NSDF legal challenge

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Tashi Farmilo
Local Journalism Initiative

CHALK RIVER – On February 7, a coalition of citizens’ groups, including Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, filed legal action against the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) recent decision to license a large-scale radioactive waste disposal facility near the Ottawa River. The facility, known as the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF),

is planned to be constructed 180 km north-west of Ottawa in Chalk River.

Nicholas Pope of Hameed Law, representing the applicants, is seeking to have the court overturn the CNSC’s approval of the NSDF’s construction.

The groups are urging the Federal Court to scrutinize the CNSC’s decision, alleging it overlooked critical evidence. They argue estimated radiation doses from the NSDF would surpass some Canadian regulations and international standards. Concerns were also raised about the lack of detailed information regarding the waste intended for disposal in the NSDF, potentially undermining the reliability of its safety case.

Additionally, the groups highlighted an issue with the waste acceptance criteria proposed by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the project’s proponent. An override section within this document could permit the disposal of waste that doesn’t meet established criteria, essentially invalidating any assurances of waste quality control.

The legal challenge further addresses concerns about waste verification processes, potential cumulative environmental impacts from concurrent projects by CNL on the same site, and the proposed diversion of a pipeline into Perch Lake, which may increase the flow of radioactive tritium into the Ottawa River.

Moreover, the application for judicial review argues the CNSC’s licensing decision didn’t adequately consider the environmental impacts, including the destruction of habitats for protected species and potential long-term risks, given the facility’s 550 year life span compared to the longer length of time some wastes remain hazardous.

Lynn Jones, representing Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, called the decision a “serious mistake” due to the proximity of the waste mound to the Ottawa River and the mismatch between the mound’s lifespan and the longevity of the waste’s hazardous nature.

In response, CNL said it’s reviewing the legal filings and emphasized its commitment to the safe management of historic and operational waste liabilities and its dedication to engaging with Indigenous communities as part of Canada’s reconciliation efforts.

Renée Ramsey from CNSC directed attention to the Commission’s Record of Decision, which outlines the decision-making process and review. She noted that, as the matter is now before the Federal Court, inquiries must be directed to the Department of Justice. Ramsey reiterated the CNSC’s commitment to ongoing engagement and consultation with Indigenous Nations and communities, stakeholders, and the public, emphasizing the organization’s dedication to building trust and advancing reconciliation.