Serious errors and omissions in case to approve giant nuclear waste mound

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Citizen groups from Ontario and Quebec sent Rumina Velshi, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission a searing critique of the case to approve a giant radioactive landfill on the Ottawa River, prior to its February 22 hearing. Not only is the documentation regarding the Near Surface Disposal Facility proposal so seriously flawed that it cannot possibly provide any reasonable basis for CNSC Commissioners to approve a licence, disposing of long-lived radioactive waste in landfills is prohibited by international safety standards.

Containing a million tonnes of mixed radioactive and hazardous waste, the radioactive dump would be enormous at 60 feet high. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a consortium of multinational corporations, produced studies concluding that the mound would only last a few hundred years, despite its contents remaining dangerously radioactive for thousands.

Key licensing documents have 11 critical flaws, ranging from a failure to provide detailed information about waste going into the dump (required under Nuclear Safety and Control Regulations) to a failure to note serious deficiencies in the siting process of addressing all hazard types and interactions between the new landfill and the surrounding environment.

You couldn’t find a worse site for the dump if you tried: it’s on the side of a hill, virtually surrounded by wetlands, and drains into the Ottawa River a kilometre away. Worse, the water table is mere inches subsurface in that location and the bedrock is highly fractured.

The site of the proposed facility also concerns Ottawa, Gatineau, Montreal, and all downstream communities sourcing drinking water from the Ottawa River. More than 140 municipalities–including three cosmopoles–and the Assembly of First Nations have passed resolutions of concern regarding (or in opposition of) the landfill proposal.

Scientist and researcher Ole Hendrickson, of Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, said there are a number of serious errors in the licensing documents, including a 1000-fold overestimate of radioactivity in nearby uranium ore bodies. “That gross overestimate is used by the proponent and the regulator to make the case that the giant mound would be less radioactive than surrounding rocks after a few hundred years,” Hendrickson said. “In fact, high-radioactivity waste contained in the dump would exceed levels in the surrounding rocks for thousands of years.”

The Quebec-based Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive also contributed findings to
the critique. The group is very concerned about the presence of cobalt-60, which will hold 98% of the initial radioactivity in the dump, before its radioactivity thereafter rapidly declines. Lead shielding is required to handle used cobalt-60 sources, because they emit intense gamma radiation that endangers workers. Physicist Ginette Charbonneau said that only low-level cobalt-60 sources could be accepted in an above-ground mound, noting that the criteria for accepting cobalt-60 in the dump must be tightened. Charbonneau also explained that disposing of long-lived radioactive substances like plutonium would also go against international standards and qualified it as a “senseless proposal.”

Part 2 of public hearings for the radioactive dump will begin May 31. Requests to intervene in the hearings must be submitted in writing to the CNSC by April 11, 2022.

Johanna Echlin