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

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. 

Six reasons to STOP the Ottawa River radioactive waste dump

March 22, 2021

The Ottawa River is a Canadian Heritage River that flows past Parliament Hill. It has untold value as a beautiful natural and historical treasure. The river is sacred for the Algonquin People whose traditional territory it defines.

The Ottawa River is threatened by a giant landfill for one million tonnes of radioactive and other hazardous waste. A multinational consortium (SNC-Lavalin, Fluor and Jacobs) plans to build the seven-story mound on the grounds of the Chalk River Laboratories, northwest of Ottawa, directly across the Ottawa River from the province of Quebec.

Independent scientists and the public have not had a formal opportunity to comment on this project since August 2017 when hundreds of critical comments were submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. CNSC is the “responsible authority” under the old Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and would hold a licensing hearing at an undetermined date in the future. An Expert Panel  recommended in 2017 that the CNSC not be in charge of environmental assessment for nuclear projects. The panel also noted that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a captured regulator.

The Assembly of First Nations and more than 140 Quebec and Ontario municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the Ottawa River nuclear waste dump.

Here are six reasons to STOP this project:

1. The proposed site is unsuitable for a dump of any kind. The site is less than one kilometre from the Ottawa River which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec. The river is a drinking water source for millions of Canadians. After passing the Chalk River Laboratories, it flows downstream through Ottawa-Gatineau, past Parliament Hill, and on to Montreal. The site is tornado and earthquake prone; the Ottawa River itself is a major fault line. The site is partly surrounded by wetlands and the underlying bedrock is porous and fractured.

2. The mound would contain hundreds of radioactive materials, dozens of hazardous chemicals and tonnes of heavy metals. Radioactive materials destined for the dump include tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium (one of the most dangerous radioactive materials if inhaled or ingested), and up to 80 tonnes of uranium. Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in the reference inventory for the mound are long-lived. This suggests the dump would remain dangerously radioactive for 100,000 years. 

A very large quantity of cobalt-60 in the dump would give off so much intense gamma radiation that workers must use lead shielding to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be stored underground.

Dioxin, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and hundreds of tonnes of lead would go into the dump. It would also contain thousands of tonnes of copper and iron and 33 tonnes of aluminum, tempting scavengers to dig into the mound after closure.

3. The mound would leak radioactive and hazardous contaminants into the Ottawa River during operation and after closure. Many ways the mound would leak are described in the environmental impact statement. The mound is expected to eventually disintegrate in a process referred to as “normal evolution.”

4. There is no safe level of exposure to the radiation that would leak into the Ottawa River from the Chalk River mound. All of the escaping radioactive materials would increase risks of birth defects, genetic damage, cancer and other chronic diseases. The International Atomic Energy Agency says radioactive wastes must be carefully stored out of the biosphere, not in an above-ground mound.

5. International safety standards do not allow landfills to be used for nuclear waste disposal. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that only Very Low Level Radioactive Waste (VLLW) can be put in an above-ground landfill-type facility. Canada would be shirking its international obligations as a member state of the IAEA and a signatory to an international nuclear waste treaty if it allowed this dump to be licensed.

6. The giant Chalk River mound would not reduce Canada’s $8 billion federal radioactive waste liabilities and could in fact increase themThe giant pile of leaking radioactive waste would be difficult to remediate. Remediation costs could exceed those of managing the wastes had they not been put in the mound.

Presentation – Update on Chalk River radioactive waste disposal -BCI Jan. 2021

This presentation was given at the AGM of Biodiversity Conservancy International, January 14, 2021

This slide from the presentation shows Chalk River Labs in 1948.  The original 10 megawatt version of the NRX reactor had been completed a year earlier, in July 1947.   Plutonium was extracted from uranium irradiated in the NRX and shipped to the U.S. to make nuclear weapons.  Later, irradiated targets containing plutonium were shipped to the U.S, for processing there.  This continued until the mid-1960s.  

Natural Resources Canada estimates that over half the nuclear wastes at Chalk River – including contaminated buildings, buried wastes, and contaminated lands – came from Cold War weapons-related activities.

