Why is there so much plutonium at Chalk River?

October 25, 2020

A consortium of private multinational corporations is proposing to create a giant mound of radioactive wastes at Chalk River, Ontario, less than a kilometer from the Ottawa River.  According to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) the proposed mega-dump will house a rather large quantity of plutonium.

What is plutonium and why should we worry about it?

Plutonium is a human-made radioactive element that is created as a byproduct in nuclear reactors. The first reactors were built to produce plutonium for use as a nuclear explosive in atomic weapons. Plutonium can also be fabricated into fuel elements for nuclear reactors.

Plutonium remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years after it is created.  It comes in several different varieties or “isotopes”.  The most abundant varieties are plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,000 years; and plutonium-240, with a half-life of 6,600 years.  The half-life is the time required for half of the atoms to undergo radioactive disintegration. When a plutonium atom disintegrates it is transformed into another radioactive material, sometimes one with a much longer half-life.

All isotopes of plutonium are highly toxic. Even very small doses can lead to radiation-induced illnesses such as cancer, often resulting in death.

Why is there plutonium at Chalk River?

The decision to build the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) was taken in Washington, D.C. in 1944.  Canada, Great Britain and the United States agreed to build the facility as part of an effort to produce plutonium for bombs.  In fact, plutonium produced at CRL played a role in both the US and UK nuclear weapons programs.

During the late 1940s, British scientists carried out all necessary pilot plant work at Chalk River to design their own large plutonium production plant at Windscale, England.  Plutonium produced at CRL arrived in England just months before the first British nuclear explosion took place in Australia in 1952.

For three decades, plutonium produced in Canadian research reactors was sold to the U.S. military to help finance the Chalk River Laboratories.  A reprocessing plant at Chalk River was built to extract plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel dissolved in nitric acid. It was shut down in 1954, but irradiated fuel containing Canadian plutonium was shipped to the U.S. until the mid-1970s.  In all, at least 250 kg of plutonium was sold to the U.S. for nuclear weapons and warheads.

Three buildings central to plutonium production are slated for demolition

Various facilities at CRL were used in the 1940s and 1950s to extract plutonium from fuels irradiated in the NRX reactor.  In 2004, environmental assessments were initiated governing the radioactive demolition of three such structures:

•       The Plutonium Tower, used in the late 1940s to extract plutonium from fuel   rods irradiated in the NRX reactor.

•       The Plutonium Recovery Laboratory, used between 1949 and 1957 to extract plutonium isotopes from enriched fuels irradiated in the NRX reactor.

•       The Waste Water Evaporator, used between 1952 and 1958 to process radioactive liquid wastes left behind from the plutonium extraction work. Decommissioning of this facility would include: removal, treatment and storage of plutonium-bearing liquid wastes and sludge in tanks, plutonium-contaminated process lines and equipment; decontamination and removal of process equipment and processing cells for handling plutonium; removal of building structures containing plutonium residues; segregation of solid wastes and transfer of these plutonium-contaminated materials to waste management facilities at CRL.

In December 2011 the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission gave the go-ahead for dismantling the first of these structures, the Plutonium Tower.  In 2012, changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act introduced by Stephen Harper’s government made it permissible to demolish radioactively contaminated buildings without any environmental assessment (EA).

To date, only the auxiliary buildings associated with the Plutonium Tower have been decommissioned, but the Tower itself is still standing.  And as far as the Plutonium Recovery Lab and Waste Water Evaporator go, neither has been decommissioned. All these decommissioning projects will be difficult, and will generate lots of long-lived, intermediate-level waste.

These buildings are just three examples of demolition projects that would produce plutonium-contaminated rubble likely destined for the proposed megadump. Chalk River scientists were keenly interested in testing plutonium as a reactor fuel.  Some three tonnes of plutonium-based fuel elements were fabricated at Chalk River using remote handling devices called gloveboxes. Such facilities would also result in plutonium-contaminated wastes when demolished.

