Canada mishandling nuclear waste plans warn First Nations, environmental groups

 OTTAWA — First Nations leaders say they have not been properly consulted about the prospect of a nuclear waste disposal site being established northwest of Ottawa near a prominent nuclear research centre.

Glen Hare, deputy grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation, says his people were not consulted about the proposed Chalk River dump site, which is located less than a kilometre from the Ottawa River.

“We cannot have open season to bury nuclear waste on our lands,” Hare told a news conference Monday. “The repercussions of it are too deadly. This is something we do not want to leave for our kids in the future.”

Indigenous groups and environmentalists have opposed the planned disposal site at the Chalk River facility, about two hours northwest of Ottawa, since it was first announced by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in 2017. The proposal for an above-ground landfill holding some 1 million cubic metres of waste has raised concerns that nearby water sources could be contaminated.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is currently conducting an environmental assessment of the project — the final step in the approval process aside from public hearings, which can be expected next year.

“This doesn’t go back to cabinet. The only way this would ever go back to the federal cabinet is if CNSC deems that there is significant adverse environmental effects,” said Patrick Nadeau, executive director of Ottawa Riverkeeper. “We always like to point out that in CNSC’s history, they’ve never said no.”

Environmental groups also say the controversy over the site highlights a lack of suitable federal policies to regulate the handling of nuclear waste. Existing policy, they said, is only a brief framework developed with no public consultation and is decades old.

Canada’s history as a pioneer in the nuclear industry means it ought to be doing a better job of disposing of the byproducts, said Lynn Jones of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

“We have the expertise,” Jones said. “What’s lacking is political will and a commitment to pay for it.”

A group of 40 environmental groups and five Ontario First Nations is calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency today to investigate Canada’s nuclear waste management practices.

Representatives from local environmental advocacy groups say two other proposals for permanent radioactive waste disposal — one in Manitoba and another in Ontario — contradict the agency’s guidelines. Those proposals involve a method known as “entombment,” in which the existing systems and structures are encased in grout. Both proposals are also in the environmental assessment phase.

Capping radioactive waste with materials like concrete or grout raises concerns of nuclear leakage, said Jones, adding that such materials might not possess the necessary longevity to contain the toxins.

“They try and make the case that it will last a few thousand years, but they can’t guarantee that,” she said.

“And even if it did last for 1,000 years, it’s not long enough because the wastes are going to be hazardous for a 100,000 years.”

Monday’s news conference ended with a protest rally on Parliament Hill, and coincided with a discussion on radioactive waste and First Nations at UN headquarters, lead by Indigenous representatives.

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