Ontario's Chalk River Plant: nuke waste risk, with no gain

Posted 5.11.17

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | It is strange, indeed, if any good can come from the flooding we've experienced almost everywhere in our region. There will be many individual stories of bravery and perseverance, certainly, but I am marvelling at the coincidence of these floods and a great decision that is facing us -- the decision on the proposal for a massive nuclear waste dump in Chalk River, upstream from much of Ontario and also West Quebec. This is our decision, not only that of a "panel of experts."

Although the flooding itself has not reached the area where the membrane-covered depot will be located, it is the fact of this flooding that gives us pause in any thought that this project could be safe -- for us.

If unexpected floodwaters can devastate so many neighbourhoods despite our great system of dams along the Ottawa River, should we not be very cautious with such a project? What good are all the assurances of technicians and engineers that their fail-safe proposals and good intentions will resist any possible catastrophe?

Given the magnitude of the disaster if this dump were to by washed into the Ottawa River system, why would we tempt Fate? Add news from Washington state last week of a massive collapse there of a "secure" tunnel storing nuclear waste.

Water is one of several hazards -- we feel earth tremours often, who can say there will never be more than a tremour? The same technicians who tell us the watershed is under control? Those who tell us an out-of-control forest fire is impossible?

Or security experts who assure us that this deposit of toxic waste hanging over Ottawa's geographic head will never be a target of terrorists? A home-made bomb could put toxic dust into our skies, so no one in the region is safe, no matter how far from the water.

And, last but the most important point, who is to prevent changes in the what wastes are stored there? Right now we are "assured" that the wastes are low to medium grade toxicity. There will be no spent fuel rods, for example. No reactor wastes stored there. But rules are never changed? If a disaster sends the government urgently seeking a place to store radioactive debris -- no one will "modify" the rules?

As important as it is to keep the Precautionary Principle in our minds, around such projects, we mustn't fall victims to hysteria either. There are no guarantees the acceptance rules will change. There is no reason to suspect that engineers are likely to pull a fast one, especially when any blow-back might affect them personally.

This spring's flooding will go down in the records, and that means it should not be forgotten as a reminder of the power and unpredictability of Nature. We must keep the Precautionary Principle foremost. And it must move us to ask all the details.

It must also push us to ask -- to insist on a clear answer -- what do we gain from putting our homes, future and our environment in such danger? What's in it for us?


Copyright © 2017 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/5.17