The draft EIS estimates that total quantities of plutonium to be placed in the planned landfill-type facility would be measured in the trillions of Becquerels. A Becquerel is a unit of radioactivity, indicating that one radioactive disintegration is taking place every second. (Every radioactive atom eventually disintegrates, or explodes, giving off one or two subatomic projectiles called “atomic radiation”. All forms of atomic radiation — alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, and neutrons–are damaging to living cells.)

Plutonium will inevitably leak into the Ottawa River (EIS)

The draft EIS indicates that after failure of the landfill cover, which is bound to occur at some point after abandonment, millions of Becquerels of each plutonium isotope would enter Perch Creek every year.  Perch Creek flows into the Ottawa River about 1 km away.

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

May 2017

Treasury Board urged to investigate ballooning costs and ethics issues at AECL

La version française suit 

September 15, 2020
The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, President

The Hon. Joyce Murray, Vice-Chair

The Hon. Bardish Chagger, Member

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Member

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Member

The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Member

Treasury Board of Canada

Dear Mr. Duclos and Members of the Treasury Board:


We would like to bring to your attention problems with the handling of Canada’s $8 billion federal nuclear waste and decommissioning liability by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

As detailed in the attached discussion paper, “The Government of Canada’s Radioactive Wastes:  Costs and Liabilities Growing under Public-Private Partnership”, taxpayer funding to AECL roughly quadrupled to $1.3 billion between 2015/16 and 2020/21. During this period, AECL’s reported liabilities increased by $332 million. 

The previous Conservative Government attempted to cut costs and accelerate reduction of federal nuclear waste liabilities by implementing a public-private partnership or GoCo (“Government owned, Contractor operated”) contract between AECL and a multinational consortium.

The GoCo contractor is advancing substandard radioactive waste projects that do not comply with international standards and obligations. Environmental assessments are mired in controversy and several years behind schedule.

Morning Brief: New poll has Duclos ahead in Quebec City riding - iPolitics
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos (iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood)

In the process of implementing the GoCo contract, Government oversight was greatly reduced and control over Canada’s federally-owned nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes was largely transferred to American-owned interests. It appears that AECL’s president Richard Sexton, is an American national and former senior executive in two of the original corporations awarded the GoCo contract in 2015 as members of the Canadian National Energy Alliance (CNEA) consortium. Mr. Sexton is also the Fee Distribution Officer who determines the “award fees” received by the consortium. AECL’s Lead Contracts Officer is an American national. The board of CNEA is comprised of a majority of American nationals. The GoCo contract was recently renewed unexpectedly, 18 months prior to its official expiry date, with no information provided as to the reason for the early renewal.

Issues of ethics and accountability have arisen in connection with the GoCo contract. The Caretaker Convention appears to have been disregarded in September 2015 when the multi-billion dollar GoCo contract was signed during a federal election campaign. The Integrity Regime appears to have been disregarded when the GoCo contract was quietly renewed by AECL in April 2020, during the early days of the pandemic lockdown, despite the conviction in Canada in late 2019 of the Canadian consortium partner SNC-Lavalin on a charge of fraud.

We believe that intervention is required by Cabinet and/or Parliament to restore control of and oversight over Canadian nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes, and to ensure that public funds are spent wisely.

Yours truly,
Gordon Edwards, Ph.D, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Éric Notebaert, MD, M.Sc., Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

CC: Karen Hogan, Auditor General of Canada

Greg Fergus, Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board 

Attachment:“The Government of Canada’s Radioactive Wastes:  Costs and Liabilities Growing under Public-Private Partnership”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Le 15 septembre, 2020


L’Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Président

L’Hon. Joyce Murray, Vice-Présidente

L’Hon. Bardish Chagger, Membre

L’Hon. Catherine McKenna, Membre

L’Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Membre

L’Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Membre

Conseil du Trésor

Cher M. Duclos,


Distingués Membres du Conseil du Trésor,

Nous désirons porter à votre attention des problèmes liés à la manière dont Énergie atomique du Canada Ltée (EACL) gère les $8 milliards de déchets nucléaires et de déclassements qui relèvent du gouvernement fédéral.


