Chalk River: all risk, no gain?
It is strange, indeed, if any good can come from the flooding we’ve experienced almost everywhere. I am marvelling at the coincidence of these floods and a great decision facing us – approval or not of a massive nuclear waste dump in Chalk River, upstream from Aylmer, all Gatineau and Ottawa. This is our decision, not only that of a “panel of experts”.
Although the flooding itself did not reach the area where the membrane-covered depot will be located, it is the fact of this flooding that gives us pause in any thought that this project could be safe -- for us. If unexpected floodwaters can devastate so many neighbourhoods despite our great system of dams along the Ottawa River, should we not be very cautious with such a project? What good are all the assurances of technicians and engineers that their fail-safe proposals and good intentions will thwart any catastrophe?
Given the magnitude of the disaster if this dump were to be washed into the Ottawa River system, why would we tempt Fate? Add news from Washington state last week of a massive collapse there of a “secure” tunnel storing nuclear waste.
Flooding (and leakage) is only one hazard – we feel earth tremours often, who can say there will never be more than a tremour? The same technicians who assured us the watershed is under control? Those who tell us a Fort MacMurray forest fire is impossible here?
Or security experts who assure us that this deposit of toxic waste hanging over Ottawa’s geographic head will never be a target of terrorists? A home-made bomb could put toxic dust into our skies, so no one is safe, no matter how far from the river.
And, last but very important, who is to prevent changes in what wastes are stored there? Right now we are “assured” that the wastes are low- to medium-grade toxicity. There will be no spent fuel rods, for example. No reactor wastes stored there. But rules are never changed? If a disaster elsewhere sends the government urgently seeking a place to store radioactive debris – no one will “modify” the rules? Hello!
As important as it is to keep the Precautionary Principle in our minds around such projects, we mustn’t fall victims to hysteria either. There are no guarantees the acceptance rules will change. There is no reason to suspect that engineers will pull a fast one, especially when any blow-back might affect them personally.
This spring’s flooding will go down in the records, and that means it should not be forgotten as a reminder of the power and unpredictability of Nature. We must keep the Precautionary Principle foremost. And it must move us to ask for all the details.
It must also push us to ask – to insist on a clear answer – what do we gain from putting our homes, future and our environment in such danger? Apart from these threats, what’s in it for us? Absolutely nothing.