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CNSC hearings wrap up

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has wrapped up its hearings on whether or not to grant Canadian Nuclear Laboratories a 10-year operating licence.


On Thursday, the Best Western Pembroke Inn and Conference Centre hosted the third and final day of hearings, which saw the last of 15 presenters make their case before the CNSC panel.

While several were in support of the licence application being granted, most of the remaining presenters either wanted the licence term greatly reduced to one to three years in length, or withheld altogether.

Three presenters from local aboriginal communities voiced their strong objections to the licence, stressing they never wanted nuclear activities on their territories in the first place, nor were they ever consulted about it.

Deputy Grand Council Chief Glen Hare of the Anishinabek Nation, told the CNSC panel the nation does not support granting a 10-year licence as there has been no meaningful consultation, and they cannot accept the risks associated with the storage and transportation of radioactive waste.

“In terms of licensing operations at CNL, radioactive waste would need to be transported throughout Anishinabek Territory, which we oppose,” he said. “Further, we reject the storage of radioactive waste near water bodies. Given the CNL site proximity to the Ottawa River, this licence must not be granted.”

Candace Neveau, who identified herself as an Anishinaabe woman and young mother, said she strongly objected to both the proceedings and the licence renewal. She said there is no Indigenous representation in the hearing room, nor any effort to consult with the people in their own language.

“This is darned right unacceptable,” she said, describing the proceedings as one of the biggest acts of colonialism she's seen in a long time.

“You have a responsibility to include our voices. This is our home, and I see you here to poison it.” she said. “If this licence is granted, it goes against truth and reconciliation.”

Neveau said under their natural law, the mineral uranium is considered sacred medicine which has to remain in the ground untouched. She said seeing how hazardous it and its byproducts are, it is easy to see why.

Neveau said she is tired of constantly needing to fight to protect the health of her children and to feel safe.

Tim Yearington is an Elder and a Kitchizibi Algonquin descendant of this traditional territory, which he said are the very lands now occupied by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories at Chalk River and the town site of Deep River. He shared a teaching with the panel, then informed them the most sacred Kitchizibi Algonquin medicine site is Oiseau Rock on the Ottawa River, known to the people as Pinesi-Asin or Thunderbird Rock.

He said it is directly across the Ottawa River from the Chalk River Lab site.

Yearington said this matter of the licensing is very important to his people, as they have been connected to the land since the beginning of time. He said they are more than willing to sit down and consult with CNL and all parties involved, but no one is knocking on their door.

He urged the panel to make the right decision, “not just letting our brains take over, but our hearts and spirits.”

Gordon Edwards, speaking over the speaker phone on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, urged the CNSC panel to reject CNL's application for a 10-year licence, and instead grant a one to two year extension of the current licence, on the condition the company come up with a plan to clean up the Chalk River site.

“Force the (CNL) consortium to present a detailed plan to clean up the site, complete with complete and detailed inventory of all waste that is there,” he said. This would include benchmarks and schedules for completion, in order to keep track of progress.

“What we need is to hold the feet of the licencee to the fire, and force a complete site remediation.”

Kurt Kehler, vice-president of decommissioning and waste management at CNL, said they are doing just that. He said 46 out of the 120 or so legacy structures have already been demolished, and a substantial amount of work and planning is going on to deal with the legacy wastes on site.

Professor Michel Duguay of Quebec's Laval University had issues with plans to develop small modular reactors (SMR), and so wants the licence period to be around two years so people can have the time top properly evaluate them as they are being designed. He isn't against the idea, although he feels they do pose risks such as aiding in nuclear proliferation, and potentially malfunctioning as new technology tends to when tried out for the first time.

What he objected to is new SMRs being tested at Chalk River, where a malfunction could contaminate the Ottawa River. Instead, he said he would like the testing site located somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where he felt it wouldn't harm anyone.

Michael Pinder, CNSC president, said SMR research and development would be under another licensing application, and encouraged Duguay to take part in it.

Speaking in favour of the operating licence was Michael Ivanco of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, who said the work and wealth of knowledge from Chalk River Labs is necessary to keep the Candu reactor fleet in operation.

He said he feels a 10-year licence is warranted, as once the NRU research reactor is deactivated, the amount of risk from the site drops dramatically.

Ivanco said listening to the presentations made him realize people have a misconception of radiation. He said natural radiation is everywhere, and is the source of radon gas, where the majority of people get their dosage from, and not from waste or the operation of reactors.

Lynn Jones, of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, said she is less confident in CNL operations, based on the licence application and past practices.

She said if the CNSC grants the 10-year licence, it will be proof the regulator is in league with CNL and the industry as a whole, and would therefore show a need to scrap the current system and reform the nuclear regulatory process.

“A lot of intervenors worked many hours to get ready for the hearings,” Jones said. “Please don't disappoint them.”

There's no timeline for the CNSC to hand down its decision on whether or not to grant the operating licence, but it will need to be done before March 31 when the current license expires. 

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