Trudeau’s got to walk the talk on nuclear waste (Hill Times op-ed by Michael Harris)

https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/04/26/294820/294820

The Hill Times
By MICHAEL HARRIS       APRIL 26, 2021

If the Trudeau government is doing more than virtue signalling in its most recent budget, if it is truly committed to making environmental issues top of agenda goals, there are two things that it should be leading on. 
Photo: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured March 3, 2021, walking down Wellington Street in Ottawa to the Sir John A. Macdonald Building for that day’s press conference. The government should have condemned Japan’s nuclear dump into the Pacific Ocean—as both bad practice, and dangerous precedent, writes Michael Harris.


HALIFAX—Holding the Tokyo Olympics during a pandemic was always a bad idea.

Sending a national team to compete in Japan, which has just declared a third state of emergency for the Tokyo, Osaka region, is simply insanity.

With more than three million people dead worldwide, vaccine shortages, and several countries like India, Pakistan, and Brazil struggling with a third wave of this constantly mutating killer-virus, why would you?  In COVID Times, travelling and congregating are the new Russian Roulette.

With Earth Day fresh in everyone’s mind, there is another reason not to attend the Olympic Games in Japan. As I have recently reported in The Hill Times, after seven years of handwringing, Japan’s government has decided to dump radioactive waste water from the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. The toilet of last resort. The shit-show is set to begin in 2023, and go on for decades.

Three neighbours are glow-in-the-dark furious about Japan’s decision. Taiwan is livid. China called the announced nuclear dump into fishing grounds “unilateral” and “extremely irresponsible.” South Korea, a huge fish-consuming nation, said the move was “totally unacceptable.”

Don’t be surprised if these countries take counter-measures, including reconsidering their attendance at the Olympics. (North Korea has already opted out because of COVID).

There is another group profoundly impacted by this crime against the planet.

Japanese fishermen devastated by the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster at Fukushima, remain adamantly opposed to their government’s plan. They have struggled for eight years to rebuild their fishery.

That appears to have been the death march of futility. The market for Fukushima fish will be about as brisk as the demand for Chernobyl potatoes, or vacation packages to Montserrat, after the volcano erupted on the Caribbean Island.

What country that is truly committed to rescuing the environment from damage inflicted by humans, hopefully before Earth morphs into Mars, could attend an athletic contest hosted by a government that is deliberately poisoning the ocean with nuclear waste?

And not just a little radioactive water—a million tonnes worth. The now contaminated water was once used to cool the Daiichi nuclear facility at Fukushima. That was before an earthquake and 15-metre tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the installation. This caused hydrogen explosions, widespread contamination of land in and around the reactor site, and a huge public evacuation.

Now that contaminated water sits in a thousand storage tanks on the wrecked site. Every day, 170 tonnes of freshly contaminated ground water flowing into the installation is added to this dread inventory of nuclear sewage.

The Japanese government argues that it is not just dumping nuclear waste into the Pacific, but treated radioactive waste. It will only be somewhat contaminated.

And even though it won’t be able to remove any of the tritium in the treated toxic stew from Fukushima, tritium is the least harmful of all the radioactive elements. That’s because it’s only a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen, you see, trivial really. And besides it will be diluted, and it will meet global standards of practice, blah, blah, blah.

And who will be in charge of this operation? The Tokyo Electric Power Company, the same company that built and operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and is now in charge of the 40-year recovery plan for this catastrophic property.

Feel comforted? Who will ever know if they “treat” and remove all the radioactive iodine and strontium 90 from the ocean-bound contaminated water? The fish I guess.

The International Atomic Energy Agency clearly doesn’t seem concerned. Rafael Grossi, the agency’s Director-General, tweeted this endorsement: “I welcome Japan’s announcement on how it will dispose of the treated water stored at Fukushima nuclear power plant. @IAEA will work with Japan before, during, and after the discharge of the water to help ensure this is carried out without an adverse impact on health and environment.”

A further statement from the IAEA reinforced the director general’s glad-handing.

“Today’s decision by the government of Japan is a milestone that will help pave the way for continued progress in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.”

The United States gave its own PR pat on the back to Japan’s mind-numbing decision, claiming that the approach being taken appeared to be in line with global standards, “without an adverse impact on human health and the environment.”

Not a thing to worry about. Whenever something truly awful happens involving the nuclear industry, or a terrible decision is made by government, the watch words of the day are “downplay,” “minimize,” and “deny.”

