About 25 kms above Chalk River, along the Ottawa River, lies Rolphton, Ontario, home of Canada’s original CANDU reactor. It has been shut since 1987, with the most dangerous radioactive wastes removed for safer storage, much at Chalk River. Canadian Nuclear Labratories (CNL) now intends to not merely mothball the derelict but to bury it – 400 metres from the waterway. The Ottawa River lies on a geologic fracture and minor earthquakes are common; severe flooding hits many parts of the waterway, as seen in the spring of 2017.
In the midst of a significant public uproar over Chalk River’s plan to create a fifteen-football-field sized radioactive dump, comes the Rolphton plan to “entomb” the entire historic facility, filled with concrete and “grout”, capped with a concrete lid and then protected by “an engineered barrier” on the surface, says CNL. World authorities have estimated this facility will likely remain radioactive for 100,000 years.
Both projects are essentially the long-term plan to deal with radioactive waste – by the private sector – as set out by the Harper government in 2015. Ottawa contracted a consortium of engineering firms, called the Canadian National Energy Alliance, to get rid of the nuclear waste problem, “quick and cheaply”, say critics, claiming the plan is actually “abandonment” of the waste, not disposal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has judged “entombment” not to be a safe decommissioning process – and is only acceptable in the case of major accidents such as the Chernobyl or Fukushima radioactive disasters (both still hot and uncontained). The IAEA recommends that such materials are put in a deep geological repository, using tested technology from around the world
Besides long-lived nuclear “post-fission materials”, Rolphton would also contain significant amounts of hazardous materials -- lead, asbestos, mercury and PCBs, all possible to escape into the river in the case of any accident.
Critics also point out that this site will be imposed upon unceded Algonquin lands, with no agreement from local First Nations’ governments.
Some local residents have found work with CNL and fear losing these jobs if these projects are not approved. However, several Pontiac mayors have pointed out that the clean-up at both sites will keep the good-paying jobs alive for years.
---- “We want your opinion”: MP Amos
Pontiac’s MP, Will Amos, has recommended that citizens wait for the assessment panel to make its judgement of the CNL projects but he has urged residents to express their views. Given the media and other organizations’ focus on the dump project, the proposed “entombment” at Rolphton seems to have missed public attention; the deadline for comment on this project is February 13. Email comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, with a subject line of “Comments on the EIS for the NPD closure project”.