Chalk River radiation concerns

Laura Smith
President Glebe Community Association


The Glebe Community Association (GCA) usually deals with matters in our community and within city boundaries. But issues occasionally come from further away – like two hours up the Ottawa River, at the Chalk River nuclear facility.

The debate over what to do with the thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste generated at Chalk River has been going on for years. According to a 2011 Ottawa Citizen article, Chalk River holds “70 per cent of all radioactive waste ever produced by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. or its predecessor, the National Research Council of Canada.” Most of this waste will last for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the private company that operates the facility, wants to create a mound less than a kilometre from the Ottawa River to dispose of radioactive wastes and to seal the country’s first nuclear reactor in a special grout at nearby Rolphton. Those plans were recently debated by the city’s environmental protection committee. The city’s environment committee considered this proposal earlier this spring.

The GCA passed a motion that opposed the mound and expressed its views in a letter to Mayor Jim Watson. More than 140 other municipalities and organizations have also expressed deep concern about the plans for Chalk River. GCA’s letter stated: “We believe that the Ottawa River is at serious risk of radioactive contamination if the proposals by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories for the Chalk River above-ground mound, less than a kilometre from the river, and Rolphton nuclear site entombment, a mere 100 metres from the river, are allowed to proceed.”

The letter pointed out the International Atomic Energy Agency recommends against entombment as a method of disposing of decommissioned nuclear facilities. Yet that is what the plan calls for.

Our presentation to the environment committee raised other points, including:

  • Concern about the deliberate discharges of radioactive and hazardous chemicals into nearby Perch Lake and from there into Perch Creek and the Ottawa River. While unhealthy bacteria and other pollutants can be filtered out from our water supply, removing radioactive materials would represent a significant challenge.
  • For example, removal of tritium (radioactive hydrogen) from water is very difficult and expensive. There are no plans to remove tritium from the water that leaches out of the Chalk River mound.
  • Perch Lake is already contaminated with tritium at levels over 2,000 times the natural background, and leachate from the mound would increase this several fold.

While the motion doesn’t actually oppose the facility, it did call for a ban on the transfer of radioactive waste to Chalk River from other parts of the country.

The GCA is not a scientific body. However, we believe in listening to the scientists who are concerned, just as we listen to the scientists who are focussed on how to survive the current pandemic. The precautionary principle needs to be applied here, just as it has been during the pandemic. We wear masks out of precaution. Questioning the quality of the plans for nuclear waste disposal falls into the same category.

May membership drive

Once again, public health measures require that we carry out our annual membership drive online. Watch for the postcard in your mailbox this month or check out the ad in the Glebe Report for instructions on how to join. Every membership helps us in our work to advocate for a livable, sustainable and diverse urban neighbourhood. Anyone who lives or works in the Glebe, Glebe Annex or Dow’s Lake area can join the GCA. Even though we will again miss the opportunity to connect with you directly this year, you can still contact your area representative or other board members. You can find their names, as well as more information about membership, on our website: glebeca.ca.

We are also starting to think about the GCA board for 2021-2022, and there are some vacancies to fill. If you are interested in joining the board or would like to learn more, please contact one of our vice presidents, June Creelman (vp@glebeca.ca).

You can also tune into our monthly board meetings. They take place the fourth Tuesday of each month. The next meeting will be on May 25 at 7 p.m. If you’d like to attend, please contact Sheryl, the board secretary (secretary@glebeca.ca) and she’ll send you the Zoom information.

Great Glebe Garage Sale

The 2021 in-person edition of the Great Glebe Garage Sale has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are currently working on the details of a virtual garage sale this spring as a way to support the Ottawa Food Bank and to promote the environmental benefits of the garage sale while respecting current public health restrictions. More details are elsewhere in this issue and will be soon available on our website and social media. Stay tuned!

Glebe residents have been donating garage sale proceeds to the food bank since 1986. Please consider donating to the Ottawa Food Bank through their website (ottawafoodbank.ca/) to help make up the sale shortfall. We also hope everyone can find ways to support our local Glebe businesses that are struggling at this difficult time.

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