The plain fact is that energy produced from nuclear plants has a fundamental flaw that no one in the nuclear industry has been able to solve: there is still no safe, long-term way to dispose of the nuclear waste that these plants produce.

The U.S., for example, still doesn’t have a deep depository dump for all the radioactive waste from 70 years of being in the nuclear weapons business.

They tried for decades to sell Nevada on making Yucca Mountain the permanent storage site for America’s nuclear waste. They failed because no rational population wants a product that retains its chemical toxicity for millennia to be stored in their backyard.

That might have something to do with what happened at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2014. A drum containing radioactive plutonium and americium waste blew up deep in the mine.  Plumes of radioactive foam contaminated 35 per cent of the installation.

The radioactive waste had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Not the boys in shipping and receiving. The best in the business. And it still ended in catastrophe.

If the Trudeau government is doing more than virtue signalling in its most recent budget, if it is truly committed to making environmental issues top of agenda goals, there are two things that it should be leading on.

First, the government should have condemned Japan’s nuclear dump into the Pacific Ocean—as both bad practice, and dangerous precedent.

Second, before investing any more public money in the nuclear route to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including small modular reactors, they have to have a safe, long-term option for handling Canada’s growing heap of nuclear waste.

Having that contaminated waste stored at nuclear reactor sites in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick is merely an “interim” solution. Those sites are rapidly running out of space. Besides, the dry containers that hold the nuclear waste are designed to work for fifty years. The contamination persists for 250,000 years.

Japan wants the world to come to the Tokyo Olympics in the middle of a deadly pandemic, despite its dreadful decision to dump nuclear waste into the ocean, and a COVID emergency in that country. For both of these reasons, Canada should not attend.

Who wants to spread a plague to watch someone win a hundred-yard dash? And who wants a Radioactive Earth Day somewhere down the road?

Michael Harris is an award-winning author and journalist. 

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

The Hill Times, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021
Letters / opinions
No, not all nuclear materials and by-products are safely stored in a highly regulated environment, says letter writer (https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/01/11/276503/276503)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynn Jones

Ottawa, Ont.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hill Times Op-Ed: Political opposition growing to new nuclear reactors

By EVA SCHACHERL      DECEMBER 9, 2020

The nuclear industry and Liberals have not only been laying the groundwork for government funding. It appears they have been ensuring that the framework for nuclear energy in Canada gets even more accommodating.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan has been hyping so-called next-generation reactors for months, portraying the industry as a future utopia. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Mead.

Many Canadians are anxious to see what our energy future will be. Politically, it’s a question that stirs passions from Alberta’s oil patch to Ontario’s cancelled wind farms.

But political debate is picking up around our nuclear energy future. And with good reason. Government-funded expansion of the nuclear industry, and a simultaneous watering-down of regulations, could be the Liberal government’s toxic legacy.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan has been hyping so-called next-generation reactors for months. A recent nuclear industry summit—hosted with federal funding—portrayed nuclear energy expansion in Canada as a future utopia.

The Green Party caucus, the NDP’s natural resources critic Richard Cannings, and the Bloc Québécois’s environment critic Monique Pauzé have all slammed O’Regan’s expected small modular reactor (SMR) “action plan.” They say it does not belong in a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency, wind, solar, and storage technologies are ready to build, and much cheaper, according to Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. The prototype reactors will take years, if not decades, to develop, and could absorb hundreds of millions, even billions, in taxpayer subsidies, according to Greenpeace Canada.

That would mean opportunities lost for those dollars to build many times the amount of zero-emission energy with renewables and energy-efficiency projects. The latter would not create toxic radioactive waste for future generations to contend with.

Independent research says that a nuclear solution for remote communities (as proposed by the government) is likely to cost 10 times more to build and operate than the alternatives.

It seems inevitable that the Liberal action plan will soon be launched with generous handouts for the nuclear industry, whose aspiring players in Canada today include SNC-Lavalin and U.S. corporations like Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy. Few Canadians are aware that “Canadian” Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is owned by a consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two U.S. firms, Fluor and Jacobs.

In recent years, the nuclear industry and Liberals have not only been laying the groundwork for government funding. It appears they’ve also been ensuring that the framework for nuclear energy in Canada gets even more accommodating.

The biggest step was exempting most new reactors from the Impact Assessment Act, which, in 2019, replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This was deemed so important to the nuclear industry’s future that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) lobbied the Liberal government to exempt small reactors—and won. So much for the CNSC, the regulator that’s supposed to oversee the industry, being seen as objective and “world class.”

