Ottawa committee concerned, but not opposed, to proposed nuclear waste facility in Chalk River

A sign welcomes visitors at the entrance to the Chalk River Laboratories Chalk River, Ont., on Monday, July 9, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A proposed radioactive waste landfill at the Chalk River Nuclear Facility has many in Ottawa concerned, especially about how it may affect our drinking water.

More than 30 delegations lined up on an Ottawa city hall Zoom call to voice concerns or support for the project.

The city’s environment committee is not opposing the project, but is calling for a number of safeguards instead.

The Ottawa River is a source for drinking water to many communities, including Ottawa.

“This important watershed for all of eastern Canada,” says Eva Schacherl, who spoke as one of the delegates before the committee meeting Tuesday.

“The Ottawa River is this amazing part of our life here in Ottawa. It’s our drinking water, it waters our crops; we use it for everything, including recreation, tourism and industry.”

The proposed nuclear waste landfill at the Chalk River Nuclear Facility would take up about 16 hectares, approximately the size of 70 NHL rinks.

“It’s not good enough to leave that legacy for future generations,” says Schacherl.

The proposed project by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories would bury radioactive waste in a landfill mound about 1.2 kilometres from the Ottawa River.

“I’m a water lover. I swim in it, drink it like everyone else. The river is very important to me,” says Ottawa Councillor Theresa Kavanagh, who says this project could threaten the Ottawa River and the quality of our drinking water.

“The idea that anything could compromise it is devastating. This is something that has to be looked at very thoroughly and I appreciate that we’re taking it, as a city, seriously, being that this is our major source of water.”

Meggan Vickerd of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories says the surface facility meets all guidelines, and has safety features in place. 

“The main feature of the proposed facility will be an engineered containment mound that has passive safety features. The natural and synthetic barriers are designed to work together to isolate waste materials from the environment for more than 550 years.” 

Vickerd added that the near surface facility would only hold low-level waste.

“The concentrations that remain are quite low and would not result in an unacceptable dose to members of the public.”

Chalk River and its laboratories was built nearly 70 years ago, and is known as the nuclear birthplace of Canada. This proposed project would offer a long-term solution for the waste created.

“That’s the design is to commensurate with the hazardous lifetime of the waste, and is a permanent solution to reducing environmental risk,” said Vickerd.

The motion will next go before full city council in April.

-From CTV"s Peter Szperling