Final licensing hearings for nuclear dump

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Aidan Belanger
and Peter L. Smith

PEMBROKE – The second part of CNL’s licensing hearings for the proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) project began on Monday, May 30 and carried on to Friday, June 3. This public hearing was to discuss the long-term effects the mound will have in regards to health and safety. “Interveners” were able to speak and ask questions as long as their presentation had been approved by the committee prior to the hearing.

Several members of the Pontiac presented, including the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, Pontiac Environmental Protection (PEP), Warden Jane Toller and MP Sophie Chatel. As well, the Quebec Cottagers Association, Kitchissippi Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Council of Canadians, the Ottawa Raging Grannies, and various Indigenous communities spoke out to oppose the project.

Their arguments were based on the concern that the NDSF will potentially leak at some stage, and that the leaked radioactive elements will contaminate the Ottawa River. The common argument was that any level of radiation, however low, is harmful to individuals and the environment. 167 interventions were submitted; around 90 did not support the initiative with about 50 in support. Aside from the public speakers, there were submissions from

CNL employees and hired contractors.

The five Algonquin First Nations who intervened included the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Kebaowek First Nation, Wolf Lake First Nation, and Mitchikanibikok Inik Algonquins of Barriere Lake. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has claimed they’ve fulfilled their common law obligations to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples. The Five Algonquin First Nations stated they have not been adequately consulted and do not consent at this time to the radioactive waste mound on their unceded territory beside the Ottawa River. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People states Indigenous communities must provide “Free Prior and Informed Consent” for storage or disposal of hazardous waste in their traditional territory.

Pontiac MP Sophie Chatel told the commission: “My principal concern is the permanent removal and safe storage of the intermediate-level and high-level radioactive waste currently stored (safely but temporarily) at Chalk River.” In order to ensure that the project does not pose a threat to the citizens of Pontiac and future generations, the MP insisted only low-grade waste should be stored in the NSDF and the site should exceed the life of the radioactive materials in which they contain, stating the project needs to be safe for
500 years. Chatel also expressed her office does not want the NSDF to become a magnet for low-level waste from other regions and must be compliant with international standards, with a permanent team of experts making regular on-site visits. The MP concentrated on the hope for transparency and consultation, calling for public engagement throughout the process.

Chatel pointed out that the Pontiac’s economy and drinking water depends on the Ottawa River; the future of the area relies on it. “Many community organizations in my riding are actively working to protect our forests, rivers, wetlands and other wild spaces for future generations. My intervention in this process is motivated by a concern to ensure that the proposed NSDF poses no risk to the citizens of the Pontiac now and in perpetuity,” she stated.

Warden Toller spoke via Zoom on Friday: “Human errors occur and we believe the site design is not acceptable. MRC Pontiac is promoting itself under the banner “Destination Pontiac.” We are trying to encourage new families to come live here and don’t need such a facility upstream from our communities.” Toller also raised the issue of the high rate of cancer in the Pontiac.

CNL staff stressed they have done everything possible to ensure the proposed facility will be safe; they stated that moving the site to a different location won’t change the flow of water—it will still flow downstream. Meggan Vickerd, General Manager of Waste Services at CNL stated they have 310,000 cubic meters of waste stored on site and half is contanimated. “We have to clean this up and the NSDF is the best type of facilty according to our studies,” she said.

The Commission has a month to study all proposals and may request clarification on some points prior to rendering a decision. If approved, the first phase of the project is projected to be built in the next three years.