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First Nations urge Environment Minister not to green light Chalk River nuclear waste dump 

February 14, 2024
People participate in a rally against the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) project at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Chalk River site, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Feb. 14.JUSTIN TANG/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe and MaIl: Ottawa – Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault was urged by First Nations chiefs Wednesday not to issue a permit to allow a nuclear waste dump on a forested site northwest of Ottawa where a variety of wildlife, including “at risk” wolves, live.

Ten chiefs and members of First Nations in Quebec and Ontario travelled to Parliament to urge the federal government to halt the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF), which the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approved for construction last month.

First Nations, supported by environmentalists and Bloc Québécois and Green MPs, said the site of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ planned nuclear waste dump is too near the Ottawa River, which supplies drinking water to the country’s capital. They fear it could be polluted with a radioactive substance running off the site.

Kebaowek First Nation last week filed a Federal Court application for a judicial review of the Jan. 9 decision by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, alleging the government breached its duty to consult Indigenous people.

At a press conference, preceding a rally with First Nations on Parliament Hill, Kebaowek Chief Lance Haymond urged the Prime Minister to intervene and halt the project saying First Nations had not been properly consulted.

First Nations leaders on Feb. 14 called on the federal government to oppose a nuclear waste disposal site near the Ottawa River that they say threatens drinking water and their rights. Chief Lance Haymond of Kebaowek First Nation says First Nations stand united in safeguarding the well-being of the environment, and the fundamental right of all Canadians to access clean and uncontaminated drinking water.


Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation told The Globe and Mail that an inadequate assessment of the impact on plants and mammals – including black bears hibernating in dens on the site – was conducted before approval was given.

First Nations spent several months surveying the site and found it rich with wildlife, but he said they were not given long enough, and a more extensive survey is needed.

Mr. Haymond said if Mr. Guilbeault were to issue a permit under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) it would pre-empt an assessment his department is carrying out on upgrading to a threatened species eastern wolves that roam on the site.

Gretchen Fitzgerald, national programs director at Sierra Club Canada Foundation, an environmental organization, has written to Mr. Guilbeault asking him to instruct his officials “to not issue a SARA permit until impacts on at-risk migratory birds, turtles, bats and eastern wolves have been thoroughly assessed.”

“The project would replace roughly 35 hectares of high-quality mature forest with an above-ground landfill for a million cubic metres of radioactive waste,” the letter said.

Ole Hendrickson, president of the Sierra Club, said the site is an important corridor between the wolves’ territories in Quebec and Ontario and a rich feeding ground for them, with deer and moose congregating near a very old fir plantation in the forest.

Mr. Haymond urged Mr. Guilbeault not to issue a permit under the Species at Risk Act and told The Globe that the forested site of the planned nuclear waste dump is a nursery to black bears, with several active dens, as well as a habitat for eastern wolves, which roam there.

He said it would be remiss of the Environment Minister to issue a permit while his officials are assessing whether to upgrade the eastern wolf to a threatened species. “The eastern wolf is a species at risk that requires protection,” Mr. Haymond said. “They have been talking about uplisting it since 2016 and they shouldn’t pre-empt that.”

In 2015, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada reassessed the status of the eastern wolf as threatened. If the wolves are classed as threatened, their habitat would need to be protected, which could put on hold plans to build the waste dump on territory where they roam.

The eastern wolf, also known as the Algonquin wolf, numbers between an estimated 236 and 1,000 adults, and is confined to forests in Central Ontario and Southwestern Quebec. It is currently listed as a species of special concern.

The federal government published the proposed uplisting of the eastern wolf to a threatened species in November last year, carrying out a month-long consultation. It has until August to make a decision.

The proposed order amends Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act “to support the survival and recovery of the eastern wolf in Canada by uplisting it from a species of special concern to threatened.”

An assessment of the impact of amending the act, published by the government, says Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) was twice consulted on the proposal to upgrade the wolf’s status.

It said, depending in part on the timeline for the start of construction, there could either be no costs for CNL or, in one of four scenarios, huge costs.

Under one scenario, CNL told them that if eastern wolves were upgraded, it could potentially lead to estimated costs of up to $160-million, the cancellation of the Chalk River nuclear disposal site, and restarting the planning and approval process to move the project to an alternative location.

Samuel Lafontaine, spokesman for Environment and Climate Change Canada, said the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission “conducted a rigorous and extensive environmental assessment that included a careful consideration of impacts on species at risk.” He said mitigation measures to minimize impacts on wolves in the vicinity of the project had already been proposed.

Rachel Chennette, spokesperson for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, said “CNL has been working with Environment and Climate Change Canada since the submission of the Near Surface Disposal Facility project description in 2016 to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.”

MARIE WOOLF, Staff Reporter