The Impact Assessment Act was intended to create “greater public trust in impact assessment and decision-making.”  But there will be no federal assessment of nuclear reactors up to 200 thermal MW in size, nor of new reactors built at existing nuclear plants (up to 900 MWth). Yet new tidal power projects, as well as offshore wind farms with 10 or more turbines, need an assessment under the regulations, as do many new fossil fuel projects. 

Also exempted from federal assessment is the “on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste” associated with small modular reactors. This will make it easier for SMRs’ radioactive waste to be potentially left in the northern, remote, and First Nations communities, where they are proposed to be built.

The nuclear regulator has also been responsible for introducing a suite of “regulatory documents” on reactor decommissioning and radioactive waste that environmental groups have called “sham regulation.”

Meanwhile, the bureaucrats at the CNSC have been busy signing a memorandum of cooperation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Small Modular Reactors. This agreement means that Canada can recognize U.S. reviews of reactor designs in order to “streamline the review process.”

CNSC has also outlined its plan in a document called Strategy for Readiness to Regulate Advanced Reactor Technologies. In a nutshell, the document says that regulations for new reactor designs will have to be flexible. It notes that CNSC regulated the earlier generation of water-cooled reactors (such as CANDUs) at first based on “objectives” in the 1950s and ‘60s. Then, as experience with these reactors evolved, regulations became more detailed and prescriptive. It says the same may have to happen with the new next-gen reactor designs. 

In the 1950s, there were indeed few “prescriptive requirements” for the newfangled reactors. In 1952, the NRX reactor at Chalk River, Ont., had a meltdown. It was the first large-scale nuclear reactor accident in the world and took two years to clean up—which, by 1950s standards, included pumping 10,000 curies of long-lived fission products into a nearby sandy area. Then in 1958, the NRU reactor at Chalk River—a test bed for developing fuels and materials for the CANDU reactor—had a major accident, a fuel-rod fire that contaminated the building and areas downwind. It took 600 workers and military personnel to do the top-secret clean-up.

Let’s hope today’s regulators and lawmakers can learn from history. Does Canada really need or want to be the “leading-edge” testing ground for new experimental nuclear reactors? Canadians should have their say in a referendum—or at the ballot box.

Eva Schacherl is an Ottawa-based environmentalist. 

Hill Times Op Ed: If we’re going to spend a billion dollars a year managing our nuclear waste, let’s do it right

December 7, 2020

by Lynn Jones

https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/12/07/270469/270469

OTTAWA—A contract quietly signed during the 2015 federal election campaign between Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and a multinational consortium is costing Canadians billions of dollars and increasing risks to health from deadly radioactive pollutants. 

The multi-billion dollar contract was an attempt by the former federal Conservative government to reduce Canada’s $7.9-billion nuclear waste liability quickly and cheaply by creating a public-private partnership or GoCo (government-owned, contractor-operated) contract.

The GoCo contractor is called the “Canadian National Energy Alliance” (CNEA) even though the majority of its members are foreign corporations. It currently consists of Fluor and Jacobs, two Texas-based multinationals involved in nuclear weapons production, and SNC-Lavalin. Under the contract, the consortium assumed control over all Canada’s federal nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes.

Since the GoCo contract was signed, costs to Canadian taxpayers appear to have almost quadrupled. According to AECL financial reports, its parliamentary appropriations rose from $327-million in 2015 to $1.3-billion (approved) for the year ending March 31, 2021. AECL’s nuclear waste liabilities have not gone down, but rather appear to have increased by about $200-million.  

The Crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, was supposed to oversee the contract on behalf of the Government of Canada but may not have been in a position to do so. Serious problems at AECL were identified by the Auditor General in a 2017 report. Problems included lack of a board chair, lack of a CEO, no board directors at all for 2016 and most of 2017, failure to hold public meetings and lack of experience with the GoCo model.

Since 2015, it appears that the GoCo contractor has spent hundreds of millions of our tax dollars promoting three radioactive waste facilities that we believe to be quick, cheap, and substandard. They are: a giant, above-ground mound beside the Ottawa River at Chalk River, Ontario, for one million tonnes of mixed radioactive and non-radioactive wastes including plutonium, and entombment in concrete of two old nuclear reactors beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers which provide drinking water to millions of Canadians. 

More than two dozen submissions to the Impact Assessment Agency from ex-AECL nuclear waste experts including senior scientists and senior managers highlight serious concerns about the three projects and point out that they fail to meet international safety standards. 

