Tune-up the nuclear waste plan? Are they crazy?

Posted 12.29.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | Canadian Nuclear Laboratories at Chalk River have announced an up-dated environmental impact statement (EIS) for their project to bury 15-football fields of radioactive waste just upstream from most of us on the Ottawa River. It is easy to get off-track with the technical details of the project, and I urge readers to get those details for themselves from the CNL website.

More than details: First, this project is massive; the cost to Canadian taxpayers is astronomical (as I suppose it must be in matters as dangerous as radioactivity); the timespans are inconceivable, really, with some materials retaining their radioactivity into the hundreds of thousands of years. Merely the physical amounts are staggering -- to put all this in one place, and the preparations, consultations, studies, tests and hearings involves hundreds of person-hours and big budgets.

Add to these considerations that this is not "garbage" -- it is radioactivity. This is the stuff that can burn people alive, slowly, infiltrate water and air supplies, stimulate genetic mutations, and which has been at the heart of humanity's greatest accidents: Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island, plus Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

No wonder it is so difficult to sort this out.

And all is not negative. Nuclear medicine is life-saving; nuclear generation of electricity offers low-cost power (apart from the nuclear waste). No one proposes to do away with nuclear energy, medicine, nor to stop testing, and certainly no one can just forget nuclear waste and walk away. Developing storage technology is essential, and our region certainly needs the jobs. The world has radioactive dumps scattered everywhere, some with minimal protections.

This is an opinion column. I live within Chalk River's disaster radius; my children and grandchildren, too -- as do thousands of Canadians. The issue is not a technical detail here and a repair-job there, the central fact is that this consortium is proposing to store mega amounts of toxic materials in our back yard.

I use that term intentionally: our back yard. Yes, NIMBY! We don't want the stuff left next to us, no matter all the assurances in the world. It must be stored -- but, first of everything, this must be done in scientifically safe geological and geographical conditions.

The proponents will tell us this material cannot be moved safely -- yet they propose to move this type of material here from other areas -- Manitoba, maybe Quebec -- transport it to Pontiac and the Ottawa Valley's back yard.

The proponents will assure us that they have figured out how to protect us and our environment from this material. If true, why not put the project in downtown Ottawa and use it as an opportunity to explain and promote atomic energy? Or are we being told that there are urban and rural Canadians, and the rural ones seem less important. Rural back yards are OK to commandeer for this project?

Canada has huge geologically-stable regions, with minimal populations, much of it with rail and highway access. Shouldn't we begin by identifying the safest region, and only then begin the technical studies? Aboriginal ownership may prove more important, but transportation dangers cannot be used as an excuse for ignoring this essential start.

The proponents tell us that Chalk River will now only have low-level and short-lived waste, not any hot waste nor toxic Class 1 & 2 materials. But they admit there is no way to guarantee this. Technicians will sample the waste? And what if the sample misses some serious material? Won't heat measurement come too late? And when a hot spot is discovered in the mound -- these cells will be isolated? With a fabric? A dependable list of radionuclides in each shipment is impossible, frankly.

Yes, NIMBY for nuclear waste! If this sounds horribly self-serving, I ask who would be willing to accept nuclear waste in their own back yard? And so, why should our entire region? Canada has plenty of room; our watershed does not.

What can we tell our grandkids when they ask us, " what were you thinking?"


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles 12.29.19