CNSC hearing dates scheduled for CNL’s proposed NSDF Project


Allyson Beauregard

CHALK RIVER – Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) announced on October 29 that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has scheduled a two-part public hearing to consider their application to build a giant radioactive waste disposal mound in Chalk River, called the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF). CNSC accepted CNL’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in July, 2021.
During Part 1 of the public hearing, scheduled for February 22, 2022, the CNSC Commission will hear submissions from CNL and CNSC staff on the licensing application and environmental assessment. Following Part 1, a comment period will be opened where Indigenous communities and the
public can submit feedback.
During Part 2, to begin on May 31, 2022, Indigenous communities and the public will present their comments to the CNSC commissioners.
The proposed NSDF is an engineered containment facility that would be built on the Chalk River Laboratories site to dispose of decommissioning waste from more than 100 legacy buildings and structures at Chalk River Laboratories, as well as waste from 70 years of science and technology research,
contaminated lands, and continuing operations, some from other sites across Canada. The mound is designed to contain one million cubic metres of “low-level” waste, with a multi-layer liner and cover system and waste water treatment part of the design
“The licensing, construction and operation of the NSDF is critical to the successful cleanup and remediation of the Chalk River Laboratories campus and the management of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s (AECL) low-level radioactive waste. CNL is confident that the facility is the best solution to dispose of this waste, while continuing to protect the surrounding environment, especially the Ottawa River,” commented Joe McBrearty, CNL’s President and CEO.
If CNL’s application is approved, construction is planned to begin in the fall of 2022.
Opposition continues
The project has been undergoing a federal environmental assessment process since 2016. Many citizens, community groups and municipalities have opposed the project from the get-go. Groups claim the environmental assessment has not been properly conducted and licensing hearings should be stopped because there are so many serious flaws in the plan.
The main reason for the solid front of opposition is the danger of leaks and of a wholesale break in the fabric holding the massive dump, proposed to be built between a pond and creek which flows into the Ottawa River, and the Ottawa River itself. Over six million people depend on the Ottawa River for drinking water, and many claim the risk of contamination outweighs any benefits the untested and experimental fabric-enclosed stockpile offers.
The City of Ottawa opposed the importation of radioactive waste to the Ottawa Valley in a resolution in April 2021. In April 2018, the 82 member cities of the Montreal metropolitan community unanimously adopted a resolution in favour of supporting MRC Pontiac and Gatineau’s opposition to the radioactive dump.
“The facility would not keep radioactive waste out of the environment,” said Dr. Ole Hendrickson, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area researcher.
“The proponent’s own studies identify many ways the mound would leak, and suggest the mound would disintegrate within 400 years and its contents would flow into surrounding wetlands that drain into the Ottawa River,” he said.
Hendrickson noted materials a CNL report lists to be disposed of in the mound: tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, four types of plutonium and several tons of uranium and thorium, cobalt-60 which gives off so much intense gamma radiation that workers would need lead shielding. The International Atomic Energy Agency says high-activity cobalt-60 is “intermediate-level waste” and must be stored underground.
“The so-called environmental assessment has been a sham from day one,” says Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (OFWCA) based in Sheenboro.
Echlin says the serious flaws in the assessment process include failure to properly consult Indigenous Peoples and the public, failure to consider substantive input at the project description and scoping stage, and changing rules midstream to benefit the proponent.
“The fact that dates have now been set for licensing the radioactive waste mound is a sign of failure by the Government of Canada to listen to the hundreds of intervenors in the environmental assessment,” Echlin said.
Echlin and others characterize the CNSC as “a captured regulator” that acts more like a “nuclear industry cheerleader” than a protector of the public and the environment. It has never refused to grant a license in its 20-year history.
The groups have called for cancelling the contract and creating a radioactive waste management organization in Canada, independent of the nuclear industry, similar to what exists in a number of European countries.