Northwatch Final Submission to the

Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmnetal Assessment Review Panel

April 1997

Since the federal review of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's "concept" for nuclear fuel waste management and disposal commenced - indeed, since before the review panel's appointment - Northwatch has been in profound disagreement with the very notion of burying nuclear waste in the Canadian Shield. This view was based on not just a practical understanding of the nature of nuclear waste and that the rock of the Canadian Shield is an inappropriate and ineffective media for its long term containment, but also on a very negative experience of AECL had by many within Northwatch's membership, dating back to AECL's initial siting forays into northern Ontario in the late '70's and early '80's.

Eight years of the review process, thousands of pages of documents filed by AECL and Ontario Hydro, and thirteen months in the hearing room have had a solidifying effect on Northwatch's opposition to AECL's proposal to move highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste to some facility deep below the surface of the Canadian Shield: we are confirmed in our view that AECL holds the public in profound disrespect; we are supported in our technical and scientific criticisms of the "concept"; and we are convinced that only by thwarting sound science, fair process and the test of public acceptance could AECL proceed to siting, let alone implementation.

National or Not: The Provinces' Involvement

The Environmental Impact Statement, the Panel's terms of reference, and numerous statements throughout the review describe the AECL concept as one of national proportions. The EIS opens with a discussion of the generation of electricity and use of nuclear power in Canada, discusses means by which "Canada could safely dispose of its nuclear fuel waste', and describes transportation routes from New Brunswick and Quebec and cooperation among the provinces in case of an emergency. Similarly, the Panel's Terms of Reference direct a review of a "concept of geological disposal of nuclear fuel wastes in Canada"; the Panel itself has members from the five "nuclear provinces" of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, and review hearings were held in each of those provinces. However, this "national" depiction is inconsistent - if not in direct conflict - with the statements and actions of the provinces themselves.

In the case of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick, each of these provinces have provided indications or statements (indeed, some of them quite strong) that depict something quite different than a national approach or program. In the case of Saskatchewan, the Government's involvement has been limited to two items of correspondence: the first raising a number of concerns, including a failure to examine alternatives, and identifying information deficiencies in the EIS(1); the second making comment on AECL's "additional information"(2). In the latter, Mr. Kramer states that "provincial government policy does not support the location of such a facility in Saskatchewan". In the case of Manitoba, the "High Level Radioactive Waste Act"(3) disallows any siting of a nuclear waste repository in the province, the province does not generate electricty using nuclear power, and the Province did not participate in the review hearings. The Government of Quebec had advised the federal government in the 1980's that it did not intend to participate in the AECL concept review, and that it would not accept a repository either on its territories or in the proximity of its borders(4); it has not participated in the federal review. New Brunswick has not been a participant in any of the several stages of the public review, and did not make a presentation or even appear to attend the Phase III hearing in St.John(5)

Ontario, despite the fact that the review claims its origins in two joint Canada-Ontario agreements, could be described as only marginally more involved than the other four provinces. Given the instructions of the joint statements of 1978 and 1981, and the Letter of Reference for this review, Ontario's absence from the review process is perhaps particularly notable:

"The Government of Ontario has insisted that it be consulted at each step and that its prior approval be obtained for all activities leading to a site in Ontario.

"We want to avoid past unfortunate experiences such as occurred in Madoc and Ignace when AECL did not advise properly, or consult with, the communities in advance of launching its program"(6); and

"It is important to have Ontario's full cooperation at all stages in the review. ... The Panel should ensure, to the extent possible, that the principles of Ontario's environmental process are accommodated."(7)

Yet Ontario has also been absent from this review process. There have been no submissions, no presentations, and no presence in the hearing room through these last thirteen months. In fact, the position of record for the Province of Ontario is as stated by the Minister of the Environment and Energy in a letter of February 14, 1995: "...I want to make clear that the federal review is not a joint federal/provincial initiative. Ontario has only held observer status rather than full involvement in the process as was originally envisioned in 1981.We share your concerns about the limitations of the federal environmental assessment process..."(8)

In terms of the "nationalness" of any repository resulting from an approval of AECL's disposal concept, not even Ontario concurs with the "national" outcome being sought by AECL:

"The Government of Ontario has made no commitment to waste from other provinces being deposited in Ontario..."(9)

