Protests against riverside nuclear waste dump
On Saturday July 27th I had the privilege of joining a motorboat flotilla protest against an open-mound nuclear waste dump proposed for a Chalk River site within one kilometre of the Ottawa River. The whole flotilla included over 80 people and sailed from Sheenboro Quebec towards Chalk River. It was organized by Concerned Citizens for Renfrew County, the Old Fort William Cottagers Association, and the Petawawa Point Cottagers Association, with a few Green Party candidates in attendance. The waste dump proposal would be contracted to a consortium including SNC Lavalin and two American companies.
What was our main objection? Nuclear waste and water do not mix, and nuclear dumps should be much further away from any major source of drinking water. According to ecologist Ole Hendrickson, the “Near-Surface” Disposal Facility (NSDF) would not be compliant with the nuclear waste safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The proposed NSDF would hold radionuclides that would take millions of years to decay, including “low-level” waste that would be dangerous if ingested.
Although the project is under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the commission has never yet rejected a proposal under its review. Common sense, local grassroots groups, and the experts appear to be united: having a nuclear dump near the Ottawa River is downright crazy.
THERE IS A LOT OF FALSE INFORMATION ‘FLOATING AROUND’ ABOUT CNL’S NSDF PROJECT. HERE ARE THE FACTS. For projects that are the size and scope of the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF), it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, so let’s set the record straight.
WHY DO WE NEED THIS FACILITY? CNL has conducted remarkable work over the past 60 years, including the production of lifesaving medical isotopes, and the development of CANDU reactors which cleanly, safely and reliably produce more than half of Ontario’s energy. This work has also generated radioactive waste. While this waste was managed according to the best practices and regulations at the time, standards have changed. Some of this waste is now stored using outdated technology which in some cases has led to contamination. CNL wants to do the responsible thing and clean up this waste and manage it with modern technology. CNL is also in the process of revitalizing Chalk River Laboratories to create a world-class nuclear research centre. The NSDF is a key element in enabling that transformation, helping us to protect the environment and ensuring the responsible and safe disposal of low-level radioactive waste.
WHAT IS THE NSDF? The NSDF is an engineered containment mound that will allow CNL to isolate low-level radioactive waste in a facility designed to keep this material separate from the environment and remove the present day risk. The waste will be isolated by a three metre thick multi-layer base liner and cover system that has been tested to last over 550 years, at which point the radioactivity will have decayed to levels you would find in the natural environment. Any water that enters the facility during operation would be diverted to a wastewater treatment plant to remove contaminants.
WHAT WILL GO INTO THE NSDF? The NSDF will only contain low-level radioactive waste such as soil from environmental clean-up work on the Chalk River site, demolition debris and general trash such as used personal protection clothing or equipment.
WHERE WOULD IT BE BUILT? The proposed NSDF would be built at Chalk River Laboratories, where more than 90 per cent of the waste is already located. 14 locations were considered and judged according to size, access to utilities, flood risks, geotechnical considerations and species at risk. The chosen site is over one kilometre from the Ottawa River along a bedrock ridge that naturally forces water to flow in the opposite direction of the river. It is close to the Chalk River campus which has the required support services and in an area that has existing waste storage sites.
DOES THE LOCATION POSE A THREAT TO THE OTTAWA RIVER? No, it does not. The NSDF is designed to protect the Ottawa River, not to harm it and in fact remove the present risk that exists from historical operations. While it’s hard to imagine a scenario where contaminants would penetrate the facility’s liner and not be handled by the waste water treatment system, it would still take an estimated seven years to travel through the ground and reach the Ottawa River, giving CNL ample time to detect and resolve the issue. CNL’s environmental monitoring program already conducts tens of thousands of tests each year, and will be expanded to monitor conditions around the new facility.
I’VE HEARD YOU RELEASE TRITIUM INTO THE RIVER. WHAT IS THIS? Like all industries, CNL does have planned releases to the environment. This includes the controlled release of tritium, a radioactive isotope found naturally in the environment, including the air you breathe and the water you drink. Tritium can be harmful in high concentrations. CNL will only permit releases that are carefully controlled and well below regulatory limits, posing no threat.
WHAT ABOUT A NATURAL DISASTER LIKE AN EARTHQUAKE OR A TORNADO? The NSDF has been designed to withstand extreme weather and events such as earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, sabotage and major storms. The base of the facility is also located approximately 50 metres above the Ottawa River, much higher than any flood waters that might occur.
WHERE CAN I GET THE FACTS ABOUT THIS PROJECT? The NSDF is subject to a federal government-led and very public, environmental assessment process. If you’d like to learn more about the project and the science which supports the decision-making, you can do so through this formal review process. Learn more at www.cnl.ca/NSDF.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories