News Local

Protest takes to the river

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

OTTAWA RIVER – Not there, not now, not ever.

 

On Sunday afternoon, a flotilla of more than 30 watercraft – from kayaks to flat bottomed tour boats – carrying 150 people assembled offshore of Chalk River Laboratories to deliver a message to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories: a resounding no to the proposed near surface disposal facility.

The facility is meant to dispose of up to one million cubic metres of low level radioactive material at a site located about a kilometre from the Ottawa River.

The flotilla, organized by the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association, started up the Ottawa River from Fort William and collected local residents, operating their own watercraft, along the route before stopping at the mid-point of the river, across from the CNL operated site.

Once assembled, the protesters, many carrying homemade signs, listened to some words of encouragement from the flotilla's organizers and a special guest, the leader of Quebec's Green Party.

Alex Tyrrell of Gatineau said it is clear to him this project is being rushed through as fast as possible before the public finds out about the plan to locate a radioactive waste disposal facility so close to the Ottawa River. He said they will reject it once they do know about it.

“It is great to see so many of out to oppose this,” he said. “The more people who know about it, the more likely people will realize how insane this is.”

Tyrrell said the Ottawa River is the source of drinking water for millions of people in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, from Ottawa and Gatineau to Montreal and beyond. The mere existence of such a waste site near the river means there will remain a possibility of leakage, and that is simply too great of a risk to accept.

Johanna Echlin of the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association said for a full year they have been against this project since the group first caught wind of it in July 2016. She said they are appalled someone seems to think locating a plastic lined dump built using landfill type technology next to the river was a good idea.

“We say “no” to a large dump on the Ottawa River,” she said. “You got to be nuts to think we'd ever support that.”

Echlin said what they could accept is a better designed and more expensive facility made to international standards and located at least 25 km away from the Ottawa River.

“CNL has to scrap the NSDF, go back to the drawing board and start again,” she said.

Local resident Rick Bradshaw, one of the flotilla's organizers, said CNL doesn't even have a plan to deal with the situation if the NSDF leaks. He said it was appalling how the Canadian government abdicated its responsibility for the handling of radioactive waste by handing it over to CNL – a consortium of private companies – to oversee. He said Canada needs to reclaim its nuclear industry as a purely publicly-run one again.

Bradshaw said the people can make a difference if they speak up.

“This is really a fight for individuals,” he said. “Ask your politicians to clarify their position on this, write letters to the editor, get the word out there.”

Bradshaw also encouraged people to attend public events protesting the NSDF, and to encourage their friends and neighbours to come along. A protest picnic is planned for Aug. 8 at Pembroke's Riverside Park, starting at 3 p.m. and going to dusk.

He stressed the deadline for public comments to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on this part of the process is Aug. 16, so act now.

The proposed NSDF is an engineered containment mound designed to help CNL dispose of up to one million cubic metres of mainly low level radioactive material over the course of the next 50 years. Some 90 per cent of this waste will be produced, or has been produced, at the Chalk River site itself - mainly contaminated soil and building debris coming from the upcoming decommissioning and demolition of more than 100 buildings and structures. The rest will be low level material brought in from other Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. sites, and commercial sourced inventories like from Canadian hospitals and universities.

To date, no environmental assessment public hearing has been scheduled to deal with the application for approval of the NSDF, which is part of the process, but one is expected to be set up sometime in mid-2018.

If the NSDF proposal is approved by the CNSC, construction would begin soon afterwards, and be complete by 2020.

SUhler@postmedia.com