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Citizens' groups ask Federal Court to review planned nuclear waste disposal facility

A depiction of the nuclear waste disposal site that will be located on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories property. The disposed waste will be covered with a grassy mound to isolate it from the environment. (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories/supplied)
A depiction of the nuclear waste disposal site that will be located on Canadian Nuclear Laboratories property. The disposed waste will be covered with a grassy mound to isolate it from the environment. (Canadian Nuclear Laboratories/supplied)
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Citizens' groups are asking the Federal Court to review the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) decision to give the green light for the construction of a nuclear waste disposal facility near the Ottawa River.

The disposal project -- a seven-storey radioactive mound known as the "Near Surface Disposal Facility" (NSDF) – was approved by the CNSC last month.

The challenge was officially launched by Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area on Wednesday.

The groups say they are seeking an order quashing the decision to amend the license to allow for construction of the disposal facility.

"In our view, the Commission’s decision to license the giant radioactive waste mound, one kilometer from the Ottawa River, is a serious mistake," said Lynn Jones of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. "The mound is designed to last only 550 years, while much of the waste that would go into it will remain hazardous and radioactive for thousands of years."

They are asking the Federal Court to review what they call, "the Commission’s failure to adequately consider the following evidence":

• Radiation doses from the NSDF (as estimated by the proponent) would exceed some limits prescribed by Canadian regulations and international standards.

• The proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), did not provide sufficient information about the waste that would go into the NSDF thereby rendering its safety case unreliable.

• A key document submitted by CNL, the “Waste Acceptance Criteria,” includes an override section that would allow CNL to dispose of waste in the NSDF that does not meet the acceptance criteria. The override section nullifies any guarantees that only acceptable waste would be put in the mound and it makes the Safety Case a fiction.

• Waste verification processes are inadequate to ensure that waste going into the NSDF meets Waste Acceptance Criteria.

• CNL failed to provide information about many other projects it is undertaking on the same property that are likely to contribute to cumulative environmental impacts of the radioactive waste mound.

• CNL proposed as a mitigation measure to run a pipeline into Perch Lake, which would actually increase the flow of radioactive tritium into the Ottawa River, rather than decreasing it.

• Habitat and residences of protected species would be destroyed by site preparation and construction of the NSDF.

The application submitted for judicial review to Federal Court questions CNSC’s decision, claiming that the commission did not issue a licence to prepare a site, or conduct the necessary assessment in relation to site preparation.

Radioactive waste site will remain hazardous for thousands of years: Citizens' groups 

On Monday, Citizens’ groups from Ontario and Quebec called on the federal government to stop funding for the project, warning the radioactive waste site will remain hazardous for thousands of years.

In a letter to the government, the groups warned that waste destined for the mound is “heavily contaminated with very long-lived radioactive materials” that puts the public at risk of developing cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations.

“We believe Cabinet or Parliament has the power to reverse this decision and they need to do so as soon as possible,” said Jones.

“It’s clear that the only benefit from the NSDF would go to shareholders of the three multinational corporations involved, AtkinsRéalis (formerly SNC-Lavalin), Fluor and Jacobs. Everyone else would get only harm—a polluted Ottawa River, plummeting property values, increased health risks, never-ending costs to remediate the mess and a big black mark on Canada’s international reputation.”

The CNSC has said it determined the project is not likely to cause significant adverse effect, "provided that [Canadian Nuclear Laboratories] implements all proposed mitigation and follow-up monitoring measures, including continued engagement with Indigenous Nations and communities and environmental monitoring to verify the predictions of the environmental assessment."

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa on Monday, the CNSC said it will ensure that CNL meets all legal and regulatory requirements as well as licence conditions, through regular inspections and evaluations.

"The purpose of the NSDF Project is to provide a permanent disposal solution for up to 1 million cubic metres of solid low-level radioactive waste, such as contaminated personal protective clothing and building materials," the statement said. "The majority of the waste to be placed in the NSDF is currently in storage at the Chalk River Laboratories site or will be generated from environmental remediation, decommissioning, and operational activities at the Chalk River Laboratories site. Approximately 10 per cent of the waste volume will come from other AECL-owned sites or from commercial sources such as Canadian hospitals and universities."

CNSC says its Jan. 10 decision applies to the construction of the NSDF project only.

"Authorization to operate the NSDF would be subject to a future Commission licensing hearing and decision, should CNL come forward with a licence application to do so. No waste may be placed in the NSDF during the construction phase of the project," the regulator said.

CTV News has reached out to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for comments.

The site for the NSDF is on the CRL property, 180 km northwest of Canada’s capital, on the Ottawa River directly across from Quebec.

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