Chalk River dump removes ‘most-toxic’ wastes in bid for public approval

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Added: Wed, 11/08/2017 - 10:40pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) announced October 26 that it will withdraw the category of  “intermediate-level” radioactive waste from its proposed above-ground Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF), one kilometre from the Ottawa River at  Chalk River.
“Waste in the NSDF will meet the guidelines set out for low-level radioactive waste by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” said CNL's online statement. Intermediate-level waste will continue to be managed in interim storage at the CNL site until “a long-term disposal solution has been developed and approved”.
According to CNL’s Patrick Quinn, the change was prompted by a combination of feedback, both public and professional.
While the majority (90%) of the waste intended for the NSDF will include contaminated materials already found on site from years of operation and the decommissioning of  contaminated buildings and infrastructure, some will also be trucked in from other sites. Critics also fear there are no mechanisms in place to examine trucked-in material.
“A small victory”
Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Sheenboro, said she is pleased that citizens' concerns are being heard. “Intermediate level' waste is supposed to be disposed of in underground caverns according to the IAEA,” she added, noting that there is still a long way to go before the project can be considered acceptable.
The Ottawa Riverkeeper and Concerned Citizen's of Renfrew County and Area (CCRC) agree. “It's a reversal that shows the power of strong public involvement and scrutiny. We still have many concerns about the project. The announcement doesn’t mean any changes to the near-surface technology being proposed, and the site near the Ottawa River is still problematic,” said the Riverkeeper.
According to Dr. Ole Hendrickson of CCRC, low-level waste can be
handled without using robots or special equipment, but it can still contain very
hazardous and toxic materials like plutonium, neptunium, and americium that have extremely long half lives that will out-live the NSDF's protective liner.  Quinn confirmed long-lived radionuclides are still part of the project's planned inventory. 
Next steps
Over 200 comments on the project's draft Environmental Impact Statement were submitted to CNL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission during the public comment period that ended in August; they have been released for public review. 
The next step is for CNL to respond to those comments, and, subject to their acceptance by the CNSC, to update their Statement, followed by public hearings.
At a public consultation held in Sheenboro on October 2 (two others were held in Pembroke and Deep River), CNSC representatives unofficially stated the project will not be approved as it was presented at the time. Over 27 individuals and citizen's groups asked for additional CNSC consultations to be held in other areas along the Ottawa River, but this request has been refused. Citizens as far away as Montreal and Laval had asked for an opportunity to comment. All candidates running for warden of MRC Pontiac have also stated their opposition to the project “as it now stands”.
Best outcome
Citizen's groups are advocating for a “state-of-the-art” facility, like those under construction in Finland and France that house the waste in below-ground engineered caverns in stable rock, and suggest CNL consider the 70,000 acres of federal land adjacent to the Chalk River labs. “With a better location, away from the river and in stable rock, we could all get behind this project and build a facility that Canada can be proud of,” said Hendrickson.