Key Messages Heard Throughout the Review

The review process included a number of distinct steps or phases, and from each a number of key messages emerged. While only a careful review of the full record would provide the necessary substance of these concerns, the following table(10) identifies key concerns raised; for the most part, they remain unresolved:
Scoping Terms of Reference are too narrow; AECL and "concept" have negative history with general public; review must be rigorous
EIS Review EIS does not meet Panel Guidelines; Deficiency Statement should be issued; information does not provide adequate basis for review
Phase I

of Hearing

No safe solution; no urgency, except political, for "permanent disposal"; responsible approach requires monitoring and information; little consensus between general public and nuclear industries; discussion of nuclear waste management cannot be separated from question of continued production, ie. reduction at source; ethics, values and world views shape response to the question of acceptability, and cannot be imposed; Aboriginal authority on basis of treaty and land rights; immense time scale; inadequacy of EIS and AECL research; siting processes to date have been divisive and unsuccessful; transportation concerns will be high and response to those concerns is undeveloped; implementing or future management body must be independent and have greater credibility than AECL or OH
Phase II 

of Hearing

SRG found that AECL's reference case too narrow, conceptual framework for case model was flawed, choice of model inputs unsatisfactory, uncertainty analysis unconvincing, unjustified assumptions, lack of reconciliation of socio-economic and technical factors; no "exclusion" criteria; concept lacks definition; monitoring boreholes would impair system "safety"; no criteria for retrieval of waste due to system failure or for sealing or permanent closure of the vault; integrity and structure of bundle after decades in storage uncertain; cracking on a horizonal plane around the vault is unaddressed concern; permeability not assessed as a system; Excavation Damage Zone (EDZ) problematic as transport route; potential for gross collapse of the vault; several new AECL reports, none have been peer reviewed; no assessment of intentional human intrusion; depth (500-1000m) not fundamental to concept; no identified biomarkers; not current on dose conversion factors; geosphere and biosphere interface not established; relied on linear analysis; large volumes of new information without sufficient time for review; site characterization inadequate, particularly in contrast to other international programs
Phase IIb

of Hearing

approval only if panel is convinced of safety and acceptability, based on a complete concept and considering effects which may be caused by the proposal; previous EARPGO panels have rejected proposals because of unacceptable or uncertain impacts, or finished the review by identifying that more information is needed; SRG found AECL's post-closure assessment unreliable, fundamental short-comings in AECL methodology, no documentation of presence of low-permeability rocks, and concept acceptability was not demonstrated; reliability of the proposed copper canisters or the radionuclide transport assumptions not demonstrated; inadequate data sets, lack of validation of models, and insufficient evidence to support key assumptions; SRG exceeded mandate and conflicted with TofR and Joint Statements of '78 and '81 by recommending going to siting to investigate concept acceptability; copper case study done by AECL differs significantly from Swedish work on which they claim reliance
Phase III

of Hearing

phase out nuclear power and so waste production; support for storage at site until a solution could be found; replace AECL as the responsible agency; nuclear waste is as poison which AECL must find a way to neutralize it, not bury it; public had great difficulty in getting questions answered directly; thermal footprint not addressed; problems with past siting processes and with AECL; role of military in nuclear development; OH did not use full-scale model, relied on U.S. statistics, based safety test on public opinion poll; no concept verification; psychological effects of possibility of nuclear accidents; power differentials in review process; social inclination to bury danger; management of public concern by nuclear industries; communities are unwilling to be "investigated" or sited for repository; international consensus does not exist; nuclear waste health and environmental concerns; poorer communities more vulnerable; First Nations' reject concept and its siting or transport on First Nation territory 

The Federal Role: Where Was Environment Canada?

Early in the review process, Environment Canada outlined an important role for that department(11) throughout the entire review process. The described role went far beyond commenting on the adequacy of the EIS (the comments provided by Environment Canada were thorough and well prepared) and included providing experts at public hearings and advocating protection of the environment, neither of which were done. Although at least one member of one of Environment Canada's external advisory teams did participate extensively(12) in another capacity, Environment Canada was clearly and regrettably absent, and its role thus left unfulfilled.

The Questions of Safety and Acceptability

The assessment of the "concept" as presented by AECL and its safety and acceptability can be approached in a number of different ways: on the adequacy and soundness of the information provided by AECL; by the critique of the technical and scientific advisors to the Panel; and by the views and information provided by others throughout the review process, including the expert testimony presented by Northwatch and other review participants and the critiques provided by the participants themselves. Singly or in synthesis, the conclusion of the various assessment approaches is the same: the AECL "concept" is neither demonstrated to be safe nor shown to be acceptable. It should be noted that, far from a not-in-my-backyard approach, public represenations consistently and categorically stated that the AECL concept is not acceptable anywhere. First Nations could not have been clearer: no "disposal" on their lands, no transporation through their territories, and no authority exists, other than that of the First Nations, to allow otherwise.


Clearly, the proponent has not made a case for safety or for acceptabilty of the concept, and so on reasonable grounds one should think it straightforward enough: the Panel settles on the third option for decision identified by the federal goverment in 1981, and rejects the proposal(13), based on the evidence before it. However, the Panel has been given two strong messages by the proponent in an effort, presumably, to disuade them from such an obvious course. The proponent has argued approval of the basis of urgency, ie. because there is waste accumulating on the surface, and by attempting to rationalize the inadequaies of the work to date by assigning all that is unproven to a future date, ie. after approval.

