Chalk River nuclear site: 10-year lease safe?

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Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

As I write this column (on January 25) the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is holding a public hearing at Chalk River. The issue? Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is filing for the renewal of its nuclear research and test establishment operating licence for Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

As I write this column (on January 25) the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is holding a public hearing at Chalk River. The issue? Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is filing for the renewal of its nuclear research and test establishment operating licence for Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).
The proposed timeframe is a ten-year period expiring April 1, 2028.
Note: This public hearing will be available on the CNSC website for 90 days (nuclearsafety.gc.ca).
NO APRIL FOOL’S
On the morning of January 18 in Ottawa, a march on Parliament Hill saw many demonstrating their deep concerns regarding not only the ten-year extension, but also CNL’s goal to create a Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF).
My concerns echo those of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, and also, Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director and Counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) – among many other organizations and concerned citizens.
After hearing McClenaghan interviewed on CBC radio last week, I researched more about her and CELA.
As a review, on August 2, 2016 she wrote a paper, “Ottawa River’s Best Kept Secret” (bit.ly/2DEFv8T), where she raises concerns related to the nuclear dump:
“The volume of this site is planned to be 500,000 cubic metres, expandable to a million cubic metres. For comparison, a million cubic metres is four times the currently recommended capacity for the low and intermediate level waste facility proposed for the Deep Geological Repository near Kincardine.”
McClenaghan added:
“This is a very large volume of waste. I’m not sure that the residents and municipal leaders in the beautiful communities along the Ottawa River realize that this ‘NSDF’ project is not only a clean-up of some of the radioactive messes already on site, but a new ‘commercial’ opportunity for CNL and its new owners, to bring in low level radioactive waste from elsewhere.”
MAJOR CONCERNS STILL IN 2018
In my view, all world citizens should be concerned about safety issues related to the transportation and storage of radioactive waste. Moreover, as McClenaghan suggests, specifically anyone living downstream of the Chalk River facility needs to pay particular attention to their NSDF proposal. That’s because – as one example — any leakage, any break in the seal of the landfill which may be caused by seismic tremors (we live in an earthquake zone) or other causes could seriously contaminate the Ottawa River.
The eighty-eight interventions voiced during this week’s public hearing in Pembroke can be viewed on the website of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (bit.ly/2DyKVhs). I’m told that roughly two-thirds “express serious concerns about the length of the proposed license, extensive deletion of license conditions, weakening of regulatory oversight, and other matters.” (Lynn Jones, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area)
INTENTIONAL VAGUENESS
Both CCRCA and CELA note the propose ten-year extension eliminates half of the current 56 licence conditions. A significant concern they raise is the proposed conditions “often lack important details.” Interestingly and importantly, their submission warns, “In this regard, there is a body of Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence regarding when language in a law or legal instrument may be so vague as to void its legal effect. That is; an unintelligible provision gives insufficient guidance and, therefore, may be unconstitutionally vague.” (bit.ly/2ncbeDY)
PRIVATE CONSORTIUM IN CONTROL
Another concern is that the Chalk River Nuclear site is controlled by a private consortium.
The Canadian Alliance of Nuclear Workers’ website informs us that in 2014, the Conservative federal government, “took the unprecedented stepof transferring management of the federal government’s nuclear facilities to a private consortium of companies. Known as a Government-owned, Contractor-operated (GoCo) administrative model, Canada’s nuclear facilities moved from a fully public entity, to an entity owned by the Canadian government, with the operations and staffing of the facility now held by an outside group, known as the Canadian National Energy Alliance (the Alliance).” (http://bit.ly/2rDMskT)
This Alliance includes SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and U.S. engineering giants, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp (bit.ly/2FfQPVf). Googling Canadian SNC Lavalin is disconcerting because of associated lawsuits.