For Montreal-area mayors, nuclear waste facility at Chalk River, Ont., still a no-no

·3 min read
Maja Vodanovic, the mayor of the Lachine borough in Montreal, made a presentation on Monday during hearings organized by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. She was speaking on behalf of the Montreal Metropolitan Community. (Jay Turnbull/CBC - image credit)
Maja Vodanovic, the mayor of the Lachine borough in Montreal, made a presentation on Monday during hearings organized by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. She was speaking on behalf of the Montreal Metropolitan Community. (Jay Turnbull/CBC - image credit)

Years after voicing opposition to a proposal from an Ontario nuclear technology company to dispose of nuclear waste near the Ottawa River, a group of Montreal-area mayors is still not on board with the project.

In 2018, dozens of mayors with the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM) unanimously adopted a motion to oppose the development of a permanent nuclear waste disposal site in Chalk River, Ont., about 180 kilometres northeast of Ottawa.

The disposal facility — which would be under the control of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, a private consortium led by SNC-Lavalin —  is near the Ottawa River, and the CMM is worried waste from the site could contaminate what is a source of drinking water for millions of people, including those living in and around Montreal.

On Monday, Maja Vodanovic, the mayor of Montreal's Lachine borough, spoke on behalf of the CMM during hearings organized by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal regulator of nuclear power and materials.

"Nuclear energy is not clean energy," Vodanovic told CBC News. "Yes, it doesn't produce the [same] greenhouse gas effects like oil, but it creates very dangerous waste."

Much of the waste would come from buildings that date back to the 1940s through 1960s that need to be taken down.

Earlier this year, the city of Ottawa presented CNL with a list of recommendations to protect the river.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

CNL told CBC News it has made several changes to the project in recent years, including making sure the facility only handles low-level radioactive waste, as opposed to waste that has an intermediate level of radioactivity.

At Monday's hearings, Vodanovic, who is also the executive committee member in charge of water and infrastructure for Montreal, acknowledged that the company has made adjustments, but she still expressed concern about how the nuclear disposal site would be monitored.

The CMM wants the consortium to set up a room within its facility to better control and minimize the levels of radioactivity of its waste. It's also urging the company to provide more details about its plans to collect samples and measure pollution of the river

The facility would be operational for 50 years, but its potential effects on the river would be monitored for 500 years.

"It's our water, and no one can guarantee that something can be safeguarded for 500 years. And private industry cannot guarantee that," the borough mayor said.

In a statement, CNL said the waste disposal facility "has been planned and designed to be fully protective of the Ottawa River."

The company says the containment mound the facility will be built on will help keep hazardous waste out of the river.

"The overall safety of the facility is also complemented by the features of the selected site," said Bill Daly, a spokesperson for CNL. Daly also said the facility would be located on a bedrock ridge.

"[It's] a natural divide that directs water away from the Ottawa River. And the proposed site is situated well outside of a flood plain," the spokesperson said.

The company also points out that its project will have to abide by the strict norms of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which is a federal Crown corporation.

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