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. In early 2018, Ottawa Riverkeeper announced our serious concerns with CNL’s application for a 10-year operating license renewal for Chalk River Laboratories, the longest ever for this site. In March 2018, Ottawa Riverkeeper was disappointed to learn that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved CNL’s license renewal for the full 10 years. 

CNL 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 CNSC will ultimately decide whether this proposal 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 members 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, including on CNL’s 10-year licence renewal application, on their proposal for a nuclear waste disposal facility, and as part of the Regulatory Oversight Report process. We have hired experts to review the Environmental Impact Statement for the disposal facility, and submitted formal comments on these 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. Canada falls far short of international standards in dealing with nuclear waste. In 2020 we launched a major campaign targeting MPs which pushes for a new policy for the disposal of non-fuel nuclear waste in Canada. You can add your name to the campaign to call for Canada to adopt stronger and clearer rules on dealing with nuclear waste.