NSDF: Assurances given yet concerns remain

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Aidan Belanger

CHALK RIVER – In operation since 1944, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has over 40 legacy facilities still to be decommissioned and demolished. Over 500 Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) employees support the decommissioning mission. They claim they are better prepared to deal with the higher-risk hazards and potential contamination, stating their standard of managing radioactive waste has advanced due to technological advancements that allow for increased analysis.

According to the CNL website, the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) is “key to improving the state of legacy waste that is at the CRL site.” On May 10th, CNL hosted back to back webinars on environmental impact statements and the decommissioning and demolishing of legacy facilities. Currently, waste from shut down nuclear reactor sites and uranium mines are temporarily contained in storage systems that are not sustainable for a long-term waste management solution. When asked how CNL will guarantee it is only low-level waste going into the projected NSDF project, the decommissioning team stated there will be significant surveying and inspections, as they gather data to fully understand what waste is being generated.

“It’s a ‘roaming effort’, ongoing from the day we start the work until the day the last bin is packed up and sent out.” said the decommissioning team during the webinar.

The design of the Chalk River NSDF project will use systems similar to some other facilities, in the hopes of providing a solution for the long-term management of low-level radioactive waste. CNL’s Port Hope and Port Granby “Long-Term Waste Management Facilities” are in line with the NSDF project in terms of design; they both adhere to standard practices for waste containment facilities. The thickness of a 0.75 m compacted clay liner in the base liner of the system meets Ontario’s regulation requirements for non-hazardous waste facilities. This is what is used in Port Granby and Port Hope. The key difference with the proposed NSDF project is the engineered fabric to be used to finish the project, a material that has yet to be put into operation. While tested extensively, this new technology is specific to the NSDF, as the facility is set to use natural and synthetic barriers that will work together in order to isolate the waste from the environment.

CNL has said they perform rigorous radiological and industrial scoping surveys, sampling, analysis and characterization activities, stating they invest significantly in technologies to reduce hazards. Even so, the decommissioning team noted during the webinar: “It’s not always visible what can be below the surface.”

After evaluating the total waste from all of CNL’s waste management facilities, from 2015 to present, they’ve calculated 187,468 kg of asbestos waste, 34,592 kg of hazardous waste, 2,994,545 kg of low-level radioactive waste, 5,444 kg of mixed waste, and 43,994 kg of intermediate level radioactive waste.

The final licensing hearing for the NSDF will begin on May 31st; attendance can be both online or in person in Pembroke, Ontario.