CHALK RIVER, Ont. — A proposed nuclear waste disposal site on land around Chalk River Laboratories is too close to the Ottawa River, says Bloc Quebecois Leader Martine Ouellet.
A significant percentage of Quebecers use the river for their drinking water and a leak could be catastrophic, Ouellet told reporters while touring the nuclear facilities in Chalk River, Ont., earlier this week.
"Radioactivity, just like heavy crude oil, doesn't go away," she said. "You can't say, 'we have contamination, we are going to clean it up.' It can't be cleaned."
Chalk River Laboratories, which produces medical and commercial isotopes, is owned by the federal government.
Ottawa subcontracts the management of the site to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), a consortium of four engineering and tech companies including SNC-Lavalin and Rolls-Royce.
CNL says it wants to consolidate all the nuclear waste around the site in one location, so it can be monitored, contained and isolated.
Soil around the site, as well as underground water, have been contaminated and CNL says is looking for a way to dispose of the material as well as the waste produced by the laboratory in future.
"The risk of doing nothing is significant because we have structures made of wood that are contaminated along the bank of the Ottawa River and we have plumes of contaminated underground water close to the river," said Kurt Kehler of CNL.
"The goal is to put all the material in a closed area."
Ouellet said CNL didn't look for other disposal sites further away from the river.
"I have not been reassured because their so-called best site, it's located on their territory of Chalk River and they didn't look outside the area because of the costs involved," she said.
Kehler said CNL did look for other locations.
"We have considered the possibility of moving radioactive material elsewhere, but people wouldn't be in favour of that," Kehler said. "And the waste is already here."
CNL's plan is to create a facility that can hold up to 1,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste for up to 50 years.
Benoit Delage, an environmentalist in Quebec's Outaouais region, said it's a bad idea.
"The idea of building a nuclear waste depot one kilometre away from a river that feeds a large part of the Quebec population, there is something missing there," he said. "Anyone can tell you it doesn't make sense."
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission needs to conduct an environmental review of CNL's depot proposal.
Public consultations will also take place. Quebec's environment minister has asked the federal government to hold the hearings in Quebec in order for them to be close to the people potentially impacted by the plan.