Over two years ago, on May 5th, 2016 we received official notice that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) submitted their project proposal to build a permanent disposal facility for radioactive waste at the site of Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), only a few hundred metres from the banks of the Ottawa River. On the same day, CNL filed their project proposal to decommission the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) Waste Facility, a former nuclear generating station that operated until 1987 in Rolphton, Ontario, on the south bank of the Ottawa River approximately 225 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. Both plans surprised experts as well as former AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited) employees; the plans are flawed and will not offer the level of protection Canadians expect.
CNL’s proposed plans will create a situation where we mix radioactive waste and water for thousands of years. This is not a plan Canadians can get behind. We must demand better design and technology.
A great deal has happened on these two files since 2016. On the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) registry there are 357 documents filed for these two projects. Ottawa Riverkeeper has been working on the radioactive waste file for much longer than two years, fighting to ensure Canada invests in the best solutions that protect our water and the species that depend on clean water. It is crucial to protect the the drinking water source of over 2 million people.
A few important updates to share:
- During the Environmental Assessment (EA) process for the Near Surface Disposal Facility (nuclear waste dump), several federal agencies including ECCC, NRCan, Health Canada and CNSC logged approximately 200 questions/comments on CNL’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Government of Quebec diligently reviewed the proposal and submitted some of the toughest and most relevant comments and questions. All comments must be addressed by CNL before moving forward with the project.
- Given the depth of the questions and comments generated, CNL has made some significant design changes to the NSDF including a new plan to pipe “treated wastewater” from the NSDF directly into Perch Lake that drains into the Ottawa River.
- Changes are also being made to the plans to pour concrete over the NPD in Rolphton as a crude method of decommissioning (before the consortium took over, the decommissioning plan was to properly dismantle the NPD reactor and clean up the site beside the Ottawa River).
- The CNL consortium has quietly prepared an “Integrated Waste Strategy” that calls for transporting radioactive wastes from other contaminated sites to Chalk River. This plan to transport wastes to CRL was out of the scope of the EA and has not been discussed publicly. Transport of spent fuel rods (high level nuclear waste) from Whiteshell to Chalk River will begin in the new year.
- Although the NSDF has not been approved, CNL has gone to tender for construction of the enormous engineered mound. They have no plan B and will continue to defend their proposal for an engineered mound despite the valid concerns of many experts.
- Despite the Canadian Government’s rhetoric about the importance of a Nation to Nation relationship, there has been no consultation with Indigenous Governments to develop a radioactive waste policy on terms that would be acceptable to indigenous peoples. Likewise, there has been no consultation with the Algonquin Anishinaabe people about consolidating all federal radioactive wastes within their traditional, unsurrendered territory.
The timelines for these projects have significantly changed. The final EIS for both projects is expected in the summer of 2019. The target date for the release of the Environmental Assessment is now 2020 – there will be a typical 30 day public review before the hearing. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will ultimately decide when the hearings will take place.
What are we for?
We want a solution that will safeguard all species from the radioactive waste that is currently onsite at Chalk River and Rolphton. We would like to see Canada look to countries like Finland who have constructed siloed geological repositories to safeguard all levels of radioactive waste. We want a disposal facility where radioactive waste does not come into contact with water.
We expect our federal government to engage in meaningful consultation with indigenous governments within the Ottawa River Watershed, working to secure their free, prior and informed consent as Canada moves forward with these proposals that will impact their rights and territory for thousands of years.
Next steps for Ottawa Riverkeeper
We will continue to stay on top of this file, participate in the ongoing EA and participate on CNL’s Environmental Stewardship Council. We hope to receive additional participant funding from CNSC to hire an expert in water treatment of radionuclides. We need independent, expert opinion on the validity of the proposed water treatment plant that will receive contaminated leachate collected from the NSDF.
Your Riverkeeper will attend an all day technical discussion on the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) Closure Project on Nov. 22 in Deep River to fully understand the changes CNL is proposing for that decommissioning project.
What can you do?
Stand up and let your elected officials know how you feel about how Canada is handling our $8 billion nuclear liability. We cannot continue to generate more nuclear waste without a plan that is safe, transparent and developed in consultation with all Canadians including indigenous governments.
On November 6th to show your support for an inclusive and modern approach to protecting Canadians from our mounting nuclear waste. Gather at 12 noon in front of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 82 Kent St. We’ll march down Sparks St., up to the flame on Parliament Hill, and back again.
To get more insight into the issue, as well as participate in a discussion with other citizens, come to the meeting on Nov 18th organized by Ottawa Riverkeeper, ACO, CREDDO and RCPR. It is happening at the Maison-du-citoyen in Gatineau, and simultaneous French and English interpretation will be available. Doors open at noon, and the event kicks off at 1pm!