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Nuclear Operator Dumped Thousands of Litres of Contaminated Water into Ottawa River

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the private consortium that operates the Canadian government’s nuclear facilities, dumped thousands of litres of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, PCBs, and other toxins into the Ottawa River three years ago, according to a report released last month by the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council.

The report by geoscientist Wilf Ruland, who was retained to review the proposed decommissioning of the inactive Rolphton demonstration reactor, also known as the NPD, found that the contaminants exceeded Ontario and Canadian surface water quality standards, CBC reports.

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“The regulatory guidelines for surface water quality were vastly exceeded in the contaminated water being dumped untreated into the Ottawa River from the NPD facility in 2015,” Ruland wrote. The releases “appear to have been ongoing for decades and [continue] to the present day.”

Meggan Vickerd, CNL’s decommissioning manager for the Rolphton reactor, noted that the releases were 10,000 times below the dose limits administered by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. But Ole Hendrickson, a scientist and researcher for Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, pointed out Ontario’s limit for tritium in drinking water greatly exceeds limits in other jurisdictions, and is thousands of times higher than natural levels,” CBC notes. “Aquatic organisms are being exposed to very high concentrations of toxic substances, and there’s nothing to stop boaters from drawing and filtering river water near the discharge point for drinking,” Hendrickson warned.

“They release it at a rate so that they will always be below the drinking water quality standards, which in Canada are really high for tritium,” agreed Ottawa Riverkeeper Meredith Brown. “They’re making really sure to meet their regulatory obligations based on release limits, based on diluting it in the Ottawa River,” but “meeting the regulations is not the same as environmental impact.”

CBC notes that the Rolphton reactor, the first in Canada to produce electricity in 1962, was shut down in 1987 and is now two years into the planning process to be decommissioned.

“Environmentalists, Indigenous groups, and scientists have been reacting to that initial plan to entomb the nuclear waste, and worry about future contamination of the river,” writes reporter Julie Ireton. “Hendrickson said entombment is only supposed to be used in emergencies according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and doing so at Rolphton will set a bad precedent.