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e-3929 (Natural resources and energy)

Initiated by Suzanne Deon from Deep River, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) at Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) is a safe, responsible, intensely studied, and highly appropriate solution for the remediation of low-level waste;
  • The NSDF project will significantly improve environmental conditions at CRL, reducing risk to the Ottawa River, the local environment and nearby communities;
  • Nuclear energy is an important part of Canada’s clean energy future and commitment to net-zero;
  • Nuclear is the only Canadian energy sector that manages all its waste by-products, accounts for their disposal, and fully funds environmental remediation activities;
  • CNL has conducted extensive Indigenous and public engagement on the NSDF project;
  • Canada has been a global leader in nuclear science and technology for over 75 years;
  • More than one billion medical procedures have been performed using medical isotopes produced at CRL, benefiting people around the world;
  • Canadians expect decisions to be based on the facts and merits of a proposal and not unduly delayed by alarmist opinions, rooted in bias or misinformation; and
  • The Government of Canada is committed to science and evidence-based decision-making.
We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to:
1. Maintain its commitment to science and evidence-based decision-making;
2. Support the results of the NSDF Environmental Assessment, overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s internationally respected and independent regulator;
3. Cause no undue delays to the safe remediation of legacy wastes based on misinformation; and
4. Acknowledge the right to be engaged, and a duty to be informed.

Response by the Minister of Natural Resources

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): THE HONOURABLE JONATHAN WILKINSON, P.C., M.P.

The Government of Canada is committed to the safe, effective, and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste. Protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the environment is the government’s top priority when it comes to nuclear energy and radioactive waste.

Nuclear power provides affordable non-emitting energy to communities as Canadians move toward a net-zero electricity system by 2035. Nuclear power creates jobs and economic opportunities across Canada while displacing fossil fuels domestically and globally.

As part of the Government’s continuous efforts to ensure that radioactive waste management and disposal is carried out in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, and integrated manner, now and for generations to come, in March 2023, the Government released Canada’s modernized Policy for Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning. Four priorities form the basis of Canada’s Policy for Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning: 

  • Protection of health, safety, security of people and the environment, and ensuring nuclear non-proliferation; 
  • Inclusive engagement, openness, and transparency on radioactive waste management and decommissioning matters; 
  • Recognition of Canada’s deep commitment to building partnerships and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples related to the management of radioactive waste and decommissioning, based on the recognition of rights, respect, collaboration and partnership; and, 
  • Global excellence in the fields of radioactive waste management and decommissioning. 

The recently modernized Policy for Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning builds on the views and perspectives we heard from a variety of interested groups and individuals, including Indigenous peoples, interested Canadians, experts, waste producers and owners, and other levels of government. It ensures Canada continues to meet international standards based on the best available science and provides Canadians with confidence in long-term solutions for all of Canada’s radioactive waste. All radioactive waste in Canada is currently safely managed in accordance with international standards at facilities that are licensed by our independent nuclear regulator – the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

The Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) conducted a Performance Audit of Nuclear Waste Management, which included Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the CNSC and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). The CESD Report was tabled in Parliament in fall 2022, and found that NRCan, AECL, and the CNSC did a good job of managing the low and intermediate level radioactive waste that makes up 99.5% of Canada’s radioactive waste output.

AECL is a federal Crown corporation that works to advance Canada’s interests through nuclear science and technology, and environmental protection initiatives. A key element of AECL’s mandate is to address the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste and decommissioning responsibilities, the majority of which are located at the Chalk River Laboratories. 

AECL’s objective is to safely and responsibly address these environmental responsibilities and liabilities which have resulted from legacy activities at AECL sites. These legacy liabilities are the result of decades of significant contributions and advancements in nuclear science which have benefitted Canadians and the world, including the development of the CANDU technology and the production of medical isotopes used in the diagnostic and treatment of cancer and other diseases. AECL is focused on the decontamination and decommissioning of redundant structures and buildings, the remediation of contaminated lands, and the management and disposal of radioactive waste at AECL sites. 

Since 2015, AECL has been delivering its mandate through a government-owned, contractor-operated (GoCo) model, whereby a private-sector organization, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), operates AECL’s sites. AECL has asked CNL to propose long-term radioactive waste disposal solutions and to advance other decommissioning activities to reduce its environmental liabilities. 

One project proposed by CNL to manage AECL’s low-level radioactive waste is the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF).

This facility would enable the remediation of contaminated areas, moving low-level radioactive waste from temporary storage areas and existing areas of contaminated soil to an engineered disposal facility that will contain the waste and contamination long enough for it to naturally decay. The facility would be a mound, built at near-surface level, consisting of disposal cells with a base liner and cover, and systems to collect leachate, detect leaks, and monitor the environment.

The proposed NSDF project at the Chalk River laboratories is undergoing an environmental assessment (EA) pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. The CNSC is the responsible authority and continues its work to thoroughly assess CNL’s proposal.

The CNSC will make its environmental assessment and licensing decisions based on Canadian legislation, regulations, policy, and guidance, and will take into account international standards and guidance documents. The CNSC will only allow the project to proceed if it is safe for Canadians and the environment, both in the short- and long-term. 

In Canada, all decisions in relation to proposed or existing major nuclear projects and activities, including the NSDF proposed by CNL, are made by the Commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal of the CNSC. The Nuclear Safety and Control Act assigns to the Commission the role to regulate the nuclear industry to prevent unreasonable risk to the health and safety of persons and the environment, to ensure protection of national security and the discharge of Canada’s international obligations respecting non-proliferation. The Commission’s evidence-based decisions are made in consideration of all scientific and other relevant information, including Indigenous Knowledge. This information is presented to the Commission by project proponents, CNSC staff, Indigenous Nations and communities and other interested persons and organizations during public proceedings that are open and that welcome and support participation, with opportunities for financial support through the CNSC’s Participant Funding Program. Licensees of major nuclear facilities are also required to develop and implement public information programs, to keep the public informed about their nuclear activities and any potential related impact on public health and the environment. 

Other federal authorities, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, and Natural Resources Canada, as well as the Quebec and Ontario governments, are also participating in and contributing to the environmental assessments based on their expert input and knowledge. The public and Indigenous Nations and communities also have opportunities to participate and input into the process ensuring an open, balanced process that strengthens the quality and credibility of a project’s review. 

With respect to the NSDF, AECL will continue to work with CNL on regular outreach to the public, local communities, as well as Indigenous communities. The CNSC will render its decisions on the NSDF project following a public hearing. The Commission will not allow nuclear projects, including those for the long-term management of radioactive waste, to proceed unless it determines that human health and the environment are protected, and that Indigenous Knowledge is integrated in its decision-making, both now and in the future.

Open for signature
March 29, 2022, at 2:42 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
June 27, 2022, at 2:42 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke)
March 31, 2023 (Petition No. 441-01288)
Government response tabled
May 15, 2023
Photo - Cheryl Gallant
Conservative Caucus