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Bloc Quebécois stands with Algonquin Nation against proposed nuclear waste site 

October 13, 2023

From left: Lance Haymond, chief of Kebaowek First Nation; Dylan Whiteduck, chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg; and Savanna McGregor, grand chief of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation Tribal Council at a press conference in June. Photo by Matteo Cimellaro Listen to article

NationTalk: Canada’s National Observer: The Bloc Québécois has thrown its support behind Algonquin First Nations opposing a proposed nuclear waste site near the Ottawa River, a culturally important river and harvesting site for First Nations.

On Sept. 29, Marilène Gill, Indigenous Services critic for the Bloc, accused the Liberals of failing to heed the concerns of Algonquin Nations that feel they have not been adequately consulted over the proposed nuclear waste site.

The waste site will be developed by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, a conglomerate owned by AtkinsRéalis, formerly SNC-Lavalin. The company operates Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and will be responsible for building and maintaining the waste facility, which will house a large pile of low-level waste such as contaminated protection and cleaning equipment within a kilometre of the river. 

“They are worried about having a nuclear waste dump near their sacred lands,” Gill told the Liberals in the House, referencing Kebaowek, Kitigan Zibi and Mitchikanibikok Inik First Nations. “They are worried, but no one consulted them, and that failure to consult is a direct violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Liberals maintain all radioactive waste in Canada is managed safely in accordance with international standards and overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Two months ago, the commission held a hearing over the proposed near-surface disposal facility. A decision is expected in the next few months.

But the Kebaowek First Nation is preparing for the worst after Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson last week approved a nuclear waste strategy that includes multiple near-surface disposal facilities for low-level waste, and two deep geological repositories for intermediate- and high-level waste.

“It just makes you think that the writing is on the wall when it comes to the [near-surface disposal facility], for sure,” Justin Roy, a councillor with the Kebaowek First Nation, told Canada’s National Observer in a previous interview.

At a media briefing Thursday, Sara Dolatshahi, director of strategic projects at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, told Canada’s National Observer thatmany waste producers want less travelling of low-level, opting for near-surface disposal facilities near where nuclear waste is generated. Those disposal facilities will be managed and implemented by waste generators and waste owners, Dolatshahi said.

One of those waste producers is Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which research nuclear medicines, want to house their low-level waste close to their nuclear production facilities. CNL’s facility is about 20 kilometres from the proposed Ottawa River site.

It’s unclear if each nuclear producer will have their own near-surface disposal facility. Producers close to each other may want to collaborate for their low-level waste, Dolatshahi added, pointing to Hydro-Québec and New Brunswick Power as hypothetical partners, given their proximity.

New Brunswick Power’s Point Lepreau nuclear generating station produces around 40 per cent of the province’s energy. While Hydro-Québec has no operating nuclear facilities, it is on track to become a nuclear player again. In August, Hydro-Québec launched a feasibility study on reopening the province’s only legacy nuclear reactor within days of Micahel Sabia taking office as CEO. New Brunswick Power is also looking to develop small modular reactors, a contentious new nuclear technology.

Under Ottawa’s nuclear waste plan, nuclear producers will be responsible for disposing and managing their nuclear waste through their near-surface facilities or within deep geological repositories run by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which comprises Canada’s nuclear producers. 

The Bloc raised several concerns about the proposed Ottawa River facility in an environmental committee report published in September last year. 

In a 2022 committee report on nuclear waste, Bloc MPs said a seismic zone that spans the Ottawa Valley and western Québec could put the facility at risk.

The proposed nuclear waste site has undergone assessments for all possible natural events for the region including floods, earthquakes, forest fires and major storms with incorporated effects of climate change, Mitch MacKay, Communications and Engagement Director at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told Canada’s National Observer over email. 

The project has also been built on a bedrock ridge at elevation to avoid contamination of the Ottawa River, MacKay added.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative 

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