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Local groups oppose plan for nuclear waste site on Ottawa River

Chalk River Laboratories is a nuclear research facility in Deep River, Renfrew County, Ontario, is situated on the Ottawa River near Chalk River, north-west of Ottawa.

The Council of Canadians expresses its solidarity with local groups that are in opposition to a proposed radioactive waste disposal facility on the Ottawa River near the Chalk River nuclear facility.

The facility  would also be upstream from about a million residents in the National Capital River and surrounding communities.

A media release by the local groups notes, “If approved, the 30–hectare ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’ would dispose of up to one million cubic metres of low- and medium-level radioactive waste in a huge mound up to 25 metres high, about 1 kilometre from Ottawa River at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories [near Chalk River]. …A consortium of multinational companies is behind the proposal, currently under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission [CNSC].”

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County says, “The site is not suitable for a dump of any kind given its location beside the Ottawa River – a drinking water source for millions of Canadians. The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories are virtually surrounded by water. The site was an island in the river in recent geological times. Leaks from the dump could contaminate drinking water for homes and cottages, villages, towns and cities downstream.”

The media release notes that the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (OFWCA), which represents residents in Sheenboro and Fort William, two communities in Quebec just south of Chalk River, is encouraging downstream municipalities to pass resolutions against the facility. A previous iteration of this proposal in the 1990s – known as the Deep River Disposal Project – resulted in more than 50 municipalities in Ontario and Quebec passing resolutions against the project.

In April 2012, the Canadian Press reported, “The federal government is eyeing the site of the Chalk River nuclear reactor, 160 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, as a radioactive waste site. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. says 267,000 cubic metres of low- and medium-grade nuclear waste is now stored above-ground in steel containers at the Chalk River site. The amount of radioactive material is expected to grow to 360,000 cubic metres by 2100.”

Given the proposed storage facility could house up to one million cubic metres of nuclear waste, and the amount of waste from the nuclear laboratory is projected to grow to 360,000 cubic metres, concerns are being expressed that the extra storage space could be filled from “waste arising from commercial activities” as a way to generate revenue from “commercial activities”.

An environmental assessment of the project began in May 2016 and is scheduled to be released this March 17.

Once the resulting environmental impact statement is posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) website, the public will have 60 days to comment on it.

In their fact sheet, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area adds, “A decision on project approval is scheduled to take place at a January 2018 CNSC hearing on renewal of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) ‘site licence’. With CNSC approval, construction of the mega-dump could begin as soon as Fall 2018.”

That fact sheet also notes that it is the CNSC that has the sole responsibility for project approval, not the federal cabinet. This is as a result of changes the Harper government made to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in 2012.

We will continue to monitor this situation.