Nuclear Waste Concerns Indigenous Communities and Ottawa City Hall

There is an ongoing proposal by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) to create a disposal facility for low level solid radioactive waste at Chalk River Laboratories (CRL); located only 1km from the Ottawa river, and 190km north west of Ottawa. This proposal has been going through the federal regulatory process for the past five years to determine if it will go ahead, meanwhile the environmental impact assessment and regulatory processes began in 2016.

The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) at Chalk River, 190km up river from Ottawa. Photo by Padraic Ryan/Wikimedia Commons.

The federal authorities have requested CNL to provide further content on engagement with Indigenous communities who have spoken out against this development, particularly Grand Chief Madahbee of the Anishnabek Nation. Ottawa City Hall recently passed a motion on the facility urging CNL and federal regulations to stop import of waste from other provinces and to increase safeguards to protect the river.

The known social and environmental impacts of the proposed nuclear waste facility at Chalk River are contested. The proponents argue that the facility will bring together on-site waste securing it in one location, reducing potential environmental impact and risk to the river. The proposal notes that 95% of the facility’s waste is already on site, with 5% coming from other federal nuclear research sites.

On the contrary, many have raised concerns about the potential risk of radioactive contamination to the Ottawa River, the source of drinking water for over 1 million people (not including those further downstream on the Saint Lawrence River).  Concerns have been raised by numerous Indigenous and community groups including but not limited to individual citizens, 14 former employees of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL, the crown corporation responsible for decommissioning radioactive waste) and over 100 municipalities in Ontario and Quebec who have passed resolutions opposing the facility. 

The primary concern is the location of the facility.  It is close to the river on a wetland area, in an earthquake zone, and most importantly on traditional ancestral land.  Several Indigenous groups are opposed to radioactive waste on their territory, including the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus, who have issued a joint Declaration in 2017. They state their opposition to the facility and noted the “intimate relationship of the land and waters” and the “need to protect the lands, waters and all living things for future generations”.

Councillor Kavanagh and others also had concerns regarding the facility’s landfill type design and its production of effluent.  She states the latter has high levels of radionuclides and up to 360,000 Becquerels (measurement of radioactivity) per litre of tritium - a form of radioactive hydrogen that gets into water molecules and can not be removed by treatment.

On March 30, 2021 City Hall’s environment committee discussed the proposed facility during an eight-hour long meeting. The meeting contained over 30 contributions. These included presentations from CNL, AECL, city officials, and a range of public delegates and community groups. While the Committee did not oppose the facility, it passed a motion that urges CNL and its federal regulator to do more to protect the Ottawa River, and not to accept nuclear waste from outside of Ontario. It also referred to safeguards to protect the river during the site demolition and transfer of waste, and measures to reduce precipitation from entering the facility. The motion also requested timely access to ongoing environmental monitoring data from the site and a commitment to prompt notification of spill release events to the City of Ottawa.

At Horizon Ottawa, we stand strongly alongside the Iroquois and the Anishinabek Nation in that the facility would greatly disrupt the cleanliness of the land, the water, and the relations we have with nature. Moreover, the environmental and health impacts that would be felt by community members near to this site must be taken seriously, and the only way to do that is to act in solidarity with those who will see the impacts of the Chalk River Nuclear Waste facility - the development must be stopped.



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