News Local

Hearings continue for CNL

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

It was a long and busy day for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, as it presided over a second day of licensing hearings for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.

On Wednesday, the Best Western Pembroke Inn and Conference Centre continued to be the centre of support and criticism of the Canadian nuclear industry, as both sides had their say before the commission, which is determining whether or not to grant the company a 10-year operating licence.

A total of 28 presenters including groups like the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Town of Deep River, Ottawa Riverkeeper, County of Renfrew, Old Fort William Cottagers' Association and various individuals spoke to the commission members about their thoughts on the matter.

Those in favour of the licence renewal spoke of the economic benefits of CNL operations, its safety record and its importance to the area and to Canada as a world leader in research and development.

Those with concerns spoke out against the length of the licence term, which at 10 years has been unprecedented, the lack of clear commitment within the licence to protect the environment or deal with legacy radioactive waste, and the removal of many passages within previous licence requirements to be applied to this current one, something its critics say gut and water down the regulations used to keep CNL activities in check and accountable.

Despite repeated protests from members of the CNSC, CNSC staff and CNL that regulations weren't being cut but instead were being merged and adjusted to make the regulations clearer, get rid of duplication or to better reflect Chalk River Labs without its NRU reactor, presenter after presenter kept returning to the same topic.

Jean Brereton of Golden Lake brought with her a handmade scroll, some 26 metres long, which she said listed all of the licence conditions which were proposed to be deleted from the previous operating licence.

“I've been a resident of Renfrew County for the past 47 years,” she said, and felt she had a duty to speak up at these hearings in order to help protect the land and the rivers which she has grown to love.

After reading over the documentation, Brereton said she came up with one main question, why is the licence set for a 10-year term, when the usual length is five years. Then she noted the 10-year business plan CNL has and the $1.2 billion in funding to be spent over the next 10 years revitalizing the site.

“It seems connected to me,” she said, “which left me wondering if the go-co train has already left the station,” go-co being a reference to the government-owned, contractor-operated business model Chalk River Labs is now operating under.

Earlier in the day, Joseph Castrilli of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said after examining past licence requirements and comparing to what is presented now, it is clear to his group requirements are being watered down or muddied. He said the language has to be concise, or there will be problems with enforcement further down the line.

Castrilli said imprecise language would lead to legal action if CNL or others decides to challenge any of the orders placed against the company for non-compliance.

Meredith Brown, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, also took issue with the length of the licence, feeling one three to five years in length would be better. She said 10 years is too long to exclude the public from any meaningful review of the facility's operations that will be changing significantly over the next decade.

“What was missing for me is concern for protecting the environment,” she said, noting much has been heard on how the length of the licence will provide consistency in business planning, but little in dealing with legacy waste issues, a $7 billion nuclear liability.

“It is a bit unsettling to learn one of Canada's biggest environmental liabilities lies within the Ottawa River watershed,” Brown said. She pointed to the contamination of the river bed, ground water plumes coming from the buried remains of fuel rods and old reactors, and areas which are fenced off from human and wildlife because they are too contaminated to approach being a big part of that legacy.

While she said she appreciates the monitoring program, this is more following the problem around rather than dealing with it through remediation activities.

Both CNSC and CNL staff spoke out about that, saying such plans are definitely in progress as a part of the 10-year revitalization plan at Chalk River.

Deep River Mayor Joan Lougheed was one of a number of groups speaking in favour of the licence application, saying her municipality is the proud host community of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. She said it has been a great corporate partner, and recently signed an agreement to help provide fire protection for the town.

Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon, who with Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet, Arnprior Reeve Walter Stack and Laurentian Hills Mayor Jed Reinwald spoke on behalf of Renfrew County, threw their weight behind the licence application. He said CNL provides the county with a $300 million boost to the local economy, plus opportunities for its young people.

Caelhan Wood, who said he is part of a group living off the grid in a community near Killaloe, said as a young person, he didn't need nuclear energy and sees no need for it. He grow his own food and has solar power.

“I value healthy soil, air and water over job creation in the nuclear industry,” Wood said, adding he appreciates the hard work the CNSC and CNL are doing to help clean up and contain radioactive waste.

The last day of hearings begins Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. 

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