Nuclear waste storage at Chalk River: “Safe” until year 2400?

0
38

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown has been an outspoken defender of the Ottawa River watershed for thirteen years and counting. So it’s no
surprise that she’s deeply concerned about Chalk River’s Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ proposed nuclear waste storage site.

Our Environment by Katharine Fletcher

Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown has been an outspoken defender of the Ottawa River watershed for thirteen years and counting. So it’s no
surprise that she’s deeply concerned about Chalk River’s Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ proposed nuclear waste storage site.
She addresses the issue on her Ottawa Riverkeeper blogsite (http://bit.ly/2oR0VEz):
“For 90 years, there has been nuclear activity on the shores of the Ottawa River, with no solutions in place for permanently safeguarding the radioactive waste that is continuously generated at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in Chalk River.
“That may soon change. Ottawa Riverkeeper has received intervenor funding to take part in the federal environmental assessment related to CNL’s proposal to create a permanent ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’ for nuclear waste.”
It’s about time CNL takes responsibility for the safekeeping of nuclear waste. It’s beyond time that such waste be contained and contaminated grounds stabilized. But… is this a safe site? Perhaps like you, I’m relieved Ottawa Riverkeeper has hired two independent assessors.
Environmental Impact Assessment
I encourage you to read the Environmental Impact Assessment for the
development of the Chalk River site, released March 17 (http://bit.ly/2nLtlxS).
In it, I was struck how the plans for it extend into year 2400. While meeting with Brown on April 5, I shared my thoughts regarding radionuclides (highly toxic nuclear waste) escaping from the supposedly safe storage site during these several hundred years. Is she concerned, I asked?
Shared concerns
Unsurprisingly, I discovered that my relatively informed layperson’s concerns reflect hers.
Here are Brown’s five major issues:
1.   Contamination of Perch Creek and the Ottawa River;
2. Longevity of the geomembrane: what if it punctures? Leachate will go into Perch Creek and the Ottawa River;
3. Abandonment and long-term monitoring of the mound (container);
4. Bringing waste from other sites; and
5. Seismic activity (our region is in a significant earthquake zone, meaning fissures occur).
Ten things document
In fact, these concerns de facto merely scratch the surface of major issues related to the permanent, “safe” storage of nuclear waste. The Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCRCA) maintain a website (http://bit.ly/2p9Gmmd) at which you’ll find “Ten things Canadians need to know about the Chalk River ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’”. The Pontiac region’s Old
Fort William Cottagers’ Association assisted CCRCA in developing it.
Read it. Then? Get engaged by sending your concerns and questions concerning the Environmental Impact Statement by May 17, 1017.
Further reflections
The megadump for nuclear radioactive waste “would stand seven stories high and cover an area the size of 70 NHL hockey rinks.” It’ll be the world’s largest and “eventually contain one million cubic metres of radioactive waste.”
Who is the dump proponent? A consortium of multi-national companies. The CCRCA website explains, “In 2015 the Harper government turned the operation and management of CNL over to a consortium of for-profit multi-national corporations based in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada (although the Chalk River site and its wastes remain under public ownership).”
I can’t think of any multi-national corporations let alone government organizations who can plan for or guarantee the safety of a project whose lifetime is 383 years and counting. Can you?
Brown also confirmed what the CCRCA claims about the Harper government’s change to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act where, in 2012 the Conservative government “eliminated independent panel reviews for nuclear projects and excluded the Minister of Environment from the decision-making process.”
I’m concerned, frankly, that there’s no governmental body – let alone Catherine McKenna, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change – engaged in this process.
Short window for public to comment
CNL’s website declares their proposal is “A proven, environmentally sound, safe solution, designed to address CNL’s nuclear legacy liabilities.”
On their site, (http://bit.ly/2nSLoTM) you will find information on seven upcoming public meetings (look at the bottom right). Or send your views to: communications@cnl.ca; or call for information: 1–800-364-6989.

Katharine Fletcher
is a freelance writer, columnist, author and visual artist.
Contact her
atfletcher.katharine@gmail.com