Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
After over a year of side-stepping the dangers of a proposal to create a mega-dump for radioactive materials at Chalk River, along the Ottawa River above the Pontiac, it appears the United Nations itself has intervened. Acting on complaints from five First Nations and about 40 citizen groups, the federal government invited the United Nation’s atomic energy overseer (IAEA) to investigate. A 24-member investigative team wrapped up its survey, September 13.
What makes the UN intervention so striking is that the IAEA, historically, has been seen as promoting atomic energy and sidelining citizen fears of radioactive dangers. Indeed, although the IAEA was polite in criticizing Canada’s lack of a rigorous program to handle and store radioactive waste, the IAEA was clear that the Chalk River storage plans are unacceptable, under international
The full IAEA report has not been made public, but the Agency did release a
communique outlining two major problems with Canada’s radioactive waste handling and storage – and not effectively protecting Canadians from the thousands of years’ worth of radioactivity coming from these wastes.
The UN did not comment on Canada’s decision to privatise nuclear waste management — with multi-billion tax dollars. Citizens were alarmed to learn that the consortium given this boondoggle includes SNC-Lavalin. This engineering firm has faced bribery and corruption charges around the world, so its involvement has not re-assured Canadians that radioactive waste will be well-handled. Prime Minister Harper signed the privatization deal just before he left office after his electoral defeat.
Both Conservative and Liberal Party MPs and ministers have refused to outright defend their constituents, and Canadians in general. Both parties’ responses have been that we ought to “trust the experts” and let them decide on the safety on this very experimental project. Now that the experts have spoken – and if we are to trust them, as both Parties recommend – shouldn’t we be hearing from the candidates how they will suspend this massive experiment in storing radioactive materials – in our backyard.
The project is experimental, but only in the sense that no one has – nor would – try
storing multi-tonnes of radioactive waste (much is contaminated construction waste, but a small percentage falls within the “high” danger rating). Picture this: the dump would be about a kilometre from the Ottawa River, on a marsh that drains directly into the Ottawa; the dump will be the size of six-to-eight football fields, eight stories tall – and all “contained” within an “engineered fabric”, never used before for this purpose.
The contaminated waste will remain hot for over 100,000 years, although the consortium has accepted responsibility only for the first stage of its life. After that,
dealing with the inevitable disaster will be the Canadian taxpayers’ responsibility. Think of the radioactivity spreading (air and water) from Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or Fukushima.
Besides its location near the Ottawa River the site is along an earthquake fault, said to be the third most active in Canada. The Ottawa Valley has also seen multiple tornadoes in recent years – six last year.
The dump site will be profitable to the consortium not only thanks to the federal funding – 1 billion annually – but because it will accept radioactive waste from across Canada (possibly further). How these wastes will safely be transported – through cities and small towns – remains “experimental”.
Clearly no one is objecting to the beneficial uses of nuclear energy (and medicine). It is experimenting with the incredibly long-lived waste products that bothers so many.
So, with the experts speaking clearly, we of the Pontiac should finally hear
our MP and candidates make our safety primary.