Parliament should investigate what Canadians are getting for their nuclear waste funding ~ letter to the editor of the Hill Times (print edition)

For an easier to read version, see below.

On April 29, twenty-three civil society groups and a First Nations alliance published a joint statement in the Hill Times expressing concerns about the alarming manner in which federally-owned radioactive waste is being handled by a multinational consortium of SNC-Lavalin and two US-based corporations.

It is disturbing that the President of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), himself an American and former executive from one of SNC-Lavalin’s original consortium partners, now accuses the authors of spreading “inaccuracies” – “misleading and incorrect” information that “distorts” the truth – without citing a single example. (Letter, Hill Times, May 13)

The endorsing organizations stand behind every point raised in their joint statement. Any one of those concerns provides enough reason for the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Federal Government to change the current approach to the handling of long-lived radioactive wastes in Canada – a toxic liability estimated at $7.9 billion by the Auditor General. Each concern is legitimate, well-founded and echoed by many others: independent scientists, municipalities and concerned citizens, including fifteen former AECL managers and scientists

AECL has received over $3 billion of taxpayers’ money in the past three federal budgets, handing most of that money over to the private consortium.The 2019-2020 budget alone has $737 million earmarked for radioactive waste management and decommissioning at federally-owned sites, a significant increase since the 2015 Government-owned, Contractor-operated (“GoCo”) private contracting model was brought in by the Harper government. 

We call on Parliament to investigate whether this funding has translated into significant reductions in federal radioactive waste liabilities, and whether taxpayers are receiving real long-term value for the money being spent.

The consortium’s plan to erect a gigantic surface mound containing over one million tonnes of mixed radioactive wastes, seven stories high and 11 hectares in area, just one kilometre from the Ottawa River, is shocking. This proposal flouts international guidance and is opposed by 140 downstream municipalities that use the river for drinking water, including Gatineau and the Montreal Metropolitan Community. 

Equally troubling is the consortium’s plan to “entomb” two contaminated nuclear reactors in cement right beside the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers. Far from being a “modern solution”, as the AECL head claims, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that “entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy” unless exceptional circumstances prevail, such as a core meltdown – and even then alternatives should be explored.

We are concerned by the absence of any adequate federal policy or regulations specifically for reactor decommissioning and radioactive waste management (other than irradiated nuclear fuel). Canada’s sole policy document, a 143-word “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” lacks substantive content and fails to meet minimal international requirements. Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr wrote in July 2018, “Canada does not yet have a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.”

These wastes are the sole responsibility of the government of Canada. Roughly half of them were generated during the development of the atomic bomb and the subsequent Cold War buildup of American nuclear weapons. Now is the time for our government to take a serious, direct proprietary interest in these wastes, to ensure the protection of current and future generations of Canadians from the health risks of exposure to dangerous long-lived radioactive materials, risks that include genetic damage, chronic diseases, birth defects and cancer.

Canada’s radioactive waste legacy has been growing for over 70 years; the hazard will last for tens of thousands of years; the problem cannot be dealt with “quickly and cheaply”.

We repeat our call to end the “Go-Co” contract with SNC-Lavalin and its partners, and to consult First Nations and other Canadians with a view to formulating exemplary polices and projects for radioactive waste that meet and exceed our international obligations. We believe these wastes must be safely secured in state-of-the art facilities well away from sources of drinking water, packaged and labeled in such a way as to enable future generations to monitor, retrieve, repair, and repackage such wastes if and when the need arises. We urge that the import, export and transport of radioactive waste not be allowed without full consultation with affected communities and careful consideration of alternatives. 

Such actions will begin to re-establish Canadian leadership in the nuclear field by addressing the growing global radioactive waste problem in a responsible manner while creating many long-term, well-paying Canadian jobs.

Gordon Edwards, President,

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

Chalk River Nuclear Waste ~ Full-page statement in the Hill-Times newspaper (April 29, 2019)

To the Prime Minister, Parliament and the Federal Government

The undersigned organizations have grave concerns about the handling of Canada’s federally-owned nuclear waste by a multinational consortium that includes SNC-Lavalin and corporate partners, some of which have faced criminal charges and/or entered into deferred prosecution agreements.*

●      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 10-year federal contract with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited the consortium intends to spend nearly seven billion of our tax dollars on nuclear waste disposal and reactor decommissioning projects that fail to meet even existing international safety guidelines.

●      Its current plans include entombing the radioactive remains of nuclear 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, 5 to 7 stories high, holding more than one million tons of mixed radioactive waste, including very long-lived materials such as PCBs, arsenic, plutonium-239,  and radioactive asbestos in a swampy area that drains into the Ottawa River.

●     Its plans include transporting thousands of tons of radioactive waste (including extremely toxic irradiated nuclear fuel) along public roads from Pinawa, Manitoba, from Douglas Point, Ontario, and from Gentilly, Quebec, all the way to Chalk River, situated upstream from our nation’s Capital. A program of two thousand truck shipments of radioactive material from Manitoba is planned and may already be underway.

We request that the Federal Government end its “Government-owned Contractor-operated/GoCo” contract with SNC-Lavalin and its corporate partners at the earliest opportunity.

We further request formulation of exemplary policies and projects for Canada’s radioactive waste that meet or exceed international obligations and which would:

●      be managed by independent Canadian experts, in consultation with First Nations and the public 

●      create many long-term, well-paying Canadian jobs

●      safely secure nuclear 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 facing charges in Canada of fraud, bribery and corruptionTexas-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, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Ecology Ottawa, Friends of the Earth Canada, Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, Northwatch, Provincial Council of Women of Ontario, Quebec Council of Women, National Council of Women of Canada, Concerned Citizens Committee of Manitoba, Prevent Cancer Now, Watershed Sentinel Educational Society, Action Climat Outaouais, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, Concerned Citizens Renfrew County,  and Area, Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Petawawa Point Cottagers Association, Coalition Against Nuclear Dumps on the Ottawa River,  Esprit Whitewater, Durham Nuclear Awareness, Bonnechere River Watershed Project

As it appeared in the Hill Times on April 29, 2019…