City of Ottawa submits recommendations for nuclear waste disposal site at Chalk River

Ottawa city staff have submitted their recommendations for the proposed nuclear waste facility at Chalk River to ensure the Ottawa River is protected from contamination.

Recommendations centre on protecting the Ottawa River from contamination

A view of the Chalk River Laboratories research facility from the water. (Reno Patry/CBC)

Ottawa city staff have submitted their recommendations for the proposed nuclear waste facility at Chalk River to ensure the Ottawa River is protected from contamination.

In a memo dated March 10, staff outline 10 recommendations to ensure the safety of river, the primary source of drinking water for residents of Ottawa.

"We are supportive of the proposed [near-surface disposal facility] as a means of providing improved environmental  protection and engineered storage for low-level radioactive waste," the memo said.

"At the same time, we need to be mindful of our [residents'] concerns and our limitations to treat/remove some of the radioactive substances that might originate from [Chalk River Laboratories]."

This debate about nuclear waste upstream from Ottawa has been ongoing since 2016. Many have raised alarms about plans to store waste for thousands of years near a water course, especially one that provides drinking water to more than a million people.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. said the new disposal site at Chalk River would handle a large amount — one million cubic metres — of "low level" radioactive waste in solid form, mainly from old buildings from the 1940s through 1960s that need to be taken down.


The near-surface disposal facility (NSDF) proposed by the privately owned Canadian Nuclear Laboratories would be on a ridge one kilometre from the Ottawa River, not far from Chalk River Laboratories in the foreground. (City of Ottawa)

The recommendations centre on protecting the Ottawa River from contamination from nuclear waste and include:

  • A weather shield be a requirement for the facility's operating licence. It would aim to minimize how much snow and rain could fall on the site and become potentially contaminated by nuclear waste.
  • That the operating licence clearly state the criteria for the "discharge of treated wastewater including requirements for sampling, testing, reporting, and regulatory oversight."
  • Radiological test results for the Ottawa River upstream and downstream of the Chalk River site be published or shared in a timely manner (quarterly) with downstream municipalities, for the purposes of data comparison and environmental trending.
  • That spill notification protocols be confirmed with downstream municipalities using the Ottawa River as a  source of drinking water. The notification protocol and contact list should be tested annually.
  • That all future environmental projects include a transparent risk ranking of alternatives with a public commenting period prior to selecting the preferred design option.
  • That measures be taken to immobilize radionuclides and ensure "dry" storage conditions to minimize/eliminate leaching of radionuclides into the near-surface disposal facility wastewater stream.
  • Measures be taken to protect the river during demolition and waste transfer activities.
  • That low-level waste materials containing anthracene, chloroform, chrysene, ethylene dibromide, and fluoranthene be modified to minimize or eliminate leaching into the wastewater treatment plant influent.

The city reaffirmed its position against importing nuclear waste from other sites, noting 95 per cent of the waste for the facility is already on-site.

It also recommended the treated effluent be discharged directly into Perch Lake, which flows to the Ottawa River, rather than the groundwater aquifers because the latter "will only add to the  burden of radionuclides (e.g. tritium) already present in the groundwater."

"Further, a subsurface discharge represents a less controlled release that is more difficult to monitor, and its environmental effect deferred into future decades," the city said.


  • A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Perch Lake as the Perth River.
    Mar 23, 2022 7:00 AM ET