The consortium’s own studies show that all three facilities would leak radioactive contaminants into the environment and drinking water sources for millennia.

The consortium’s own studies show that all three facilities would leak radioactive contaminants into the environment and drinking water sources for millennia.

According to the consortium’s draft environmental impact statement, it appears that the giant Chalk River mound is expected to eventually disintegrate, in a process referred to as “normal evolution”. At that time, its radioactive and hazardous contents would flow out of the mound into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River less than a kilometre away. 

Hundreds of concerns about the three projects have been voiced by federal and provincial government departments, First Nations, civil society groups, 140 Quebec municipalities, nuclear waste experts, and concerned citizens. And yet the projects continue to lumber forward and the consortium continues to receive almost a billion dollars a year from Canadian taxpayers. 

Does anyone in government have their eyes on this ball? Did they notice when AECL renewed the GoCo contract early in the pandemic lockdown, 18 months before expiry, despite the recent conviction of consortium partner SNC-Lavalin on a charge of fraud? Are they concerned by the rapidly rising costs and substandard proposals?

…the giant Chalk River mound is expected to eventually disintegrate, in a process referred to as “normal evolution”. At that time, its radioactive and hazardous contents would flow out of the mound into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River less than a kilometre away. 

Are they aware that the consortium is bringing thousands of truckloads of radioactive waste to Chalk River from other federal facilities in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec? The Chalk River Laboratories site is not a good place to consolidate federal nuclear waste either for temporary or for long-term storage. It is seismically active and adjacent to the Ottawa River, source of drinking water for Ottawa-Gatineau, Montreal, and many other communities.

With all of the problems currently facing the world, one might ask, “Why should Canadians care about this nuclear waste problem?”

Radioactive waste is the deadliest waste on the planet. Nuclear reactors create hundreds of dangerous radioactive substances that remain toxic to all life for hundreds of thousands of years. Exposure can cause serious chronic diseases, birth defects, and genetic damage that is passed on to future generations. According to the U.S. National Research Council, there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiationreleased from nuclear reactors and nuclear waste facilities. And yet Canada is pouring billions of dollars into projects that will not keep these poisons out of our environment and drinking water.

The Ottawa River is a Canadian Heritage River that flows past Parliament Hill—surely we don’t want to be the generation responsible for permanently contaminating it with radioactive waste.

Surely we can and must do better. The Ottawa River is a Canadian Heritage River that flows past Parliament Hill—surely we don’t want to be the generation responsible for permanently contaminating it with radioactive waste.

If we are going to spend a billion dollars a year managing our nuclear waste, let’s do it right. Let’s meet or exceed international standards and build secure storage facilities, well away from drinking water sources. Let’s make sure the wastes are carefully packaged and labelled and stored in monitored and retrievable conditions. This approach will create thousands of good, long-lasting careers in the nuclear waste and decommissioning field and show the world what top tier radioactive waste storage facilities look like.

Hill Times photo by Andrew Meade

SMRs are actually DDDs (Dirty Dangerous Distractions)

Commentary by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

SMRs are really DDDs and should be called such.


A DDD is a Dirty Dangerous Distraction. It is an acronym much more to the point than SMR.


Nuclear proponents are loathe to even use the N in theiracronym (SMR) for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs)because they want to hide the one aspect – the NUCLEAR aspect – that is the source of all the unmentioned problems with these devices. It is the insidious linages to nuclear waste and to nuclear weapons that are precisely what set these machines apart.But the industry hopes that no one will notice if they leave out the N.It may sound silly or trivial, but it is not silly or trivial. It is deliberate.

SMRs (or SMNRs) are Dirty, Dangerous Distractions. They are DDDs.

They are DIRTY because they produce radioactive waste of all categories – low-level, intermediate-level, and high-level. It is by farthe most deadly waste byproduct that any industry has ever created.

Every SMR is DANGEROUS because it is not just a machine for generating electricity, it is also a warehouse of radioactivepoisons that can do tremendous damage for centuries to comeif anything happens to disperse those poisons into the environment, such as an act of warfare (e.g. aerial bombardment) or sabotage, or a plane crash or a violent earthquake. Once released, these poisons will contaminate the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe, and the damage will last for generations.

