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Tritium is being dumped in the Ottawa River

February 17th, 2009

The Tritium Awareness Project (TAP) has learned that more than a TRILLION becquerels of radioactive tritium were vented into the atmosphere at the time of the heavy water leak at Chalk River on December 5, 2008. In addition, TENS OF TRILLIONS of becquerels of tritium in liquid form are being or have already been deliberately dumped into the Ottawa River by Chalk River authorities, with the permission of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Letters have been sent to Mr. Michael Binder, President of the CNSC, and Bill Pilkington, Senior Vice-President and Chief Nuclear Officer for AECL’s Research and Technology Operations, asking them to clarify the amount of tritium released into the air and into the Ottawa River, or planned to be released, as a result of the December 5 accident at the 51-year old NRU reactor. Mr. Binder has also been asked to explain why CNSC staff are not providing accurate information on the levels of tritium contamination in the Ottawa River in their background document CMD 09-M7. That document states that “monitoring of radioactivity in the Ottawa River has indicated comparable average concentrations up and down stream of the CRL site in the Ottawa River”, whereas the actual monitoring data shows consistently and dramatically increased levels of tritium in the Ottawa River downstream from Chalk River as opposed to the upstream measurements. The increase is more than double.

Background : Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen, which is one of the basic constituents of all living things. Tritium cannot be filtered out or removed from the drinking water by any existing water treatment plants. Inside the body, tritium irradiates living cells and damages organic molecules, including DNA molecules. Such damage can manifest itself later in the form of cancers as well as defects in reproductive cells and embryonic cells. Scientific authorities independent of the nuclear industry, including the US National Academy of Sciences, have reported that there is no reliable evidence of any safe threshold of exposure to radioactivity. They have concluded that every additional radioactive exposure is expected to increase the risk of subsequent cancers and other illnesses, especially in young children. A becquerel is a unit of radioactivity; it corresponds to one radioactive disintegration every second. When tritium-contaminated water has been ingested, those disintegrations happen inside the body. In California, the maximum permissible level of tritium is 15 becquerels per litre of drinking water; in Canada it is 7000 becquerels per litre – 466 times more permissive.

If the California drinking water standards were used, ten trillion becquerels of tritium would be enough to render five years worth of Ottawa’s drinking water unfit for human consumption. This is an enormous amount of radioactive material.

This information contradicts assurances from the Minister of Natural Resources in the House of Commons to the effect that no radioactivity from the December 5, 2008, heavy water leak had entered or was entering the Ottawa River.


Media Release

Tritium Awareness Project