NSDF update

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Aidan Belanger

MRC PONTIAC – The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced they are delaying their decision in regards to the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) near Deep River.

The regulatory review process for the NSDF site began in 2016, and the most recent public consultations were held from May 30 to June 3, 2022 in Pembroke. Throughout the five days of hearings, the Commission considered oral and written submissions from CNL, CNSC staff and 165 interveners, including Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the owner of the CNL site, and 8 Indigenous Nations and communities.

On July 5th, CNSC announced they wanted to allow more time for engagement and consultation with Kebaowek First Nation and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, CNL, and CNSC staff will now have until January 31, 2023 to file additional information concerning the site. “The Commission will await further information before making decisions in respect of the duty to consult, the environment assessment, and the licence amendment application,” they said. The call for enhanced consultation and engagement came after numerous issues were raised by the representatives of the First Nations. Their concerns focused on the lack of consultation with Pikwakanagan, nuclear waste importation, the right to use of the land, and the impact the landfill would have on the Ottawa River, given its proximity.

Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation said CNL’s definition of low-level waste was misleading and that they feared the NSDF would receive more highly radioactive materials. The Algonquins of Ontario noted the project would negatively impact their rights and interests. Amanda Two-Axe Kohoko, consultation coordinator for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, stated that while they agree the radioactive legacy at Chalk River Laboratories needs to be cleaned up, there are flaws in the proposed project. “It has not yet been shown the proposed project is the right or acceptable means to accomplish this goal.”

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an international instrument adopted to enshrine the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world.” The UNDRIP protects collective rights that may not be addressed in other human rights charters that emphasize individual rights, and it also safeguards the individual rights of Indigenous people. Canada has implemented UNDRIP, which means the government is supposed to obtain the free, prior and informed consent on issues that may affect Indigenous peoples or their territory. Indigenous nations have a claim to sovereignty over the proposed site, as it was never ceded to the crown of Canada in a treaty.

CNL’s president and CEO Joseph McBrearty told The Globe and Mail his company is undertaking the nation’s most complex and challenging environmental remediation project. If CNL gets the go ahead for the NSDF project, it will set a precedent for the construction of other nuclear facilities, including the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s Deep Geological Repository, a proposed underground storage facility in Ontario for highly radioactive fuel from power reactors.

Two-Axe Kohoko countered: “The worst possible outcome would be for CNSC staff to state ‘we hear you’ to the members of Pikwakanagan and then refuse to act in a meaningful way. The essence of reconciliation can only be found when listening results in acting meaningfully on what is heard.”