Canada has a dirty, big nuclear secret at Chalk River

Canada has a dirty, big nuclear secret at Chalk River

Postby Oscar » Fri Apr 27, 2018 10:00 am

Canada has a dirty, big nuclear secret at Chalk River

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Eva Schacherl Eva Schacherl is the former executive director of the Canadian Environmental Network. Last Updated: April 23, 2018 6:30 AM EDT

What makes Canada stand out in the world is unlimited natural beauty: miles of unspoiled forests, lakes, rivers, prairies and tundra. We are a green, clean country. Or so we like to think.

So it may come as a surprise that we plan to put 40 per cent of Canada’s radioactive waste in a gigantic dump at Chalk River, next to the Ottawa River. The dump will hold “low-level” waste that contains radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium, strontium, iodine and tritium (among others).

Rain and melting snow will leach radioactive elements from the dump. Every year, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories estimates an average of 6.5 million litres of this water will be treated and discharged into a nearby wetland and thence the Ottawa River.

An unforeseen event – earthquake, deluge or explosion – could contaminate the Ottawa River and its riverbed from Chalk River to Montreal.

Across Canada, there are 2,400,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste, a volume that could hold 32 million Canadians, or 1,000 Olympic swimming pools.

The wastes at Chalk River are the size of the Titanic – but will grow to one million cubic metres by decommissioning more than 100 buildings and bringing in radioactive waste from Manitoba and elsewhere over the next 50 years.

The proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility will be a super-sized landfill: seven stories high and the size of 70 NHL hockey rinks. Nothing like it exists in Canada, and it will be the largest of its kind in the world. The mound would hold five times as much radioactive waste as a controversial deep geologic repository on Lake Huron.

The proposal has been roundly criticized by environmental groups and even retired Atomic Energy of Canada Limited scientists. Critics say it’s the wrong plan at the wrong site – surrounded by water, sitting on fractured bedrock, exposed to rain and snow for 50 years until it’s capped. They say any permanent home for radioactive waste should be in vaults deep underground in impermeable rock.

“The wastes at Chalk River are the size of the Titanic.​


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