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Federal regulator gives go-ahead to nuclear waste disposal facility in Deep River, Ont.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has approved a controversial plan for a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) for nuclear waste on the Chalk River Laboratories site in Deep River, Ont.

The CNSC said it has determined that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse effects, “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,” a news release says.

The project would be used to store up to one million tonnes of radioactive waste. The 16-hectare site would be built about 1.2 kilometres from the Ottawa River.

Community groups have voiced concerns about the project for years, saying that the landfill could pollute the river, which is a primary source of drinking water for many communities, including Ottawa.

The CNSC said it gave careful consideration to all submissions and perspectives it received throughout the multi-year regulatory review and hearing process, which began in 2016.

Several Indigenous groups called on the government this summer to abandon the project.

“The Kichi Sibi is sacred to our peoples and at the heart of our unceded homeland,” said Chief Lance Haymond, of Kebaowek First Nation, in a statement in June 2023. “The Algonquin peoples never consented to the Chalk River site being used for over 75 years for nuclear reactors and research, and now being the site for a permanent radioactive waste dump. Consultation was far too late and inadequate, and we reject the plan.”

The CNSC said it consulted with Indigenous groups and First Nations.

“The Commission was satisfied it had fulfilled its constitutional responsibility to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate Indigenous rights in respect of its decision making on the NSDF Project,” the CNSC said. “In making its [environmental assessment] decision, the Commission concluded that the NSDF Project is protective of human health and the environment, including the Ottawa River, and that the proposed site is an acceptable and safe location for the NSDF Project.”

In a post on X, Gatineau, Que. mayor France Bélisle said the decision to approve the landfill was disappointing.

“[It] raises critical concerns about the drinking water safety of millions of residents. We will continue to push for adequate measures to minimize risks to our citizens along the Ottawa River,” she said in French.

The federal Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) owns Chalk River Laboratories. As the licensee, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) operates the site under a government-owned, contractor-operated model. The Chalk River Laboratories site includes Class I and Class II nuclear facilities, waste management areas, radioisotope laboratories, support facilities and offices.

CNL says the facility will be built with an engineered containment mound that has passive safety features. Natural and synthetic barriers are designed to work together to isolate waste materials from the environment.

With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Peter Szperling 

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