Local Journalism Initiative
CHALK RIVER – The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) January 9 approval of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) project to build a near-surface disposal facility (NSDF) in Chalk River, Ontario, has stirred significant controversy with concerns about environmental safety, Indigenous rights, and potential legal challenges.
Jane Toller, MRC Pontiac warden, said she’s concerned about the decision. In June 2022, the MRC Pontiac conveyed serious apprehensions about the facility’s proximity to the Ottawa River, citing the area’s vulnerability to earthquakes, tornadoes, and heavy rain.
“Climate change is bringing us much more frequent spring flooding,” said Toller, warning of the dire consequences of potential contamination from the facility to the river. “Our population will suffer an irreparable impact on both their health and that of the Ottawa River. We cannot take this risk for present and future Additionally, Toller is dismayed by the federal government’s failure to respect commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “This goes against Article 29 (2), which requires effective measures to ensure there’s no hazardous materials storage or disposal in Indigenous lands without their consent,” she told the Journal.
Lynn Jones of the Ottawa River Institute is concerned primarily about the project’s impact on the river’s ecosystem. “The proponents’ Environmental ImpactStatement admits the release of radionuclides and hazardous chemicals into the Ottawa River,” Jones stated, highlighting the potential long-term ecological consequences. “The release of these substances could have a cascading effect on the river’s biodiversity and the communities that depend on it for their livelihood and well-being,” she added. Jones said the decision not only poses immediate risks but also raises serious questions about the sustainability and safety of such projects in ecologically sensitive areas. Her stance underscores a growing concern among environmentalists and local residents about the adequacy of measures taken to protect vital water resources and natural habitats.
Scientist Ole Hendrickson, from Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, adds another critical voice to the debate. “Comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact is critical,” Hendrickson remarked, emphasizing the importance of thorough scientific evaluation. He further stressed the need for transparency and public engagement in the assessment process. “We need to ensure all potential risks are not only identified, but also communicated clearly to the public,” he added. Hendrickson raised concerns about the long-term stewardship of the site and his call for a rigorous scientific approach reflects a broader demand for responsible and sustainable environmental management in the face of complex and potentially hazardous projects.
CNSC Media Relations Officer Braeson Holland defended the decision, emphasizing adherence to international standards. “The NSDF project’s site selection and design are in alignment with International Atomic Energy Agency standards,” Holland said, stressing the robustness of the project’s design against natural disasters.
Michael Giardini, CNL communications officer, highlighted the NSDF’s safety measures: “The facility is designed to contain contamination and protect the surrounding environment.”
Despite the CNSC and CNL’s assurances, the potential for legal challenges casts a shadow over the project, as underscored by Toller’s comments.