Nuclear Waste

The Issue

The Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) is located on the banks of the Ottawa River, near Chalk River, ON, approximately 200 kilometres upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau. The site opened in 1944, the result of collaboration between British and Canadian nuclear researchers. Unfortunately, early disposal practices at the site generated numerous radioactive waste plumes migrating in uncontrolled fashion, contaminating wetlands, groundwater, surface water bodies, and streams draining into the Ottawa River. This pollution is an ongoing problem, and the status quo is not acceptable. The site’s legacy of contaminated waste must be dealt with in a scientifically sound approach.

Since 2014, CRL has been operated under a government-owned, contractor-operated model, meaning that a private consortium is effectively managing the site on behalf of the Canadian government. This consortium, called Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), is comprised of several private companies, only one of which (SNC-Lavalin) is Canadian. CNL is currently proposing to renew its operating license for 10 years, the longest ever for this site. It is also proposing to build Canada’s first permanent nuclear waste dump, termed the “Near-Surface Disposal Facility (NDSF)”, less than one kilometer from the Ottawa River. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will ultimately decide whether both these proposals can go ahead.  

How Are We Helping?

Ottawa Riverkeeper has been tracking the activities and risks associated with the Chalk River Laboratories for many years. We are member of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories’ Environmental Stewardship Council (ESC). Through participation in the ESC, we have learned a great deal about operations at CNL and the wastes that have accumulated at the site over its lifetime. We have visited the site on many occasions. We have also participated in several CNSC consultations over the years, most recently on CNL’s 10-year license renewal application and on their proposal for a nuclear waste disposal facility. We have hired experts to review the Environmental Impact State for the disposal facility, and submitted formal comments on both issues. We are working closely with First Nations, community organizations, and concerned citizens to highlight the risks and mobilize the public. We have been very vocal on this issue and have conducted dozens of media interviews. More broadly, we are urging the Canadian government to review the way nuclear safety issues are addressed in Canada, including the CNSC’s very mandate, as part of its commitment to review environmental assessments in Canada.