Comme on le constate dans le document ci-joint « Les déchets radioactifs du gouvernement du Canada :  La croissance des coûts et obligations en partenariat public-privé », le financement public d’EACL a pratiquement quadruplé depuis 2015-16 pour atteindre $1,3 milliard en 2020-21. Pendant cette période, les obligations d’EACL se sont accrues de $332 millions.

Le précédent Gouvernement Conservateur avait tenté de réduire les coûts et d’accélérer la réduction des obligations nucléaires fédérales en créant un PPP, un partenariat public-privé (« propriété du Gouvernement, géré par un entrepreneur ») entre EACL et un consortium multinational.

Pour les déchets radioactifs, l’entrepreneur de ce PPP met de l’avant des projets inadéquats qui dérogent aux règles internationales et à nos obligations. Embourbées dans la controverse, les évaluations environnementales accumulent des années de retard.

Dans le cadre de ce PPP, le Gouvernement a considérablement réduit sa surveillance, tandis que la gestion des installations nucléaires et des déchets radioactifs de propriété fédérale se voyait en bonne partie transférée à des intérêts américains. Il semble que Richard Sexton, le président d’EACL, soit un citoyen américain et un ex-dirigeant senior de deux entreprises qui avaient originellement obtenu ce contrat de PPP en 2015, au sein de l’Alliance nationale de l’énergie canadienne (ANEC). M. Sexton est aussi responsable de la répartition des revenus au sein de ce consortium. Le principal responsable des contrats d’EACl est aussi un citoyen américain. Le contrat en PPP a récemment été renouvelé à l’improviste, 18 mois avant sa date d’expiration officielle, sans qu’on ne fournisse la moindre explication du renouvellement hâtif.

Plusieurs enjeux d’éthique et d’imputabilité ont surgi de ce contrat en PPP. On semble avoir ignoré la convention de transition quand on a conclu ce contrat en PPP de plusieurs milliards de dollars pendant la campagne électorale fédérale de 2015. On semble aussi avoir ignoré le régime d’intégrité quand EACL a discrètement renouvelé ce contrat en PPP en avril 2020, au début du confinement attribuable à la pandémie, même si le partenaire canadien du consortium, SNC-Lavalin, avait été condamné pour fraude à la fin de 2019.

Nous estimons que le Conseil des ministres et/ou le Parlement devraient rétablir leur contrôle et leur surveillance des installations nucléaires et des déchets radioactifs fédéraux, afin que les fonds publics soient dépensés avec prudence.

Sincèrement vôtres,
Gordon Edwards, Ph.D,Regroupement pour la surveillance du nucléaire

Éric Notebaert, MD, M.Sc.Association canadienne des médecins pour l’environnement
Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Cc. Karen Hogan, Vérificatrice générale du Canada

Greg Fergus, Secrétaire parlementaire du président du Conseil du Trésor 

Document ci-joint: “Les déchets radioactifs du gouvernement du Canada :  La croissance des coûts et obligations en partenariat public-privé” (Anglais seulement)

Letter to Treasury Board from women leaders across Canada re small nuclear reactors

September 21, 2020

The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, President

The Hon. Joyce Murray, Vice-Chair

The Hon. Bardish Chagger, Member

The Hon. Catherine McKenna, Member

The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Member

The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Member

Dear Mr. Duclos and Members of the Treasury Board:

We write to you as women community and Aboriginal leaders in science, medicine, law and environmental protection to request your urgent attention to the need for Canada to uphold its legal obligation, as a party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, to minimize generation of radioactive waste.

Radioactive waste is dangerous, poses risks to all living things and must be kept out of the biosphere for as long as it poses a radioactive hazard (many tens of thousands of years). Article 11 of the Joint Convention states that parties shall “ensure that the generation of radioactive waste is kept to the minimum practicable”. 