Some SMRs – those that are called “fast” or “advanced” reactors,those that talk about “reusing” or “recycling” or “reprocessing” irradiated nuclear fuel – pose an even more serious existential danger. Such reactors are predicated upon the extraction of plutonium and other human-made elements that are heavier than uranium to extend the nuclear fuel supply. But plutonium is also the primary nuclear explosive in the world’s nuclear arsenals, and extracting it from irradiated fuel makes plutonium that much more accessible to militaristic regimes, as well as criminals and terrorists, thereby facilitating the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are the greatest human-made threat to the survival of human civilization (and most advanced forms of life on Earth).

SMNRs are also a DISTRACTION because they prevent us from dealing with climate change right now, rather than waiting 10 or 20 years to see is SMRs are even going to prove worthwhile. So much can be done through prompt investments in energy efficiency and renewables, where benefits are enjoyed in just one orTwo building seasons, using technology that is already proven and inherently safe. Can anyone imagine a catastrophic situation arising from the failure of windmills or solar collectors? Energy efficiency and renewables can be implemented faster and cheaper than nuclear power, creating more jobs and providing more sustainability at the same time. 

SMRs also distract us from realizing that we have no solution to the problem of how to safely keep these radioactive poisons out of the environment of living things for millennia to come, and therefore we should stop creating them. As long as the industry distracts the decision-makers by dangling a charm bracelet of pie-in-the-sky miraculous “clean, safe, cheap nuclear reactors”(All those adjective being demonstrable lies) our political representatives are prevented from focussing on the horrendous radioactive waste problems that we have already accumulated and that will constitute a radioactive legacy forever.

Although we have no cure for the coronavirus, we do have effective methods for limiting its spread and preventing the worsening of the situation. So too we have no way to eliminate or neutralize radioactive wastes or to render them harmless, but we do know how to package them well and repackage them when necessary — as long as we don’t abandon them thereby putting these enormously dangerous materials beyond human control (as some people have abandoned their responsibility to control the spread of the coronavirus). As long as we don’t keep multiplying the sources of radioactive waste (by building a whole new fleet of nuclear reactors called SMRs) we would have a chance of addressing the radioactive waste legacy with some degree of responsibility and maturity.

Nuclear power is the ONLY technology that actually creates hundreds of new toxic elements, most of which were never found in nature prior to 1939. Those elements, once created, cannot be destroyed or rendered harmless. There isno non-nuclear method known to science – heat, pressure, combustion, chemical reactions, NOTHING – that can slow down or stop the rate of atomic disintegration, and those disintegrating atoms will give off the subatomic shrapnel that we call‘“atomic radiation” at a predetermined rate defined by the so-called “half-life”.

I have discovered that every category of radioactive waste associated with theNuclear fuel chain (from uranium mining to reactor operation to decommissioning to waste management) has a significant number of radioactive poisons that will remain a hazard for hundreds of thousands of years. That is true of uranium tailings, of low and intermediate level wastes from reactor operations, of the thousands of truckloads of radioactive rubble from decommissioning a reactor, of the so-called “depleted uranium” stored in the back yards of uranium enrichment plants, and of the irradiated nuclear fuel itself.

Keeping radioactive waste out of the environment of living things for hundreds of thousands of years is an unsolved problem of the human race. We should not be adding to this dreadful legacy, or allowing our attention to be distracted away from dealing with the problem properly (i.e. as best we can!).

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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


Environmental assessments of the giant mound and the reactor tomb are in progress. Licensing hearings for the projects are expected in late 2020. 
-30-

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

Canada’s Eight Billion Dollar Nuclear Liability – Backgrounder

In 2012, the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper amended the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to give the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) total authority and decision-making power over all nuclear-related projects. 

The CNSC is currently conducting environmental assessments of three contentious radioactive waste “disposal” projects. Each is the brainchild of a consortium of private multinational corporations operating under the name “Canadian National Energy Alliance.”  The consortium consists of the scandal-ridden SNC-Lavalin, currently facing criminal charges for fraud and corruption in a Canadian court, and two U.S.-based corporate partners (Fluor and Jacobs), both of whom have also faced criminal charges of a similar nature in the past.

This consortium was hired in 2015 by the Harper government to operate the Government of Canada’s nuclear sites and reduce Canada’s eight billion dollar radioactive waste liability. The consortium received all the shares in a new corporation called “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” (CNL) that had been created the previous year as a subsidiary of the federal crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).  In effect, this privatized AECL.  Roughly 3000 former AECL employees now work for CNL, mostly at the Chalk River Laboratories. Billions of taxpayers’ dollars are funneled into the private consortium through the ghost of AECL.

