May 2019 Public Meeting
On May 14, 2019, AECL held a public meeting in Deep River, Ontario, to discuss the corporation’s recent accomplishments and plans for the future.
The Chair of AECL’s Board of Directors, Claude Lajeunesse, and AECL’s President and CEO, Richard Sexton, discussed AECL’s work across its three missions. This included an overview of nuclear innovation activities, such as work to advance the development of small modular reactors, advancements in border security, and research on the next generation of cancer treatments. They also discussed plans for the remediation of contaminated land at the Chalk River site and the proposal to build a near surface disposal facility, advancements in remediation activities at the Port Hope Area Initiative, as well as proposals for the decommissioning of AECL’s Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor and WR-1 reactor in situ. Finally, the revitalization of the Chalk River Laboratories was discussed, including business transformation activities, as well as new and renewed science and site support infrastructure.
Suzanne D’Eon, the mayor of Deep River, was also in attendance and addressed the participants. She talked about the crucial role that nuclear energy plays in the fight against climate change.
Following the presentations was a question and answer period. Topics covered included:
- Radioactive waste management
- The proposal to build a near surface disposal facility at the Chalk River Laboratories
- The GoCo contract
- Small Modular Reactors.
Radioactive waste management: What is AECL doing about intermediate-level waste? How is waste management prioritized?
On the topic of radioactive waste management, AECL explained that intermediate-level radioactive waste continues to be safely stored at its sites, like other types of radioactive waste. In terms of concrete short-term actions, AECL has prioritized activities that will achieve the greatest amount of environmental remediation in the near term and will reduce more immediate risks. CNL’s proposal to build the NSDF will allow for the remediation of contaminated soil at the Chalk River site and the disposal of contaminated construction debris following the dismantling of obsolete nuclear facilities.
In addition, activities are underway to identify options for the disposal of intermediate-level radioactive waste, including characterization work that has already led to a better understanding of the exact volumes. AECL also asked CNL to evaluate the various options based on an analysis not only of the technical possibilities, but also of their costs in order to lead to a decision that is in the best interest of Canada.
It was also specified that AECL’s used fuel (a type of high level waste) would be disposed of in the facility that is being explored by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO).
The Near Surface Disposal Facility: Will the environment be protected?
On the topic of the proposed near surface disposal facility at the Chalk River Laboratories, AECL representatives reiterated their support for the facility, noting that it would be a cost-effective way to further protect the environment by isolating and containing low-level radioactive waste material which is currently found in contaminated soil and contaminated buildings which are located close to the Ottawa River. They stated that CNL’s proposed plan is consistent with the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the technology has been in practice for decades at other nuclear sites around the world, and that it is being used currently in Canada as part of the Port Hope Area Initiative.
The facility is designed to contain the contaminants and withstand both normal and extreme events. It was also noted that the facility will be continuously monitored. That said, AECL noted that only the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has the authority to grant operating licenses for nuclear activities in Canada and that the CNSC would only allow the project to proceed if it can assure itself that it is safe.
The GoCo contract: Will it be put under review given the ongoing investigation into SNC-Lavalin?
On the topic of the GoCo contract and the involvement of SNC-Lavalin, AECL representatives reiterated that first and foremost, ethical behaviour is a core value and expectation of AECL and CNL.
The original request for proposal for the GoCo contract, as set out by the Government of Canada, included integrity provisions, and integrity provisions remain in the contract today. It was noted that soon after the contract came into effect, AECL hired a third party to review CNL’s ethics programs and recently, it was reviewed once again to ensure that CNL is in compliance with the contract and has in place the appropriate policies, procedures and culture.
AECL representatives indicated that based on these third party reviews, together with AECL’s ongoing regular oversight, they are satisfied that with, CNL and CNEA have all of the proper processes in place to uphold the levels of integrity expected from us.
It is also important to recognize that CNL is its own organization. CNL is responsible for its operations and business conduct. It is the 3,000 CNL employees that manage and operate the Chalk River Laboratories, and the vast majority are the same people that have been at the site and in the community for many years.
The GoCo Contract: How will the decision whether to extend the contract be made?
On the topic of the consideration of the extension of the existing GoCo contract, AECL representatives specified that when the time comes to make this decision, executives will go through a systematic evaluation process to review CNL’s performance to date.
It was noted that AECL monitors CNL’s performance monthly and will have 5 years of analysis on performance when deciding whether extending the existing contract is warranted from a value for Canada perspective.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs): Will we see an enrichment facility in Canada?
On the topic of enrichment facilities for SMRs, AECL representatives noted that many SMR technologies that use varying types of fuel have been proposed and are currently being reviewed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission through its vendor design review process. All proposed designs would use fuel that is different than the CANDU fuels, and all are likely to require some level of enrichment.
AECL representatives noted that work has been undertaken – namely in the SMR Roadmap – to look at potential sources of supply of fuels. It was noted that Natural Resources Canada is responsible for the setting of all nuclear policy in Canada, including considerations around fuel enrichment.