Serious problems with federally-owned radioactive waste in Canada ~ Full Page Statement in the Hill Times

January 27, 2020

To the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Federal Government
The undersigned organizations have grave concerns about the handling of Canada’s federally-owned radioactive waste by a private-sector consortium that includes SNC-Lavalin and two Texas-based multinational corporations. *


●      Canada has no adequate federal policies and strategies for the long-term management of radioactive wastes and the consortium has been given a free hand to advocate and implement proposals that, in our view, are unequal to the task of protecting people’s health and the environment.
●       Under its federal contract with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited the consortium is receiving billions of our tax dollars to advance radioactive waste disposal and reactor “decommissioning” projects that fail to even meet existing international safety guidelines. 
●      The consortium’s current plans include entombingthe radioactive remains ofnuclear reactors in cement next to the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers, against the explicit advice of international bodies and independent nuclear scientists; these “entombed reactors” would leak radioactivity into the rivers for thousands of years and contaminate drinking water for millions of Canadians.
●     The consortium also plans to erect a massive above-ground mound adjacent to a swampy area that drains into the nearby Ottawa River; the mound would hold more than one million tons of mixed radioactive waste including a multitude of long-lived, human-made radioactive materials such as plutonium-239 and hazardous non-radioactive materials such as PCBs, lead, arsenic and asbestos.
●     The consortium is already transporting large quantities of radioactive waste along public roadsfrom Pinawa, Manitoba, from Douglas Point, Ontario, and from Gentilly, Quebec, all the way to Chalk River, site of the proposed mound, located upstream from our nation’s Capital.

We request that the Federal Government terminate its contract with the consortium at the end of the first six-year term in 2021 or as soon as possible.

We also request formulation of exemplary policies and projects for Canada’s radioactive waste that meet or exceed international obligations. Such policies and projects would:
●      be developed with meaningful consultation with First Nations and the broader Canadian public 
●      create many long-term, well-paying Canadian jobs while protecting health and property 
●      safely store radioactive waste in state-of-the-art facilities away from sources of drinking water
●     re-establish Canadian leadership in the nuclear field with world-class science-based solutions to address the growing global radioactive waste problems 

* Membership in the consortium, known as Canadian National Energy Alliance, has changed more than once since the consortium assumed control of Canada’s federally-owned nuclear waste in 2015, when it received all shares of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a wholly owned subsidiary of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.  Current consortium members include  SNC-Lavalin, which is debarred by the World Bank for 10 years and faced charges in Canada for fraud, bribery and corruption; Texas-based Fluor Corporation, which paid $4 million to resolve allegations of  financial fraud related to nuclear waste cleanup work at a U.S. site; and Texas-based Jacobs Engineering, which recently acquired CH2M, an original consortium member that agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle federal criminal charges at a nuclear cleanup site in the U.S.

Signatories  

Alliance of the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Sierra Club Canada Foundation

Friends of the Earth Canada

Ontario Clean Air Alliance

Ecology Ottawa

 Ottawa River Institute

Unifor

FTQ – Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec

Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital

National Council of Women of Canada

Provincial Council of Women of Quebec

Provincial Council of Women of Ontario

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Northwatch

Les Artistes pour la Paix

Concerned Citizens Committee of Manitoba

Prevent Cancer Now

Action Climat Outaouais

Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

Bonnechere River Watershed Project

Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association

Pontiac Environmental Protection

Petawawa Point Cottagers Association

Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River

Esprit Whitewater

Durham Nuclear Awareness

First United Church (Ottawa) Water Care Allies

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

How would the Chalk River Mound leak? Let us count some of the ways

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) – run by a consortium of profit-making multinational companies – is proposing to build a giant mound that it misleadingly calls a “Near Surface Disposal Facility” for a million cubic meters of radioactive waste at its Chalk River facility along the Ottawa River.

CNL’s high cost ad campaign (paid for with Canadian tax dollars) says the dump is safe and uses “proven technology”. Ads say the dump will protect the public and the environment.

However, CNL’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) describes several ways that contents of the proposed “engineered containment mound” of radioactive waste could leak into the Ottawa River. Here are some of the ways:

During operation (while the dump is being filled)…

1. Wastes being added to the mound would be exposed to the elements. 

Rain and melting snow would leach radioactive contents down through the mound. The liquid would be collected and pumped uphill to a water treatment plant. Some but not all radioactive contaminants would be removed prior to releasing the treated leachate into wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River. (Table 3.5.3-1 on page 3-23 of the draft EIS) 

2. Radioactive water (tritium) would leach in very large amounts from the mound. 

Tritium is part of the water molecule and cannot be removed by water treatment. The draft EIS suggests the very high tritium content will be reduced but does not say how. Untreated tritium would be discharged to wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River where it would get incorporated into fish and enter drinking water supplies Large quantities of tritium would also be released from the dump as water vapour. 

3. Other toxic substances such as PCBs leaching from the mound would be only partially removed by water treatment.. 

Table 3.5.3-2 on page 3-25 shows that treatment would only partly remove non-radioactive toxic compounds in the wastes such as lead, PCBs and dioxin. Measurable amounts would be released to the environment. 

4. Heavy storm events would erode the mound’s surface and wash toxic substances into low areas. 

Highly contaminated water washing off active dumping areas would be pumped to the water treatment plant. Less contaminated water would be pumped to three storm-water management ponds around the perimeter of the facility and be discharged to adjacent wetlands. Ponds would provide only “basic” containment of sediments before their contents were released (draft EIS explains this on page 3-57) 

5. The capacity of storm-water ponds would be exceeded during extreme rainfall events or snowmelts. 

The draft EIS (page 9-2) says that pond overflow “would be conveyed by inlet and emergency outlet structures adjacent to the surface water management ponds,” presumably to be released directly into adjacent wetlands. 

6. Other possible ways the facility might leak during operations (not described in detail the EIS) include tornado damage, pump failures during extreme storm events with loss of electrical power, improper installation of the base liners, puncture of the base liners by heavy or sharp materials, melting of liners by radioactively hot materials, and blockage of the leachate collection system. 

After closure…

1. Wastes in the mound would be re-exposed to the elements when the top cover fails. 

After waste dumping ended the leachate collection system and water treatment plant would be shut down, and a top cover placed over the wastes. The draft EIS acknowledges that the top cover would fail with “normal evolution” through forces such as erosion, extreme storms, burrowing animals, root penetration, etc. 

2. Failure of the top cover while the base liners remain intact would initiate the “bathtub scenario”. 

Rain and melting snow would again leach the radioactive wastes, 

but the leachate collection and pumping system would no longer be operational. Contaminated leachate would be trapped by the bottom liner and accumulate in the space between the mound and the surrounding berm. Leachate levels would rise and spill over along the low point of the 

berm. 

Long-lived radioactive elements such as plutonium and uranium, exposed to wind and water erosion, would flow into the river for thousands to millions of years. Eventual failure of the bottom liners would also allow radionuclides to move into groundwater. The Ottawa River would be permanently contaminated by radioactive wastes. Countless generations of people drinking its water would be exposed to increased cancer risks.