On the first point: Ontario Hydro has argued the safety of their storage systems for an estimated 100 years(14); while production continues, an estimated 90% of all radioactivity will remain on surface(15); and the federal government's own postion clearly rejects the notion of urgency as a basis for a decision(16). On the second point: the letter of referral for this federal review states that "it was agreed then that no site selection for a permanent disposal facility would be started until the concept had undergone a regulatory and public review and had been accepted as safe, secure and desirable by both governments";(17) the review panel's terms of reference reiterate this same position(18); even AECL, in each of their presentations throughout the Phase III hearings, reiterates that there can be "no selection of a site until a concept has been approved"(19)

The Panel has been asked to report to the federal government on the safety and acceptability of the concept; that report must be based on the evidence before them, and on what harm may result from the AECL proposal(20). The Panel must therefore report the failure of AECL to demonstrate safety and acceptability, and the Panel's subsequent rejection of the AECL concept, based on that failure.


1. The AECL "concept" should be rejected; AECL has failed to demonstrate safety and acceptability.

2. An independent body should be established for the purpose of long term management of nuclear waste.

3. Research into alternative medium and long-term options for the management of nuclear waste should be conducted, under direction of an independent body, with participation of utilities and funded by the waste producers and owners.

4. Siting activities (ie. of Ontario Hydro) related to the "disposal" of nuclear fuel waste should be suspended.

5. There should be a full public review of the regulatory framework under with the nuclear industries and the nuclear regulators operate, including but not limited to R-104.

6. There should be a full public review of Canada's energy policy, including the continued use of nuclear power and expenditure of public dollars for nuclear research and development and subsidies to the nuclear industry.

7. There should be a full public review to develop a federal policy on the importation and trans-boundary movement of nuclear waste (including weapons materials).


1. 1. Michael Shaw, Deputy Minister of the Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management Department, 8 August 1995

2. 2. Stuart Kramer, Deputy Minister of the Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management Department, 3 January 1997

3. 3. Transcripts of Phase I hearing in Thunder Bay, April 29; presentation by Ann Lindsay, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba

4. 4. Michel Germain on behalf of Pierre Paradis, Quebec Minister of the Environment, 24 October 1989.

5. 5. Transcript, St. John, New Brunswick; 10 March 1997

6. 6. "Joint Canada-Ontario Agreement on Nuclear Waste Management Announced", Hon Alastair Gillspie, Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, Hon Rueben Baetz, Ontario Ministry of Energy, 5 June 1978

7. 7. Letter of referral from Marcel Masse, Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, to Tom McMillan, Minister of the Environment, September 23 1988

8. 8. Transcripts, 11 March 1995; presentation by Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch

9. 9. "Joint Canada-Ontario Agreement on Nuclear Waste Management Announced", Hon Alastair Gillspie, Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, Hon Rueben Baetz, Ontario Ministry of Energy, 5 June 1978

10. 10. Sources are hearing transcripts; SRG October 1995 and September 1996 reports; written submissions by Rodney Northey, GruppeOkologie, Phil Richardson; 1990 Scoping submissions and transcripts; August 1995 Deficiency Statements; "Participants' Views on Broad Social Issues Related to Nuclear Fuel Waste Management" by Anne Wiles, 22 April 1996; Terms of Reference.

11. 11. "AECL High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Concept - Role of Environment Canada", undated.

12. 12. "AECL High-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Concept - Role of Environment Canada", undated, unnumbered page 13 "Subsurface Advisory Team"; Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel News Release "New Member Appointed to the Panel Reviewing the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept", 29 May 1996

13. 13. The Joint Canada-Ontario Statement of 1981 identifies three options for decision (acceptance, conditional acceptance, rejection)

14. 14. Transcript, 11 February 1997

15. 15. Exhibit A: Radioactivity at the Surface Unburied Assuming an Ongoing Nuclear Program and 100% Efficient Geological Disposal"; Dr. Gordon Edwards, 24 March 1997

16. 16. The Joint Canada-Ontario Statement of 1981 states that "Pending decisions on the long-term disposal method, spent fuel wastes will continue to be stored safely at reactor sites, so there is no urgent requirement for early establishment of an operating disposal facility"; page 5

17. 17. Letter of referral from Marcel Masse, Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, to Tom McMillan, Minister of the Environment, September 23 1988

18. 18. Terms of Reference for the NFWMDC Environmental Assessment Panel, page 2

19. 19. AECL Phase III Overhead "Government Directives", overhead #7

20. 20. "Various Issues Associated with the Criteria and Guidelines for Performance Assessment", Rodney Northey, 18 November 1996