CNL community update

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Nuclear Power Plant and Flowering Meadow

CNL provides community update amidst mounting environmental concerns

Grace Richards
Local Journalism Initiative

 CHALK RIVER – Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) held its third annual community update webinar on March 20 to provide updates on environmental initiatives and ongoing projects; most notably CNL’s Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF), situated in Chalk River, which has sparked controversy over environmental concerns. The NSDF has faced a great deal of scrutiny since it was first proposed in 2016. In January 2024, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved CNL’s proposal.

Monica Steedman, vice president of Environmental Remediation Management, provided an update on the facility’s construction: “We’re moving forward with the construction of the NSDF and looking to, first of all, make sure we meet all our pre-construction commitments to Indigenous communities and organizations.”

Environmentalists have outspokenly disapproved of the project and the environmental threat it poses. Dr. Ole Hendrickson, an expert in ecology and researcher for Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, worries about the efficacy of CNL’s long-term nuclear waste management plan.

“The federal government should require that CNL take a precautionary approach; assume that much of its “legacy waste” at the Chalk River and Whiteshell research facilities contains difficult-to- measure, long-lived alpha emitters, and initiate a process to site and design a facility that can isolate its intermediate level radioactive waste for thousands of years.”

“Instead, the federal government has allowed CNL to reclassify over 90% of its suspected intermediate level waste into the low-level category. The government’s nuclear regulator will allow this waste to be put in an above-ground facility that will last only several hundred years without proper analysis to determine if the waste contains large amounts of long-lived alpha emitters – which it almost certainly does,” he said,

Lou Riccoboni, vice-president of Corporate Affairs and Business Development, discussed the release of CNL’s first sustainability report, which included a gold certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council in 2022. The award was issued before CNL received a species-at-risk permit in March 2024, which allows the construction of the NSDF despite the presence of three endangered species at Chalk River Laboratories: the Blanding’s turtle, the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat.

In their decision, Canadian Wildlife Services (CWS) stated CNL had taken proper precautions to ensure the preservation of habitats, including design modification, fencing, and oversight by an environmental specialist.

Despite CWS’ approval, environmentalists are still concerned for the safety of the endangered species. The Kebaowek First Nation and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg released an independent assessment of the project, which raises concerns about several other endangered species in the area that the CWS didn’t include in their report, including wolves and bears.

CNL also detailed their environmental cleanup efforts, focusing on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s historic waste cleanup. The waste is stored near the clean-up site at a newly constructed waste management facility.

CNL also discussed the formation of their Hydrogen Safety Center, a platform for developing industry standards and sharing solutions related to hydrogen safety. Jan Preston, chair of CNL’s board of directors, stated its physical location will be in Chalk River, but emphasized CNL’s intention to make the center a national platform; “It’s intended to also be sort of a platform where it’s not just the physical asset, but also the ability to link capabilities with other laboratories. So, the intent is to be really a network of connections.”

The recorded community webinar can be found on the Canadian Nuclear Laboratory website.