The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has authorized amendments for the nuclear research and test establishment operating licence held by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for Chalk River Laboratories. The amendment authorizes the construction of a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) on the Chalk River Laboratories site, which is located in Deep River, Ontario, and on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg peoples.

Several local community groups have voiced concerns about the controversial project for years over concerns that the project could pollute the Ottawa River, which is a primary source of drinking water for many communities and is located just one kilometre from the site.

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. According to 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.”

Prior to making its licensing decision under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), the Commission concluded that, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, the NSDF Project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided that CNL 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 (EA).

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The Commission also concluded that the design of the NSDF Project is robust, supported by a strong safety case, able to meet its required design life, and sufficient to withstand severe weather events, seismic activity, and the effects of climate change.

The Commission gave careful consideration to all submissions and perspectives received throughout the multi-year regulatory review and hearing process, which began in 2016. As a lifecycle regulator, the CNSC focuses on continuous engagement and consultation with Indigenous Nations before, during and after Commission proceedings for CNSC activities. This includes, for example, collaboratively drafting rights impacts assessments with Indigenous Nations and communities, and consulting on mitigation measures to help minimize any potential impacts of the NSDF Project.

The Decision

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.

In making its EA 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.

The Commission found that the site selection and NSDF design are in alignment with International Atomic Energy Agency standards. Additional information about the EA decision may be found in the backgrounder document, as well as in the full record of decision.

With this decision, the Commission amended CNL’s nuclear research and test establishment operating licence for Chalk River Laboratories to authorize the construction of a near surface disposal facility. The amended nuclear research and test establishment operating licence remains valid until March 31, 2028.

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Featured image courtesy of images submitted to DeepRiver.ca

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