Ottawa – Civil society groups are expressing profound disappointment in the federal government’s recently released radioactive waste policy, after Natural Resources Canada quietly posted the final policy to a government website on Friday morning.
Organizations who were intensively engaged in the policy development process between November 2020 and May 2022 are calling the policy a handover to the nuclear industry and say it fails to meet international standards or the public’s expectations.
“It is a fundamental failure. It leaves the industry in charge and the public and the environment at risk. This policy is a betrayal of science and public trust,” said Dr. Ole Hendrickson, for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.
“This final version of the radioactive waste policy sentences us to ten years of nuclear industry control. It is a complete failure on the highest priorities for a national radioactive waste policy – to establish a national registry of waste and its characteristics and its cross-border movement, to assert federal authority over radioactive waste management strategies, and to require the perpetual care of reactor fuel waste”, commented Brennain Lloyd, Project Coordinator for the Northern Ontario based coalition Northwatch.
The revised policy follows the International Atomic Energy Agency having conducted a peer review of Canada’s nuclear regulatory framework in 2019, and recommending that that Canada “enhance” its 3-bullet-point radioactive waste policy framework from 1996.
“The federal government’s new radioactive waste policy is not protective of the public and the environment. It fails to even approach meeting the legitimate expectations of the public and civil society,” said Theresa MacClenaghan, Executive Director and Senior Counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
The radioactive waste policy released on Friday was practically silent on the crucial issue of reprocessing, saying that while there is currently no reprocessing undertaken in Canada, if there should be reprocessing undertaken in the future the just-released policy would extend to address the wastes from reprocessing.
“Reprocessing – that is, extracting plutonium from high level nuclear waste – is described as outside of the scope of the new policy. At the same time, the government is promoting two nuclear projects in New Brunswick that will use this controversial technology. Abdicating
responsibility is not only poor governance but also reckless and dangerous. The research is clear that reprocessing increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, in addition to its environmental risks,” said Susan O’Donnell, PhD, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick.
Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, summarized concerns about the lack of oversight of the nuclear industry, which the organizations say will be perpetuated by the 2023 policy: “After a ten-year investigation, with public hearings in five provinces, a government-appointed panel unanimously recommended that Canada needs an independent agency for radioactive wastes management. That same need was recently communicated to Ottawa by dozens of public interest organizations across Canada. Without such an agency, the government’s policy is powerless to protect future generations from these persistent poisons.”
Nuclear Waste Watch facilitated the engagement of more than a hundred organizations in the policy review process,
• convening a series of roundtable discussions with Natural Resources Canada, and
• bilingual national preparatory sessions for each of the Natural Resources Canada’s four discussion papers and the draft policy, and
• preparing and releasing an Alternative Policy in response to Natural Resouces’ draft policy, based on the input of the hundreds of participants.