Small modular nuclear reactors, currently under consideration for taxpayer-funded development in Canada, would produce long-lived hazardous nuclear waste as part of normal operations. These reactors are proposed for Northern, remote and First Nations communities in some of Canada’s most fragile and globally important ecosystems. UNDRIP principles of free prior, and informed consent with indigenous communities have not been respected. 

Production of plutonium and other fuels for small modular nuclear reactors would create long-lived hazardous nuclear waste. Small modular nuclear reactors would themselves become hazardous, long-lived nuclear waste; too hot to handle after their short lifespan of a few decades, and too costly to transport, they would likely be abandoned in place leaving permanently contaminated, radioactive exclusion zones, a few hectares in size, everywhere they were deployed.

Low-carbon alternatives to nuclear technology for electricity generation are readily available, faster to deploy, much less expensive and do not generate radioactive waste. They also create more jobs. Small nuclear reactors are therefore not a useful or necessary climate change mitigation strategy.Canada can much more easily, cheaply and quickly get to net zero carbon with a combination of energy conservation and renewables. For details please see Environmental Petition 419 to the Auditor General of Canada.

Small nuclear reactor proponents tout the notion that small reactors will use existing nuclear waste for fuel. This is a dangerous fantasy. In reality, “recycling” radioactive waste creates more radioactive waste, passing the buck to future generations. Worse, reactor technologies that use recycled fuel require extraction of plutonium, creating serious national security risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation. 

We submit that federal support and funding for development of small modular nuclear reactors would constitute an abnegation of Canada’s international commitment to minimize generation of radioactive waste. 

We urge you to bring this matter to the attention of your Cabinet colleagues, and cease all government support and taxpayer funding for small modular nuclear reactors.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Lindsey, MA, O.M., Winnipeg, Manitoba

Brennain Lloyd, North Bay, Ontario

Candyce Paul, English River First Nation, Saskatchewan

Dr. Cathy Vakil, MD, Kingston, Ontario

Dr. Dale Dewar, MD, Wynyard, Saskatchewan

Dr. Dorothy Goldin-Rosenberg, PhD, Toronto, Ontario 

Eva Schacherl, MA, Ottawa, Ontario

Ginette Charbonneau, Physicist, Oka, Quebec

Gretchen Fitzgerald, BSc, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Johanna Echlin, M.Ed., Montreal, Quebec

Dr. Judith Miller, PhD, Ottawa, Ontario

Dr. Kathryn Lindsay, PhD, Renfrew, Ontario

Kerrie Blaise, MSc, JD, North Bay, Ontario

Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario 

Dr. Martha Ruben, MD, PhD., Ottawa, Ontario

Pippa Feinstein, JD, LLM, Toronto, Ontario

Dr. Susan O’Donnell, PhD, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Don’t approve Nuclear Waste regulations which put Canadians at risk, says NDP Natural Resources Critic Richard Cannings

Office of/Bureau du Richard Cannings MP South Okanagan – West Kootenay

June 17, 2020

South Okanagan MP Richard Cannings has self-isolated after ...

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.

Hill Times Op Ed: Proposed radioactive waste disposal rules are weak and industry-friendly

OPINION

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter notes that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a “captured regulator”, that prioritizes needs of the nuclear industry over protection of the public from radioactive pollutants released from nuclear facilities.
-30-

Links:

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

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

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.

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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Greens talk radioactive waste, Chalk River and SNC-Lavalin

September 5, 2019, Ottawa Citizen, TAYLOR BLEWETT

Leveraging one of the year’s top political controversies, federal Green party candidates staged an event Thursday to highlight their concerns about potential contamination of the Ottawa River and a government they describe as too cosy with SNC-Lavalin to care.

Standing in the sand on Westboro Beach, Ottawa Centre Green party candidate Angela Keller-Herzog gave the assembled crowd a quick refresher on the nuclear situation at Chalk River, 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

On the eve of the 2015 federal election, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government selected a consortium of companies, including engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, as its preferred proponent to manage and operate Canadian Nuclear Laboratories — the organization proposing a “near surface disposal facility” for radioactive waste at Chalk River.

