The Canadian Nuclear Energy Alliance is planning to build a radioactive waste storage facility in Chalk River that is not up to standards of nuclear waste storage.
In 2015, the Canadian National Energy Alliance won a contract to manage the Chalk River Nuclear laboratories, which is a nuclear power plant located in Chalk River. Chalk River is a small town with just over 1,000 residents, and is located 182 kilometers northwest of Ottawa. The town has a nuclear facility called “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” that is located less than 10 kilometres away from the Ottawa River, and there is a proposed construction plan for nuclear waste storage that might lead to environmental damage and could put human health at risk.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is proposing to build a $325-million facility to dispose of large quantities of low- and intermediate-levels of nuclear waste generated by the nearby power plant in Chalk River. The proposed dome-like structure is supposed to contain over 1 million cubic metres of low-and intermediate-levels of radioactive waste. The material is generated and stored on site, and the new facility is meant to provide permanent disposal of the nuclear waste.
While the construction of new facilities is crucial to the safe storage of nuclear waste, several former AECL (Atomic Energy Canada Limited) scientists are condemning the plan to build a nuclear waste facility at the Chalk River site on the Ottawa River, specifically because it would not be prepared to handle the level of radioactive material planned for the site. These scientists say that the proposal is critically flawed and will be a significant threat to the environment and to human health.
One of the main issues is the storage of intermediate-level radioactive waste. If the facility was only planned to hold low-level radioactive waste, there wouldn’t be a conflict because low-level radioactive waste is not dangerous. Intermediate level waste however, can be. Several scientists state that the permanent storage of intermediate-level waste should be conducted in vaults built deep under impermeable rock. CNL plans to store this radioactive waste above ground, where it can possibly contaminate the nearby environment, including the Ottawa River.
CNL is assuring concerned professionals that they have conducted extensive research using geotechnical and hydrogeological tests to ensure the location is the safest place to store the waste. The site will mostly contain low-level radioactive waste, while the harmful intermediate-level waste will represent no more than 1% of the total radioactive material.
This is not the first time there has been controversy around this Nuclear facility. The Chalk River facility has experienced 2 nuclear accidents in 1952 and 1958. The first incident occurred when there was a power excursion and the cooling rods couldn’t be lowered into the core. The reactor was seriously damaged and radioactive water had to be dumped close to the Ottawa River. The cleanup was successful and did not lead to any major environmental destruction, or damage to human health. The 1958 incident occurred when some of the fueling rods overheated which then led to the building and surrounding area being contaminated. Just like the 1952 incident the cleanup was a success and no damage was done to the environment or to human health.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that accidents do happen and there is no way of knowing how dangerous the next one will be.