The three proposals being assessed by CNSC are:

(1) an above-ground mound, five to seven stories high, covering 11 hectares of land, for permanent disposal of one million cubic meters of mixed radioactive wastes at Chalk River, less than a kilometer from the Ottawa River;

 (2) the permanent entombment of Canada’s first electricity-producing nuclear reactor, the Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor, by encasing its radioactive remains in concrete and abandoning them only 100 meters from the Ottawa River; 

(3) the permanent entombment of the radioactive remains of another prototype nuclear reactor, the Whiteshell Reactor No. 1, at the Whiteshell Laboratories, right beside the Winnipeg River in Manitoba. 

All three projects run counter to guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Even as the consortium and CNL promote their disposal projects, they are soliciting proposals to build new nuclear reactors at the Chalk River and Whiteshell federal nuclear sites.  The CNSC secretly lobbied the government to have new nuclear reactors under a certain size exempted from Bill C-69, the new Impact Assessment Act. However, any reactor–regardless of size–will create accident risks and its own legacy of radioactive wastes. 

CNSC has long been recognized as a “captured” regulator. It has never denied a license for any major nuclear project. Its lobbying to have small reactors exempted from impact assessments–if successful–would minimize effective public participation in planning and decision-making for nuclear projects. 

The other SNC-Lavalin affair: Nuclear waste

Media release from the Ottawa Centre Green Party Campaign September 5, 2019

Green Party candidates blast Liberals’ and Conservatives’ cosy relationship with the nuclear industry

Plans to abandon toxic radioactive waste next to drinking water sources

OTTAWA, September 5, 2019 — Three Green Party candidates have given an “F” to recent Liberal and Conservative governments for handing control of Canada’s federal nuclear waste to SNC-Lavalin and two American corporations.

Candidates Angela Keller-Herzog, Claude Bertrand and Lorraine Rekmans say that the Harper and Trudeau governments deserve a “Fail” because decisions about nuclear waste that will last for millennia are being driven by corporate profits, not health protection. The candidates gathered today with a flotilla of canoes and kayaks on the Ottawa River to protest plans for a nuclear waste dump at Chalk River.

“Both the previous Conservative and Liberal governments have handed the dirty job of cleaning up nuclear waste to SNC-Lavalin and American corporations. We have to end this cosy relationship and stop funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to corporations for plans that may worsen, not improve, Canada’s nuclear waste problem,” said Keller-Herzog.

Releases of radioactive waste increase the risks of cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations in people who drink the contaminated water or breathe the contaminated air, she said.

The Harper government signed a 10-year, multibillion-dollar contract with a consortium of SNC-Lavalin and several foreign corporations in September 2015, very shortly before the last federal election. The consortium’s plan for an aboveground engineered mound that holds one million cubic metres of radioactive waste – less than a kilometre from the Ottawa River – does not meet International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines. Nor do its plans to bury two defunct reactors in cement next to the Winnipeg and Ottawa rivers.

In November 2018, the Liberal government released a roadmap to introduce “small modular” nuclear reactors across Canada, and in regulations enacted on August 28, 2019, the government has exempted new nuclear reactors under 200 thermal megawatts from environmental impact assessment under Bill C-69. “There are already large quantities of radioactive waste being transported from Manitoba, Québec and even the United States to Chalk River over public roads. First Nations are rightly concerned, as we all should be, about what’s happening to this nuclear waste, and we want to see transparency about the shipments and full consultation with Indigenous communities,” said Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party candidate for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. Rekmans is the Green Party of Canada critic for Indigenous Affairs and Shadow Cabinet Co-chair. 

Claude Bertrand, running in the Pontiac riding that stretches over 200 km along the Ottawa River, noted the strong opposition in Québec to abandonment of nuclear waste near the river. “Over 140 communities in Quebec and Ontario are strongly opposed to the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ plans, including the Metropolitan Community of Montréal,” Bertrand said. “It’s our drinking water, and we don’t want to take risks with it in the name of short-term corporate profits.”

Chalk River Laboratories are located in Green Party candidate Ian Pineau’s riding, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. “We need the right plan in the right location,” Pineau (not present at the event) said. “That would protect, not risk, our river and our drinking water, stimulate the local economy, and provide long-term, well-paying careers in responsible waste management.”

The candidates called on Ottawa to abandon the current nuclear waste plans and aim to meet or exceed international standards. They also called for full public consultation to create a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.

“The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission should not be approving nuclear waste plans with no oversight by Parliament, and no federal policies spelling out how low-level and intermediate-level waste must be managed,” said Keller-Herzog.-30-