News Local

Chapeau learns about NSDF

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

ALLUMETTE ISLAND – The idea of contamination reaching the Ottawa River continues to remain a sore point for those opposed to the near surface disposal facility.

Around a dozen people gathered inside Harrington Hall in Chapeau Thursday evening to both listen to and question Canadian Nuclear Laboratory officials about both the NSDF project, and the final closure of the decommissioned Nuclear Power Demonstration site.

This was the second public information meeting in Pontiac County on the subject, with one held at Fort William back in July.

Pat Quinn, CNL's director of corporate communications, said the NSDF will be used to dispose of mostly low-level waste and a small amount of intermediate-level waste, mainly contaminated soil and building debris resulting from the decommissioning and demolition of more than 100 buildings and structures at the Chalk River site – a necessary part of revitalizing the site. It is designed to also provide a safe and permanent disposal for waste from 65 years of science and technology and the laboratories’ continuing operations.

He said CNL is not planning to abandon the site once it is filled up, about 50 years from when it first becomes operational, which the company hopes will be in 2020, pending approvals. In their plans is a monitoring program of at least 300 years afterwards, or longer as it is merited, on top of the site's ongoing monitoring of emissions.

“No one is walking away from this,” he said. “CNL will be in Chalk River for many years to come. The Ottawa Valley is precious to us as well.”

Jim Buckley, director of the LLRW (Low Level Radioactive Waste) Facility Project,  said the majority of the NSDF's contents, some 90 per cent, is already stored, or would be produced, out of activities at the Chalk River site. Of the remainder, about five per cent would be waste originating from the Whiteshell Laboratories, in Manitoba and other AECL sites, such as the prototype reactors Douglas Point and Gentilly-1; and less than five per cent would be commercial sourced inventories for example from Canadian hospitals and universities, a service that has been underway for decades.

He said the site has been engineered to be safe, with layers of natural and man-made barriers to keep anything from leaking out, plus a water treatment plant top deal with anything which may trickle out before the cap is placed on top of it.

This includes remaining intact through floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and anything else nature can throw at it.

Those attending the meeting remained unconvinced, with some doubting the site would ever be safe, especially located downstream from a hydroelectric dam, with others stating it would never be worth the risk to allow it to be located a kilometer from the Ottawa River, the drinking water and recreation source for millions.

“I wouldn't bet my life or my children's lives on it, would you?” one resident asked. Others wondered why couldn't the site be located elsewhere on the property, as far away from the river as possible.

Another asked why wouldn't CNL just spend the money to ship the waste to the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. facility at Whiteshell, Manitoba, as there isn't anything there approaching a major water source.

This was the last of the public information meetings CNL held prior to the August 16 deadline for comments on CNL’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding the disposal facility. If it is approved by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, construction would begin in 2018.

The CNSC itself is expected to hold a series of public meetings on the NSDF locally starting sometime this fall, leading up to their licencing hearing on the project. That hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, but is expected to be held sometime in early 2018.

In the meantime, opposition to the project continues to grow, with Quebec's Green Party on record as being firmly against it, as well as the Bloc Quebecois. Its leader and MNA Martine Ouellet described the project as “insane” and is also publicly against it.

The Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association is organizing a protest flotilla of watercraft for Sunday, Aug. 6 which will set out from Fort William at noon and head up the Ottawa River to the CNL site to protest offshore starting at 1 p.m.. On Tuesday, Aug. 8, a Nuclear Guardianship Picnic will be held from 3 p.m. to dusk at Pembroke;'s Riverside Park. Its organizers, from the Killaloe area, are also opposed to the NSDF project.

SUhler@postmedia.com