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Cannings: Nuclear waste regulations put Canadians at risk

Richard Cannings is in his second term as MP for the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) should not approve a suite of regulatory documents on radioactive waste at its meeting June 18, 2020 and instead live up to the Liberal government’s commitment to openness and transparency for regulatory development.

Some of these regulations developed by commission staff are at best vague guidelines that leave nuclear waste policy decisions in the hands of private industry, instead of actually prescribing actions that are in the public interest.

These regulatory changes would pave the way for several controversial nuclear waste disposal projects, including a giant mound at Chalk River, Ontario, two entombments of shut-down reactors, and a proposed deep geological repository for the burial of high-level nuclear fuel waste.

This proposal does not meet Canada’s commitment to meeting or surpassing international standards for the handling of nuclear waste.

For example, the entombment of nuclear reactors is designated as “in-situ decommissioning”, a practice that the International Atomic Energy Agency says should only be used as a last option for facilities damaged in accidents.

Of further concern is the lack of clarity in the proposed regulations.

In many cases the licensee is directed to develop safety requirements with no explicit directions as to what those safety requirements are.

The giant mound at Chalk River is meant to contain up to 1 million cubic metres of low- to intermediate-activity nuclear waste but these activity levels are not defined and the private owner of the facility would get to decide what materials are stored in that mound of nuclear waste.

The Minister of Natural Resources has committed to consulting Canadians on a policy framework and strategy for radioactive waste. Instead we have this backdoor process with limited public input and no parliamentary oversight.

The minister should be conducting a public process to develop a Canadian framework for radioactive waste management that meets or exceeds international best practices, a framework that does not allow the nuclear industry to police itself.

Richard Cannings is NDP Natural Resources Critic and MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

Opinion