NSDF protest

Crowd of demonstrators on Parliament Hill Feb 14.

Katharine Fletcher
Local Journalism Initiative

OTTAWA – More than 100 demonstrators rallied on The Hill, February 14, to support First Nations’ opposition to the approval of a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) for nuclear radioactive waste at Chalk River Laboratories. Anishinābeg Algonquin First Nations communities organized the

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the construction of the NSDF on January 9, after considering the site and facility design.

This NSDF, located one kilometre from the Ottawa River and 150 km upstream of Ottawa, will take three years to build (including clear cutting forests). It will accept one million cubic metres of radioactive waste from the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories’ site and others across Canada. The NSDF is projected to have a 50-year lifespan for collection, with an additional 300+ years of safety monitoring.

Kebaeowek First Nation Chief Lance Haymond reported that Anishinābeg Algonquin First Nations filed a Federal Court application for a judicial review of the CNSC’s approval.

Chief Haymond reminded demonstrators that the federal government promotes reconciliation. Moreover, he noted Canada signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which states First Nations consent must be obtained prior to storing any hazardous materials on First Nations’ territory. He explained Anishinābeg Algonquin First Nation was inadequately consulted although both the Chalk River site and Parliament Hill are on unceded territory.

Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg Chief Dylan Whiteduck said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed First Nations objections to the CNSC’s approval of the NSDF, stating, “This isn’t a political decision. On this side of the House, we trust our experts.”

Ottawa Riverkeeper has conducted deep research into the NSDF, asserting “we’re urging the Canadian government to review the way nuclear safety issues are addressed in Canada. Canada falls far short of international standards in dealing with nuclear waste.” (ottawariverkeeper.ca)

During the week of February 12, Pontiac Liberal MP Sophie Chatel addressed the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. “A major procedural concern with the current CNSC process is that it was limited to evaluating and consulting on a single option… The voices of affected communities must be at the forefront of these discussions, not on the periphery,” she said.

Moreover, Chatel emphasized, “The private sector shouldn’t make the key decisions on nuclear waste management. In Chalk River, this approach was initiated by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to privatize part of nuclear waste management. While the private sector can be a valuable partner, it’s imperative the government take the lead on significant health and safety issues such as nuclear waste management and protecting our communities.”

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley demonstrated on The Hill. Executive Director John McDonnell said, “We have serious concerns about the type of waste to be stored in this facility and, in the opinion of experts, the technology and processes proposed are likely to fail, leading to contamination of lands and waters. The location is an important wildlife corridor linking the Ottawa River to Algonquin Park; it will lead to the loss of ecological connectivity and the destruction of habitat of species at risk.”

McDonnell expressed concern about the seismological aspects of the Ottawa Valley, noting the federal government should consider placing nuclear waste in a “deep geological repository like other advanced nuclear countries such as the US and some Scandinavian countries.”

Pontiac resident Cathy Fox lives downstream of Chalk River. “The Ottawa River is the source of drinking water for our town and wildlife. Generations for thousands of years will be negatively impacted. This plan must be stopped and revised according to international standards,” she said.

On February 14, MRC Pontiac Warden Jane Toller released the Council of Mayors’ statement reiterating their opposition to CNL’s authorization of the NSDF. They believe First Nations UNDIP rights were ignored and another site must be found.