Citizens upset by proposed radioactive waste dump beside Ottawa River

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A proposal for a giant disposal facility for radioactive waste on the Ottawa River near Chalk River is raising the ire of local residents and citizens’ groups, including the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (FWC) and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCR).

A proposal for a giant disposal facility for radioactive waste on the Ottawa River near Chalk River is raising the ire of local residents and citizens’ groups, including the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (FWC) and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCR).
According to the two groups, a consortium of multinational companies is behind the proposal, currently under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. If approved, the 30–hectare “Near Surface Disposal Facility” would dispose of up to one million cubic metres of low- and medium-level radioactive waste in a huge mound up to 25 metres high, about one kilometre from the Ottawa River at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.
The project description, posted on the Canadian Environmental Assess-ment Agency website, notes the facility would include wastes from “commercial activities”.
In addition to being radioactive, some “mixed” wastes could contain PCBs, arsenic and mercury. Construction of the facility could begin as early as 2018.
Local citizens’ groups say the proposed site is unsuitable for a dump of any kind given its proximity to the Ottawa River, a source of drinking water for millions of Canadians. They also point out that the site is near a major fault line, and on top of fractured and porous bedrock through which groundwater flows rapidly into the Ottawa River. These and other points are covered in a fact sheet prepared by concerned citizens entitled “Ten things Canadians need to know about the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility”.
According to Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, the proposal has shocked and angered local residents as well as people downstream in Ottawa and Montreal. “Folks I talk to are outraged at the idea of dumping a million cubic metres of radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River,” said Echlin.
Citizens are concerned the consortium of multinational corporations has no stake in the long-term health of the Ottawa River. Echlin and fellow cottagers worry that “after making a tidy profit on creation of the dump, they could walk away in 10 years when their contract ends and leave a leaking mess for others to live with”. Echlin’s group is encouraging downstream municipalities to pass resolutions opposing the facility, and they are tracking opposition on their
website.
Dr. Ole Hendrickson, researcher for Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, hopes questions raised by local citizens will be addressed in the draft Environmental Impact Statement scheduled for release on March 17, 2017. “We don’t yet have adequate information about the purpose of the proposed facility, such as what commercial activities the proponents have in mind,” said Hendrickson. “A key question” he added, “is whether wastes from Canada’s nuclear power reactors could be sent to this facility for disposal.”
The public will have 60 days to respond to the Environmental Impact Statement after it is posted on the Canadian Environmental Assess-ment Agency website.
MRC waiting to take a position
According to Raymond Durocher, MRC Pontiac Warden, the MRC will not intervene in the review of the proposal or form an opinion about the proposed project until the review is complete and a report is released. “We are following the process like everyone else, ” he said, noting it is a very important file because of its proximity to the Ottawa River.
Durocher said questions such as what exactly the site will be, what guarantees will be in place, if there will be testing of the river and underground water supplies, and if there are possibilities for liability all need to be determined.
“I don’t think the Nuclear Safety Commission will take this lightly,” he concluded, claiming the MRC is following the file very closely. 
Both Pontiac MNA Andre Fortin and Pontiac MP Will Amos were unavailable for a
comment.                     (AB)