This nuclear waste that could threaten Montreal's drinking water

This nuclear waste that could threaten Montreal’s drinking water

The potential authorization of the construction of a nuclear waste site near the Ottawa River worries the surrounding community, but it could also pose problems for Montreal’s drinking water.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission must determine whether the project is compliant or not. Chalk River Laboratories, a nuclear research facility, wants to build a dump in Deep River, Ontario. The site is located near the river, and therefore very close to Quebec. If approved, the giant landfill will be 18 meters tall and contain one million tonnes of radioactive waste and hazardous waste.

Citizens fear radioactive waste will leak into the water.

Even in small quantities, consuming radioactive products can be extremely dangerous.

“The site, on the side of a hill, is surrounded on three sides by wetlands which empty into the Ottawa River, a kilometer away. The water table is a few centimeters below the surface at this location and the bedrock is very fractured,” warns spokesperson for the Old Fort Wiliam Cabin Owners Association, Johanna Echlin.

You couldn't find a worse site for this dump.

 Johanna Echlin, spokesperson for the Old Fort William Cottage Owners Association< /blockquote>

If the Association’s fears are confirmed, the project could pose a risk to municipalities that draw their drinking water from the Ottawa River. The same risk hangs over those, like Montreal, which pump their drinking water from the river.

Potential danger

Part of the nuclear waste would remain radioactive for thousands of years. The problem is that the landfill in which they would be located could deteriorate in a few hundred years, fears the Rally against radioactive pollution.

A public hearing was held on the subject on 22 February. The Ralliement explained that, according to its analysis, there were eleven errors in the presentation of the project by Chalk River Laboratories.

Among the nuclear waste that would end up in the dump is cobalt-60, a highly radioactive isotope. The substance alone would be responsible for 98% of the site's radioactivity. The substance's gamma radiation is so intense that to contain it, a lead-shielded structure is required.

Given the danger that the substance represents, the Ralliement requests that only sources of cobalt-60 with a low level of radioactivity be stored in the dump. No plutonium should be stored in the dump, it is also asked. In addition, only waste with a low level of radioactivity should be buried.

This is quite simply an insane proposal, which is absolutely not in line with international standards.

Ginette Charbonneau, spokesperson for the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

If the project is approved, the dump would be built in three years, and the waste would be stored for 50 years. A period of 30 years would then be used to cap and then close the dump.

Montreal, Ottawa and Gatineau are among the 140 municipalities that passed a resolution to oppose the project. The Assembly of First Nations has also done so. Public consultations regarding the project should continue on May 31 for a few days. Indigenous communities, municipal representatives and members of the public will come to make presentations.

Necessary and without danger

The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which manages the facilities at Chalk River, persist and sign: the construction of a dump is necessary. Without this facility, they will no longer have the means to manage the volumes of waste they generate. Water contagion is unlikely, it is believed, not least because the site is 50 meters above the Ottawa River.

The technology used to create the dump is supported by the latest scientific advances in landfill engineering, says CNL's waste management executive director Meggan Vickerd. “The cover system will insulate the waste, provide radiation shielding, a barrier against intrusion, and prevent precipitation from coming into contact with the waste,” she explained, during public hearings on February 22.

According to scientific studies presented by CNL, the dump would meet the requirements in terms of radioactivity management for a minimum of 550 years. “Our modeling shows us that in the extremely unlikely event that contamination leaves the facility, it would take approximately seven to 12 years to traverse groundwater to a nearby stream and eventually reach the Ottawa River,” says Vickerd.

CNL has assured that it will ensure the respect of neighboring First Nations in the development of the project.

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