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Proposed liquid nuclear waste shipments from Ontario postponed

The Council of Canadians is opposed to the planned shipments of liquid nuclear waste from the Chalk River nuclear facility 180 kilometres north-west of Ottawa to the Savannah River nuclear waste processing site in South Carolina.

The liquid nuclear waste is a mixture of bomb-grade uranium and highly radioactive fission products dissolved in nitric acid. While shipments of solid nuclear waste have taken place in the past (and represent a serious threat), this is the first time liquid nuclear waste would be shipped.

In terms of context, then-prime minister Stephen Harper committed in 2012 to returning highly-enriched uranium inventories to the US to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. In February 2013, the Ottawa Citizen reported, “Federal law prohibits officials from releasing details of the plans.”

In March 2013, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote both the Canadian and US government to state, “The shipment of [liquid nuclear waste] would need to pass through Eastern Ontario, cross international waters, enter numerous indigenous territories and cut through communities in six US states.”

She highlighted, “The impacts of any release of radioactive materials would be catastrophic, especially if it resulted in the contamination of our waterways.”

Now WRDW-TV reports shipments of the liquid nuclear waste have been postponed.

It reports, “Officials with the Savannah River Site said several environmental groups filed a lawsuit in August 2016 seeking a full Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed waste shipments from Ontario to [South Carolina]. The [US Department of Energy] did not prepare the statement and only prepared a supplement analysis that was conducted without public input.” Now two US senators are calling on the Department of Energy to prepare an environmental impact statement before any shipments take place.

Alternatives that have been proposed to transporting the liquid waste include a process to solidify the waste on-site at Chalk River and that the highly-enriched uranium be down-blended to low-enriched uranium (so that it is no longer weapons-grade material) thus removing the need for it to be transported off-site

The Council of Canadians supports the ongoing efforts of the Quebec-based Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, the Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear and all other allies to stop these shipments and protect waterways.