Stop hearings for the giant nuclear dump beside the Ottawa River (Part 1)
The announcement of licensing hearings in February and May 2022 for a controversial nuclear waste dump beside the Ottawa River got a strong reaction from citizens’ groups who have been fighting the plan for five years. The groups say the environmental assessment has not been properly conducted and licensing hearings should be stopped because there are so many serious flaws in the plan.
The license would authorize a giant above-ground mound for more than a million tonnes of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River, upstream of Ottawa-Gatineau. The Chalk River site is right beside a drinking water source for millions of Canadians and underlain with porous and fractured bedrock.
Many citizens’ groups, along with NGOs, First Nations, and HYPERLINK "https://concernedcitizens.net/2021/05/27/updated-list-of-municipal-resolutions-against-the-chalk-river-and-rolphton-nuclear-waste-dumps/" more than 140 downstream municipalities are opposed to the plan. Many say it fails to meet international guidelines for keeping radioactive waste out of the biosphere. As a disposal facility, it will eventually be abandoned.
The facility would not keep radioactive waste out of the environment. The proponent’s own studies identify HYPERLINK "https://concernedcitizens.net/2021/02/23/how-would-the-near-surface-disposal-facility-leak-let-us-count-some-of-the-ways/" many ways the mound would leak, and suggest HYPERLINK "https://concernedcitizens.net/2020/11/04/the-proponents-own-study-shows-that-the-chalk-river-mound-will-disintegrate/" ]the mound would disintegrate within 400 years and its contents flow into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River. The groundwater table would be right at the base of the mound, disregarding an HYPERLINK "https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/900347" n _blank Ontario standard for waste disposal sites that protects aquifers.
Based on the information from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, materials that would be disposed of include:
1) Radioactive materials such as tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium (one of the most HYPERLINK "https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/fukushima-absorbed-how-plutonium-poisons-the-body/" n _blank dangerous radioactive materials if inhaled or ingested), and several tonnes of uranium and thorium. Twenty-five of 30 radionuclides listed in the HYPERLINK "http://concernedcitizens.net/2020/12/17/cnls-partial-inventory-of-radionuclides-that-would-go-into-the-chalk-river-mound/" reference inventory for the mound are long-lived. This suggests the dump would remain radioactive for 100,000 years.
2) A very large quantity of cobalt-60 in disused devices used in food irradiation and medical procedures. These materials would give off so much intense gamma radiation that workers would need lead shielding to avoid radiation exposures. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be HYPERLINK "https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/TRS436_web.pdf" stored underground.
3) Dioxins, PCBs, asbestos, mercury, and up to 13 tonnes of arsenic and 300 tonnes of lead would go into the dump. It would also contain up to 7,000 tonnes of copper, 3,500 tonnes of iron and 66 tonnes of aluminum, tempting scavengers to dig into the mound after closure.
The HYPERLINK "http://concernedcitizens.net/2018/01/29/environmental-petition-413-to-the-auditor-general-of-canada-environmental-assessment-of-nuclear-projects/" flaws in the assessment process include failure to properly consult Indigenous Peoples and the public, failure to consider substantive input at the project description and scoping stage, and changing the rules in midstream to benefit the proponent.
The fact that dates have now been set for licensing the radioactive waste mound is a sign of failure by the Government of Canada to listen to the hundreds of intervenors in the environmental assessment. It is past time for the government to step up and stop this licensing process and prevent permanent contamination of the Ottawa River.
Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
Johanna Echlin, Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association