Pontiac says “No!” to nuclear dump

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Peter L. Smith

FORT COULONGE: MRC Pontiac Warden Jane Toller hosted a forum at the Chevalier de Colomb Hall, April 26, to hear public reaction to the proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories (CNL); over 40 people attended.

The NSDF which CNL proposes for their property has residents all the way to Montreal upset due to its proximity to the Ottawa River (under 1 km). One main possibility is contamination of the Ottawa River from which many towns take drinking water and which many use for fishing and swimming; others fear an accident from flooding, storms, fire or even earthquake damage. Canada’s third most-active earthquake fault runs up the Ottawa Valley.

CNL claims that the “engineered containment mound” will store mainly low level radioactive waste in a fabric membrane, most from the CNL site (90%) including building materials, contaminated soil, lab materials and personal protective equipment. About 5% will be transported from other CNL sites in Canada, some from hospitals, universities and industrial clients, with about 1% intermediate level waste. These are estimates only, since there will not be 100% testing of all refuse.

Pontiac’s MP Sophie Chatel (Liberal) will also take her constituents’ concerns to the May 31 public hearings on the project, as will Warden Toller. “I am raising these questions [so] citizens and future generations can have confidence that the project poses no threat.” (see page 10).

Every municipality opposes the projectShawville Mayor Bill McCleary, via Zoom, expressed his council’s opposition although the municipality is not on the Ottawa River. Mayor Sandra Armstrong of Mansfield-et-Pontefract stressed “the biggest problem is what we do not know [what’s in] this ‘Near Surface Disposal Facility’”. Fort-Coulonge Mayor Christine Francoeur echoed these comments in her French address. Litchfield Mayor Colleen Larivière added, “1 million cubic meters of (radioactive) waste is not a legacy we want to leave for future generations. The NSDF is an inconceivable risk to Pontiac residents.”

Ole Hendrickson, scientist with the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, stated, “The site is too close to the Ottawa River and it sits on an earthquake fault line. This waste has a very long radioactive life (low-level or not), and the water table is too close to the surface.” Others cited the possibility of uranium or plutonium in the mound (about eight stories high).

Joann McCann from Sheenboro (almost opposite Chalk River) and representing the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association noted that the NSDF does not fulfil international safety standards, with many retired nuclear scientists opposing the plan. “It is the wrong location and the wrong type of facility. Better alternatives are needed for safe disposal of [nuclear] waste. CNL hasn’t considered other types of facilities and never consulted stakeholders…. They came to meetings with plans already made. A radioactive dump will deter tourists or new residents and investors moving here for cleaner, healthier lives,” McCann stressed, adding that there is also no agreement with the Algonquin First Nations of this area.

Deborah Powell, Robert Wills and Venetia Crawford from Pontiac Environment Protection cautioned Canada has no clear policy on storing nuclear waste. “How can CNL guarantee this site will be monitored for hundreds of years?” they asked.

Jim Coffey, owner of Esprit Rafting in Davidson, encouraged finding a balance between risks and benefits. He is concerned about the trustworthiness of SNC Lavalin, a majority partner in operating CNL. “Currently CNL is managing its aging infrastructure but they have to prove what is safe with this project,” said Coffey, who brings hundreds of tourists to the area every year.

Dave Herault of Fort Coulonge, a pipe-fitter at CNL for 15 years, fears public misinformation about CNL. “The waste is already being stored on site in huge containers; they are trying to clean up their site.” No uranium or plutonium will be stored, only old building materials, he said, adding, “They employ many Pontiacers, too.”

“What could stop this project?”, Warden Toller asked — and then replied, “Finding a better method of getting rid of their waste or another, acceptable location. We defeated threatening projects at Danford Lake (landfill site) and Bristol Mines. I am proud we do care.” She announced a new public petition on the project. She also thanked both local newspapers and the radio station for keeping the public well informed.