Hill Times Letter to the Editor ~ We need parliamentarians to stop project, prevent Ottawa River from being permanently contaminated by gigantic radioactive landfill

January 18, 2021

Re “CNL working to accomplish responsible action in managing Canada’s nuclear research and development legacy” (The Hill Times, Letters to the Editor, December 14, 2020).

This letter from Joe McBrearty, President and CEO of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) deepens my concern about the handling of Canada’s $8 billion nuclear waste liability. 

Mr. McBrearty claims that the Chalk River Mound beside the Ottawa River, 150 km north of Ottawa-Gatineau, “will contain only low-level radioactive waste which contains radionuclides that require isolation and containment for only a few hundred years.”

Unfortunately this claim does not stand up to scrutiny.

Last month CNL published its final environmental impact statement listing a partial inventory of radionuclides that would go into the gigantic five-to-seven story radioactive mound (aka the “NSDF”).

Twenty-five out of the 30 radionuclides listed in the inventory are long-lived, with half-lives ranging from four centuries to more than four billion years. To take just one example, the man-made radionuclide, Neptunium-237, has a half-life of 2 million years such that, after 2 million years have elapsed, half of the material will still be radioactive. 

The inventory includes four isotopes of plutonium, one of the most deadly radioactive materials known, if inhaled or ingested.

It is incorrect to say that these materials “require isolation and containment for only a few hundred years.” Many of them will be dangerously radioactive for more than one hundred thousand years. The International Atomic Energy Agency states that materials like this must be stored tens of meters or more underground, not in an above-ground mound.

The CNL inventory also includes a very large quantity of cobalt-60, a material that gives off so much strong gamma radiation that lead shielding must be used by workers who handle it in order to avoid dangerous radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency considers high-activity cobalt-60 sources to be “intermediate-level waste” and specifies that they must be stored underground. Addition of high-activity cobalt-60 sources means that hundreds of tons of lead shielding would be disposed of in the mound along with other hazardous materials such as arsenic, asbestos, PCBs, dioxins and mercury.

CNL’s environmental impact statement describes several ways that radioactive materials would leak into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River during filling of the mound and after completion. It also describes CNL’s intent to pipe water polluted with tritium and other radioactive and hazardous substances from the waste treatment facility directly into Perch Lake which drains into the Ottawa River.

I stand by my original conclusion: We need parliamentarians to step up now to stop this deeply flawed project and prevent the Ottawa River from being permanently contaminated by a gigantic, leaking radioactive landfill that would do little to reduce Canada’s $8 billion nuclear waste liability.

Letter to the editor published in the Hill Times Monday January 18, 2021

Both SMRs AND the high-level nuclear fuel waste they produce are EXEMPT from environmental assessment in Canada

As noted in the recent Hill Times op-ed by Eva Schacherl, Political Opposition Growing to New Reactors, both small modular nuclear reactors AND the high-level fuel waste they produce are EXEMPT from environmental assessment in Canada

From the op-ed:

“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.”

This SMR fuel waste exemption was a last-minute insertion in the Impact Assessment Act regulations. It is found in section 28 of the Physical Activities Regulations (the so-called ‘project list’ for the new Impact Assessment Act and reads as follows:

28 The construction and operation of either of the following:(a) a new facility for the storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste, outside the licensed boundaries of an existing nuclear facility, as defined in section 2 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, other than a facility for the on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel or nuclear waste associated with one or more new fission or fusion reactors that have a combined thermal capacity of less than 200 MWth

As far the fuel waste from the proposed SMR (the “MMR Project“) at Chalk River is concerned, there is another exemption in section 28 – the phrase “outside the licensed boundaries of an existing nuclear facility”  allows it to be kept on site at Chalk River, a licensed nuclear facility.

Canada will make dozens of small modular nuclear reactors |
Artist’s rendering of a prototype small nuclear reactor plant. Under Canadian legislation, the whole plant along with the irradiated nuclear fuel it produced could become a radioactive exclusion zone, permanently off limits to humans

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

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

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.