and abandoning them in place, instead of restoring the sites.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has received hundreds of submissions from groups and citizens objecting to the proposals.

The federal government’s radioactive waste, at sites such as Chalk River laboratories in Ontario, Gentilly-1 in Québec, and Whiteshell Laboratories in Manitoba, represents an $8 billion liability for the Government of Canada. Decisions about it will affect the health and safety of Canadians and our environment – now and for thousands of years to come.

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Multinational consortium yields to public pressure on nuclear dump plan

(Ottawa, October 30, 2017) The multinational consortium running Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and managing Canada’s federally-owned radioactive waste announced on Thursday (October 26th) that it will remove intermediate-level waste, which requires remote handling, from its plans for a giant radioactive mound beside the Ottawa River at Chalk River, Ontario.

Citizens’ groups who have been working for months to sound the alarm about the CNL proposal hailed the announcement as a partial victory. Over 200 submissions, most highly critical, were sent to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission during the public comment period for the project’s environmental impact study that ended in August.

CNL said in a press release October 26th that it was responding to comments from the public and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and that wastes intended for disposal in the proposed facility will meet guidelines for low level radioactive waste set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We are pleased that our concerns are being heard,” said Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, based in Sheenboro Quebec. “We said from the start that the facility should not contain “intermediate level” waste which is supposed to be disposed of in underground caverns according to the IAEA.”

There is still a long way to go before the proposal could be considered acceptable, according to Echlin. She notes that even “low level” radioactive waste is not supposed to be disposed of on top of the ground in a mound according to the IAEA. “It’s only common sense”, says Echlin. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or nuclear engineer to understand that radioactive waste should not be placed on plastic liners that will deteriorate long before the waste becomes harmless.”

“Low-level” waste is a misnomer that causes a lot of confusion, according to Dr. Ole Hendrickson of Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. “Low-level” waste is so named because it can be handled without using robots or special shielding, unlike used nuclear fuel rods which can provide a fatal dose of radiation within seconds to a person standing a few feet away.

“Low-level” radioactive waste can contain very hazardous materials, says Hendrickson. “Man-made isotopes such as plutonium, neptunium, and americium have extremely long half lives. They are highly toxic and will be around for thousands of years. Yet significant quantities are destined for this facility if it gets approved.”

Citizens groups say the proposed technology, an “engineered mound” similar to a municipal landfill, is not acceptable. They would like to see a “state-of-the-art” facility that would keep the radioactive materials out of the air and water for as long as they remain harmful, which could be longer than 100,000 years.  Facilities currently under construction in Finland and France which utilize engineered caverns in stable rock, tens of metres below the surface, would be much safer and could serve as an example for a new Canadian facility.

Dump opponents are also concerned about the site for the facility. “You couldn’t choose a worse site for this dump if you tried,” according to Echlin, “on the side of a hill, that would have to be deforested, and smack in the middle of a wetland that drains into the Ottawa River only a kilometre away”.

Proximity to the river is causing worry about possible contamination of drinking water since the Ottawa River is a drinking water source for millions of Canadians downstream of Chalk River in cities such as Ottawa-Gatineau and Montreal.

Ole Hendrickson of the CCRCA notes that siting was not done according to IAEA guidance that calls for a site that can ensure the environment will be adequately protected during the entire lifetime of the facility. “CNL should explore the 70,000 acres of federal land adjacent to the Chalk River Labs property to find a more suitable location,” Hendrickson said. “With a better location, away from the river and in stable rock, we could all get behind this project and build a facility that Canada can be proud of,” he added.

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