ONGOING CONCERNS OVER CHALK RIVER NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE
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By Cori Marshall
Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) nuclear facilities have been part of the landscape in eastern Ontario for more than 70 years. The CRL history is long, not without incident and is again raising concern amongst the population.
Ginette Charbonneau, physician and spokesperson for Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, explained that there is radioactive waste that dates back to the end of the Second World War when "Chalk River was the hotbed for research to create radioactive substances to produce nuclear bombs."
"There are millions of tons of radioactive waste [...] the problem of isolating it from the biosphere has not yet been solved properly."
"The radiation emitted by [radioactive] waste affects the entire food chain and chromosomes of humans," she said, adding that "air and water [would be] polluted."
Ginette Charbonneau, physician and spokesperson for Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive
When it comes to the potential impacts on waterways and drinking water, the waste on this site could affect "the Ottawa River and the groundwater beneath the Chalk River land," Charbonneau said. To illustrate the larger picture the water that could be impacted makes its way to "Laval and Montréal." Charbonneau underlined that "it is very difficult to measure radioactivity in the water."
Nicole LeBlanc, Communications Officer for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) which runs the Chalk River facility for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), said "modern engineered nuclear waste storage facilities are in place at Chalk River," and that these facilities isolate "waste from the biosphere."
The waste is stored below and above the ground in containment structures. LeBlanc confirmed that the "storage facilities are temporary structures and are not intended as a long-term management solution." She added that the "waste storage and management practices have improved over time."
"As a result of past practices, there are a number of contaminated sites on the Chalk River property. We are currently working to remediate these areas, and provide modern secure storage for the contaminated materials."
LeBlanc said that CNL monitors the site, as well the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission independently monitors the site, and monitoring results to date show "that [radioactive] concentrations are well below levels that would impact human health."
Nicole LeBlanc, Communications Officer for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL)
We asked how the waterways and aquifers were protected from the waste on this site, and LeBlanc responded that "current practices require all radioactive waste to be stored in engineered storage facilities."
LeBlanc underlined some of the remediation work that is to take place, "construction of an engineered cover to prevent leachate generation, and installation of groundwater treatment systems." LeBlanc added that "four groundwater treatment systems have been installed in recent years."
"The proposed Near Surface Disposal facility would allow for the environmental remediation and local, long-term, safe disposal of Low-Level Radioactive Waste currently in temporary storage," she said.
Chalk River Laboratories history dates back to projects related to the atomic bomb during World War Two, its history has not been without incident. Here is a list of some events that have occurred on the site;
- 1952, NRX reactor core suffers partial meltdown. This is the first major reactor incident in history.
- 1958, uranium fuel rods overheated and ruptured in the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor core. One of the rods caught fire while being removed and fell into a containment vessel still on fire.
- 2007, after a safety inspection revealed mandated upgrades had not been performed on the NRU, the reactor is shut down until backup cooling can be installed. This shutdown was significant as it caused a worldwide shortage of radioisotopes.
- 2008, the NRU experienced a leak of heavy water, contained in the water was tritium, a radioactive isotope. The leak was contained.
- 2009, NRU shutdown for a second time due to same leak, only this time the debit was at a greater rate, the shut down would last more than a year.
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