Ottawa Riverkeeper studies plans for permanent disposal of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River

How do you feel about 1 000 000 m3 of radioactive waste being abandoned in an "engineered landfill" beside your Ottawa River?

For 90 years there has been nuclear activity on the shores of the Ottawa River, with no solutions in place for permanently safeguarding the radioactive waste that is continuously generated at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in Chalk River, Ontario.

That may soon change. Ottawa Riverkeeper is taking part in the federal environmental assessment related to CNL’s proposal to create a permanent “Near Surface Disposal Facility” for nuclear waste on crown land, near the small town of Chalk River.

As part of our involvement in this process, Ottawa Riverkeeper has hired two independent experts to review and provide comments on the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was released Friday, March 17, 2017.

The proposed plan has left our Riverkeeper, Meredith Brown, with a few important questions.

“What is the probability that radionuclides will make their way into groundwater at the site or into the Ottawa River? And if there is contamination of our waters, what are the implications for the aquatic ecosystem and for the million Canadians who swim, drink, fish the Ottawa River?”

Our experts will be looking to see if the project proponent (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories) has adequately identified local and regional ecosystem impacts, with a focus on water quality, as well as whether or not appropriate mitigation measures have been proposed.

“We have concerns about this proposal and will be closely reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement when it is released,” Brown said.  “There are potential implications for our river and the communities that rely on the river for drinking water and recreation. As far as we are aware, there is no technology that can prevent radioactive materials from leaking into the river.  However, I am painfully aware of the need to find responsible ways to safely deal with the radioactive wastes that have been accumulating at the site over the last 90 years.”

Ottawa Riverkeeper has also been communicating regularly with citizens’ groups in the vicinity of the proposed project. Many of them have grave concerns about this project. These groups include the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and the Old Fort William Cottagers Association. Together they have put together an informative background document that you can find here.

The disposal facility is on a fast track to approval, with the final decision being made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). They will conduct the Environmental Assessment of the project to determine if it will cause “significant adverse environmental effects, and will make their decision after a licensing hearing in January 2018.

Once Ottawa Riverkeeper and our experts review the EIS that was released today, we will share our findings and comments with you. We will also intervene at the CNSC hearing, acting in the interest of the general public and the Ottawa River.

We want to hear from you! Please send us your thoughts, questions or concerns. We also encourage you to participate in the approval process by providing the CNSC with your comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The comment period is open for 60 days; you have until May 17, 2017 to have your voice heard.


We need your help to continue our work on this file. Please consider a donation of $25, $50 or $100 to help us reach our goal of $5,000 raised by May 17th.

This will fund our work reviewing and commenting on the Environmental Impact Statement. It will also help us keep you – the public – aware of our findings and up-to-date on the approval process. Finally, it will help fund our attendance at the CNSC hearing in January, where we will represent you and your concerns. 


More information:

The project is complex and the information surrounding it is abundant.

Looking to dive deeper? We encourage you to read the documents provided on the website of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, particularly the project description for the Near Surface Disposal Facility Project.  

Pressed for time? Take a look at our infographic below.

11 responses to “Ottawa Riverkeeper studies plans for permanent disposal of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River”

  1. margo says:

    For 90 years there has been nuclear activity on the shores of the Ottawa River ?, wow has it been since 1927,The facility arose out of a 1942 collaboration between British and Canadian nuclear researchers which saw a Montreal research laboratory established under the National Research Council (NRC). By 1944 the Chalk River Laboratories were opened and in September, 1945 the facility saw the first nuclear reactor outside of the United States become operational (see Lew Kowarski). In 1946,

  2. Louis Lair says:

    As a resident & Municipal Councillor of Allumettes Island, I do have serious concerns of CNL’s project. We are located East of Fort William (Municipality of Sheenboro), and the project will also have major impact on our community together with all Municipalities bordering the Ottawa River.
    The Municipality of Sheenboro has already passed a resolution opposing the project. It is also my intentions to discuss this project at our next committee meeting with the intentions of passing a similar motion. I certainly hope this project will be cancelled. Transporting hazardous waste across the country to be stored in a local facility does not make sense, In addition, why are they considering a facility so close to the Ottawa River ?