It’s a plan, now under review, that’s been in the works for several years, and CNL is adamant about its safety. “It will actually take waste out of areas with very little containment, and put it into an area that is engineered and contained away from the environment,” said Sandra Faught, manager of regulatory approvals for the facility at CNL.

Despite such assurances, the proposed facility has generated fierce criticism from community, Indigenous and environmental advocates for as long as it’s been in the public eye.

At Thursday’s press conference, the Greens breathed fresh life into these concerns by emphasizing the involvement of one of the most controversial names in politics right now: SNC-Lavalin.

“Poor nuclear waste decisions have fallout for millennia — this is too important a job to be handed to SNC and corner-cutting, profit-seeking foreign corporations with dubious ethical background,” said Keller-Herzog.

As an MP, she said, she would champion the creation of a federal policy guiding the management of non-fuel radioactive waste (the kind the Chalk River disposal facility would deal with.)

She also raised a new concern — that the Liberal government, including Environment Minister and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna, have created an exemption that would allow small modular nuclear reactors to skip the new environmental review process they introduced in Bill C-69.

Both CNL and the federal government are focused on the opportunities presented by these portable, less powerful reactors.

“Canada is well positioned to become a global leader in the development and deployment of SMR technology,” reads a Natural Resources Canada webpage, while CNL envisions itself as a “global hub” for small modular reactor innovation.

In the spring of 2018, CNL invited SMR proposals to develop a “demonstration project” at one of its sites. This would be the first small modular reactor in Canada.

“I ask you: If experimental, unproven nuclear reactors don’t have to undergo impact assessment, then what’s the point?” said Keller-Herzog. “In other words, the Liberal government, Minister McKenna and senior public servants are lining up their ducks to pave the way for the plans of SNC-Lavalin and its American partners. Does that sound familiar?”

This newspaper contacted McKenna’s ministerial office about the decision to exempt small nuclear reactors — under 200 thermal megawatts —  from the list of projects that would require environmental assessment under Bill C-69.

“Previously all nuclear reactors would have been designated projects, regardless of size and location,” according to the Canada Gazette entry regarding the exemption.

In response, spokesperson Caroline Thériault sent a statement: 

“A robust project list ensures good projects can move forward in a timely and transparent way that protects the environment, rebuilds public trust and strengthens our economy. This list covers all major projects within federal jurisdiction those pose significant environmental risk.”

Even without a spot on the Bill C-69 project list, small modular reactor would still be subject to scrutiny.

According to a statement from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, “New nuclear projects below the 200 MW thermal‎ threshold are subject to licensing and assessment processes by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.”

Alexandre Deslongchamps, spokesperson for the minster of natural resources, noted that the CNSC “is peer-reviewed and world-renowned” and “will only approve projects if it concludes that they are safe for people and the environment, both now and in the future.”

With files from the Financial Post

Comment from Mark Mackenzie: I am flabbergasted as to how a facility can get away with calling a 7 storey high dump a ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’. At 7 stories high, I invite any Chalk River executive to jump off and tell us how close they were to the surface…. There is no reason to jeopardize the incredible value of the Ottawa River for a nuclear dump within 1 kilometre. The CNSC is hardly an effective regulatory body as they merely rubber stamp whatever the profit oriented nuclear industry wants. SNC Lavelin ‘anything for a buck’ is the Canadian partner. Great group today bringing awareness to the importance of this issue. Three Green Party candidates – Angela Keller-Herzog, Lorraine Rekmans and Claude Bertrand were highly articulate about how the Ottawa River needs to be protected.

Comment from Lynn Jones: Someone should tell the NRCan spokesperson that CNSC was outed long ago as a “captured regulator” that is world renowned for nothing other than promoting the industry and the projects it is supposed to regulate. Even the international nuclear industry refers to Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” when touting Canada as the place to come and tap into the public purse to develop small nuclear reactors.