Blog: Day 3 – “Wrong Place, Wrong Plan, Wrong Timing”: Community Members Continue to Object During Radioactive Waste Dump Hearing

Photo: Ottawa River, Pembroke, ON

* This is the third in a series of blogs by CELA’s summer law students, Rebecca Waxman and Adam Meadows, live from the CNSC hearing room. Check back every day as they share reflections and reactions from the nuclear licensing hearing. Read the full series here

PEMBROKE, ON – On Day 3 of the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) environmental assessment and licensing hearing, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), continued to hear interventions on the topic of the long-term safety case.  

The day began with a presentation from the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada who questioned why a catastrophic event had not been modeled in Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  CNL responded by saying that modelling catastrophic events can give “the public a wrong impression”.  In response, Dr. Caldwell who was representing the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada stated, “I remain skeptical that the approach answers what the normal person living on the Ottawa River would be concerned about. Deciding not to analyze a catastrophic intentional dumping into the Ottawa River is a mistake in my opinion. I don’t think you can predict what will happen in 50 years, or when there may not be a CNSC or CNL.” 

Intervenor Nira Dookeran, a mother, retired high school teacher, and candidate in the current provincial election, discussed the importance of taking climate change into account for risk mitigation.  She emphasized the severity of the recent severe weather event in Ottawa on May 21st and the impact it and future similar events can have on vulnerable communities and to a facility like the NSDF.  The Commissioners invited Peter Kimbell of Environment and Climate Change Canada to respond to the intervenor’s concerns about climate change and the NSDF, however, they lacked any expertise in climate change.   Mr. Kimbell opened with, “I’m not a climatologist so I can’t really speak to the climate change angle, because certainly we hear and we read in climate change reports that the frequency of extreme events are expected to increase.”

Later in the day, intervenor Dr. James Walker discussed that the NSDF, as proposed, is an example of waste storage and not waste disposal as characterized by CNL.  This is due to the fact that many of the radionuclides that will be stored in the NSDF have long half-lives and even at the end of the institutional control period will be radioactive. For this reason, Dr. Walker highlighted that the NSDF was more akin to storage, as it does not meet the criteria for safe disposal nor international standards.   

Concerns about procedural fairness were illuminated by Gracia James, from the Provincial Council of Women of Ontario.  She noted how limited the public engagement was for hearing, where intervenors were only provided 10 minutes to present, despite their frequently high level of expertise.  She then went on to highlight issues with the NSDF including the high likelihood that the geomembrane liner will leak, as can be illustrated through landfills which frequently have leaks with the same technology.

Dr. Gordon Edwards from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility urged the commissioners not to grant the licence, describing it as “a quick and dirty approach to a 16-billion-dollar radioactive waste strategy”.  He shared detailed information on the 31 radionuclides that are to be contained in the NSDF including the facts that all but six are entirely human-made, 15 of them have half-lives of over 100,000 years of the remaining 16, eight have half-lives of over 1000 years.  Dr. Edwards argued that radionuclides like Cobalt-60 should be stored in Modular Above Ground Storage Shielded Modular Storage and not in the NSDF.  He noted that only very low-level waste (i.e., a category below low-level waste) waste should be stored in a landfill type disposal. 

Dr. Kathyrn Lindsay described the NSDF plan as “wrong place, wrong plan, wrong timing”.  She highlighted that this proposal is not only just 1km away from the Ottawa River, but also in an area that will cause loss of biodiversity and old-growth forests.   Further, she explained that there is a likelihood of contaminating surface water and therefore exposing land, wildlife, and people.  Finally, on timing, Dr. Lindsay said that the public engagement and consultation has been flawed, especially in terms of the Algonquin Anishinabeg nation.  Additionally, she noted that policy updates are currently being reviewed and that the Integrated Nuclear Waste Management Strategy has not yet been released for public review.

Tomorrow the hearing will continue and you can tune in live online.

Rebecca Waxman is a JD Candidate (2024) at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. She has a strong interest in environmental and administrative law and is currently Co-Chair of Dalhousie’s Environmental Law Students’ Society. Rebecca’s summer role at CELA is generously funded by the Schulich Academic Excellence Internship program.

Adam Meadows is a JD Candidate (2023) at Osgoode Hall Law School. He has a particular focus in Indigenous and Environmental law, recently completing an Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources, and Government at Osgoode.