    • Johanna Echlin says:

      Hi Louis Lair, I have just read your posting in the Riverkeeper regarding your opposition to CNL’s proposal for the permanent disposal of radioactive waste at Chalk River. I am an OFWCA (Old Fort William Cottagers’) member and salute you for your opposition. We hope Allumettes Island will join OFWCA, Sheenboro, Clarendon, Bristol and Canton de Lochaber (Papineau) and pass a resolution. Do let us know if it passes in your Council. Let’s stand together and protect our river. Thanks for your support. Johanna

  3. Marilyn Dubonnet says:

    This is a disaterous project for the Ottawa Valley and CNL shold be stopped. The company is run by a bunch of Americans who don’t care about what they are doing to the country.

  4. In addition to the most obvious concerns, it alarms me that the fact this whole area is the traditional territory of the Algonquin (Kitchisipirini) going back to the time of the last ice age, that this doesn’t appear to be on anyone’s radar. The very land that the CNL now sits upon was appropriated. I would hope that in today’s climate of “Truth and Reconciliation” that an indigenous voice — in this case an Algonquin voice — would be taken into account as a part of the decision making process. If a citizens group or forum can be listened to, then why not our Algonquin relations too? (From both sides of the KitchiZibi/Ottawa River) As caretakers of the earth and keepers of the river and traditional knowledge ourselves, perhaps it’s time we are intentionally invited to the table. Was any Algonquin leadership consulted in this process?
    We cannot be respected as Canadian citizens nor as stewardship role models ourselves if we are not given the opportunity to walk our talk: for the sake of all our relations. I strongly believe that, for the sake of the future health of this entire traditional territory, a wise Algonquin voice, perspective and opinion needs to be heard, willingly, by the parties involved for the sake of all Canadians now and in the future. We must openly admit that this is a massive issue that deserves not just the wisdom of scientists, business and government; it’s an issue that deserves the wisdom of our Elders. Come on Canada, our Aboriginal Elders are not just for tokenism; they’re for sharing our traditional knowledge, perspectives and wisdom with everyone so that all Canadians will truly see and understand what the heart of the matter is here.

    • Emma Konrad says:

      Hi Tim,
      Thank you for your comments. This is very important to us as well. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is currently consulting with the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council. The Council are currently completing their own assessment of the Environmental Impact Statement. You can find their website here:

  5. shelley says:

    There has to be a better solution than putting it beside a major water system. Can we not move it and store in land? There is never going to be a perfect place but at least try and keep it away from the general population.
    Accidents do happen!

  6. I think you had better review the old Adam’s mine/ Toronto garbage proposal. That was turned down over concerns about leachate into the Ottawa. So this is just another poorly conceived government project ala phoenix pay system. I have recented visited the cnsc offices in Ottawa, I was not impressed….and they are in charge?

  7. Lynne Yantha says:

    The last news I read on this clearly stated that the I tentin of the site is to import intermediate-level waste into the site, which is clearly profit-driven at nature’s and our expense. River keeper, did you state this in this fluffy article, it’s early, but I did not see this.
    Thank you to the municipalities who have a ken a firm stand. The answer must be no.
    Finally, being spring, I’m seeing a lot of posts from
    from paddlers and river-lovers. Where is their voice?(

  8. Suzanne Keeptwo says:

    PLEASE, No! Our Kitchi Sipi cannot tolerate any more contaminants anywhere along it’s body. Water is sacred! Our lives are dependent on CLEAN water systems. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? We are supposed to be an enlightened species and so-called “superior” to nature? Where is the sense in this plan?

  9. […] Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario is used for nuclear research (photo from Ottawa Riverkeeper website) […]