Halt flow of heavy water: MPs

The Ottawa Sun: ELIZABETH THOMPSON - February 6, 2009

The government should rethink how much radioactive material it allows the Chalk River nuclear plant to release into the Ottawa River, opposition critics said yesterday, after a report said water containing small amounts of radioactive material is being dumped in the waterway.

"My concern is what is the proper threshold," said Paul Dewar, NDP MP for Ottawa Centre. "Quite frankly, most people think zero would be a good level."

The comments came after Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt tabled internal reports yesterday about a heavy water leak at the Chalk River plant in December.

In the 17 pages tabled yesterday, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. says it all started Dec. 4 when the research reactor was shut down "as a result of unanticipated technical problems unrelated to isotope production." A day later, AECL discovered a small heavy water leak.

Serge Dupont, associate deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, in a memo to Raitt says AECL promptly informed Canada's nuclear watchdog of the leak.

Officials said the water that leaked from the reactor was contained and "will be treated at Chalk River's Waste Treatment Centre to reduce contamination. Prior to any release of water to the river, water is treated to remove the majority of radio nuclides."

"In the case of water containing tritium, which is not removed in the treatment process, concentration levels dictate whether the water will be stored or released," the report said, adding that the releases are carefully monitored and released at a controlled rate, subject to provincial and federal regulatory limits.

However, Dewar and Liberal MP David McGuinty question whether water containing radioactive material should be released into the Ottawa River at all.

"That's a concern of mine around standards and thresholds," said Dewar. "I think it's time we review that."

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