Ottawa environment committee doesn't oppose Chalk River waste facility, but states concerns

The new recommendation calls on CNL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to address concerns about projects at two nuclear facilities in the Ottawa Valley.

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The environment committee isn’t telling council to oppose a new nuclear waste project at the Chalk River research lab near the Ottawa River after endorsing a softer approach on Tuesday.

Coun. Theresa Kavanagh originally wanted council to fight a proposed nuclear waste disposal facility upstream in Chalk River, but she presented a replacement motion to the standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management after city staff said the project could bring better protections for the Ottawa River.

The new recommendation, brought by Kavanagh via committee member Coun. Catherine McKenney and fully endorsed by the committee, calls on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to address the City of Ottawa’s concerns about projects at two nuclear facilities in the Ottawa Valley.

Kavanagh said the most important thing was providing a forum for discussion, which lasted almost eight hours.


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“The fact that we’re paying attention as a city is very important,” Kavanagh said.

CNL, which is run by a private consortium led by SNC-Lavalin, wants to build a “near surface disposal facility” at Chalk River to hold one million cubic metres of low-level solid nuclear waste. Wastewater would be treated on site before being released into the environment. The facility would have a life of 550 years.

The Chalk River research complex is nearly 200 kilometres northwest of the City of Ottawa.

CNL also wants to complete decommissioning of the nuclear demonstration facility in Rolphton, Ont., along the Ottawa River northwest of Chalk River, by filling and sealing the underground infrastructure with special grout.

The projects are subjects of separate federal environmental assessments. Several local governments, including Gatineau and Montreal, and First Nations have stated their opposition to the proposals.

Most of the concern raised in Ottawa is related to the proposed Chalk River waste facility, which would be 1.1 kilometres from the Ottawa River.


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The city uses the Ottawa River for drinking water.

Ian Douglas, a city water quality engineer, told the committee CNL’s waste plan for Chalk River — what he called a “sound proposal from an engineering point of view” — would improve protection for the Ottawa River compared to the unprotected manner waste is stored there today.

Still, city staff want CNL to ensure the project demonstrates a lower risk to the Ottawa River. They are also concerned about waste being imported to the facility from other Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) sites and protecting the river during demolition and waste transfers at the Chalk River complex. Staff want CNL to issue prompt notification to the city of any spills into the river, hold regular tests of the notification system and transmit timely data on the Ottawa River.

Other than citing other technical questions for CNL, staff didn’t raise major concerns about the projects at Chalk River and Rolphton.

Most of the roughly 30 members of the public who addressed the committee thought otherwise.


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Ole Hendrickson, a researcher with the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, said he believes the proposed waste mound at Chalk River would present higher risks, especially since it would be subjected to wind and precipitation.

Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition of Nuclear Responsibility said, “Having waste beside the river is just asking for trouble.”

On the other hand, David Thompson, the former mayor of Deep River, told the committee CNL’s proposal is the best option to handle the nuclear waste. He said he trusts that Chalk River experts would design a safe project.

Shannon Quinn, vice-president of science, technology and commercial oversight for AECL, the federal Crown corporation that contracts CNL to manage its sites, defended the waste facility proposal for Chalk River as a “science-based solution.”

AECL is paying an estimated $230 million for the proposed nuclear waste facility at Chalk River.

The motion endorsed by the committee calls on CNL and the safety commission to take action on the concerns, plus prevent precipitation from entering the Chalk River waste facility. The motion calls for the federal government to undertake a regional assessment of radioactive disposal projects in the Ottawa Valley.


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Council will consider the committee’s recommendations on April 14.

As for the current state of the city’s drinking water, Douglas outlined the monitoring and tests done at the two municipal treatment plants and noted everything is done according to Health Canada protocol.

Lab-tested tritium levels in the water have been found to be 2-3 becquerel-per-litre (or Bq/L, a measure of radioactivity) and regulations call for a maximum level of 7,000 Bq/L, Douglas said.

The committee wants an update on radioactivity as part of the annual drinking water report received by council.


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