CNL permitted to build Chalk River repository

10 January 2024

The Canadian nuclear regulator has amended the licence held by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, authorising the construction of a near-surface disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste at the site.

How the NSDF could look at Chalk River Laboratories (Image: CNL)

CNL applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in 2017 for an amendment to its nuclear research and test establishment operating licence for Chalk River Laboratories, to permit the construction of the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF).

The proposed NSDF Project is intended to provide safe disposal of up to 1 million cubic metres of solid low-level radioactive waste including legacy wastes from 65 years of operations at the Ontario site, waste from the remediation of contaminated lands, and debris from Chalk River infrastructure decommissioning activities. It will comprise a mound, built at near-surface level, consisting of disposal cells with a base liner and cover as well as systems to collect leachate, detect leaks and monitor the environment. The Chalk River Laboratories site is located on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg peoples.

The CNSC has now concluded that, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012, the NSDF Project is "not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided that CNL implements all proposed mitigation and follow-up monitoring measures, including continued engagement with Indigenous Nations and communities and environmental monitoring to verify the predictions of the environmental assessment (EA)".

The commission also concluded that the design of the NSDF Project is "robust, supported by a strong safety case, able to meet its required design life, and sufficient to withstand severe weather events, seismic activity, and the effects of climate change".

The amended nuclear research and test establishment operating licence remains valid until 31 March 2028. It includes two new conditions that require CNL to implement licensing regulatory actions and EA regulatory commitments for the NSDF Project.

The CNSC's decision applies only to the construction of the NSDF Project. CNL will be required to apply for a separate licence to operate the facility. The NSDF would have an expected operating life of at least 50 years.

The majority of the waste to be placed in the NSDF is currently in storage at the Chalk River Laboratories site or will be generated from environmental remediation, decommissioning, and operational activities at the site. About 10% of the waste volume will come from other Atomic Energy of Canada Limited-owned sites or from commercial sources such as Canadian hospitals and universities.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News