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Radioactive waste beside Ottawa River will remain hazardous for thousands of years: Citizens' groups

A depiction of the nuclear waste disposal site that will be located on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories property. The disposed waste will be covered with a grassy mound to isolate it from the environment. (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories/supplied)
A depiction of the nuclear waste disposal site that will be located on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories property. The disposed waste will be covered with a grassy mound to isolate it from the environment. (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories/supplied)

Citizens’ groups from Ontario and Quebec have issued a warning saying that the radioactive waste destined for a planned nuclear waste disposal facility in Deep River, Ont., one kilometre from the Ottawa River, will remain hazardous for thousands of years.

The disposal project -- a seven-storey radioactive mound known as the "Near Surface Disposal Facility" (NSDF) – was licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) last month.

The CNSC said it determined the project is not likely to cause significant adverse effect, "provided that [Canadian Nuclear Laboratories] implements all proposed mitigation and follow-up monitoring measures, including continued engagement with Indigenous Nations and communities and environmental monitoring to verify the predictions of the environmental assessment."

The groups sent a letter Sunday to the federal government, asking to stop all funding for the project and to look for alternate ways to dump the waste underground.

In the letter, the groups warned that waste destined for the mound is “heavily contaminated with very long-lived radioactive materials” that puts the public at risk of developing cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations.

“We believe Cabinet or Parliament has the power to reverse this decision and they need to do so as soon as possible,” said Lynn Jones of Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

“It’s clear that the only benefit from the NSDF would go to shareholders of the three multinational corporations involved, AtkinsRéalis (formerly SNC-Lavalin), Fluor and Jacobs. Everyone else would get only harm—a polluted Ottawa River, plummeting property values, increased health risks, never-ending costs to remediate the mess and a big black mark on Canada’s international reputation.”

One million tons of radioactive and other hazardous waste from eight decades of operations of the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) will be held if the project is completed, according to the group.

The groups say that according to scientists and after a few hundred years, “the mound would leak during operation and break down due to erosion,” contaminating drinking water in the Ottawa River.

The controversial project has been concerning for many residents and organizations since 2016, including residents of Renfrew County and Area, the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the groups say.

“People need to wake up and realize the truth that this waste is full of deadly long-lived, man-made radioactive poisons such as plutonium that will be hazardous for many thousands of years,” said Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association.

Waste from CRL is classified as an “Intermediate-level” waste class, which means it must be kept tens of metres underground, says the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“A former senior manager in charge of ‘legacy’ radioactive waste at Chalk River told the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that, in reality, the waste proposed for emplacement in the NSDF is ‘intermediate level waste’ that requires a greater degree of containment and isolation than that provided by a near surface facility.’ He pointed out the mound would be hazardous and radioactive for many thousands of years, and that radiation doses from the facility will, in the future, exceed regulatory limits,” the groups noted.

Citizens’ groups want Canada to commit to building world class facilities not only for managing radioactive waste that would keep Canadians safe, but also for safely managing the waste for generations to come.

CTV News has reached out to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for comments.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the CNSC said it will ensure that CNL meets all legal and regulatory requirements as well as licence conditions, through regular inspections and evaluations.

"The purpose of the NSDF Project is to provide a permanent disposal solution for up to 1 million cubic metres of solid low-level radioactive waste, such as contaminated personal protective clothing and building materials," the statement said. "The majority of the waste to be placed in the NSDF is currently in storage at the Chalk River Laboratories site or will be generated from environmental remediation, decommissioning, and operational activities at the Chalk River Laboratories site. Approximately 10% of the waste volume will come from other AECL-owned sites or from commercial sources such as Canadian hospitals and universities."

CNSC says its Jan. 10 decision applies to the construction of the NSDF project only. 

"Authorization to operate the NSDF would be subject to a future Commission licensing hearing and decision, should CNL come forward with a licence application to do so. No waste may be placed in the NSDF during the construction phase of the project," the regulator said.

The site for the NSDF is on the CRL property, 180 km northwest of Canada’s capital, on the Ottawa River directly across from the Province of Quebec.


An earlier version of this article said CTV News had reached out to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for comment. This was incorrect. CTV News Ottawa had reached out to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories for comment Monday morning. Top Stories

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