Nuclear vote near for Ignace residents

IGNACE – Decision time is near. In a few weeks, residents in this Northwestern Ontario township will cast ballots on their willingness to have a nuclear waste repository in the area.

Then a consulting firm will write a report and submit it to Ignace township council in June. Then councillors will make their decision and transmit it to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

Before all that happens, Chéla Breckon and her community engagement team will be in Ignace to help residents.

Breckon’s firm, With Chéla Inc., has been conducting a “willingness study” to gauge the level of public support in Ignace for hosting an underground repository for spent nuclear fuel.

She and three teammates will commence a final round of door-knocking on April 10 to connect with residents.

“Our ground team is going to be there for four days making sure that every single door was reached,” Breckon said from her home base in the Ottawa Valley region.

“And then there’s also two official pieces of mail coming out this month to anyone who hasn’t registered yet,” she added.

“So those final pieces of outreach are being made and there’s also a host of emails and different other ways that we communicate to residents.”

The With Chéla squad will start knocking on doors two days before the Nuclear Exploration Event, which Mayor Kim Baigrie has described as an “educational event for our residents.”

Taking place April 12-13 at the Ignace Recreation Centre, the exposition will feature dozens of exhibits and include a With Chéla table where residents can register for the confidential interviews that are part of its willingness study.

Unlike last September’s exploration event, this one will include anti-nuclear group We the Nuclear Free North among the exhibitors.

“We are so pleased that we have over 40 exhibits who will be on the ground and providing factual and critical information about the nuclear industry, safety in transportation, this proposed deep geological repository and the opportunities that are associated with it,” Baigrie said in a news release from the township.

“But we don’t stop there,” she added. “We also have invited those who are presenting the potential challenges of this project, and their voice must also be heard.”

The event’s second day will start with a pancake breakfast at 9 a.m. with Baigrie and the mayors of Pinawa, Man., and Clarington, Ont., which are both members of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities.

Pinawa hosted an experimental nuclear reactor and Atomic Energy of Canada’s Whiteshell Laboratory for about 40 years ending in the early 2000s. The lab is in the end stage of decommissioning.

Clarington hosts Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington nuclear power plant.

Breckon and company will come back to Ignace less than two weeks after the exploration event to set up for the five-day community vote on willingness.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on April 26, Ignace residents and property owners 16 and older will have five days to vote their position on the deep geological repository.

They may vote to have their township “continue participating” or “stop participating” in the site selection process for the repository. There’s also a third option of abstention, meaning the person feels indifferent or neutral on the matter.

Votes may be cast online or at the recreation centre’s curling hall.

After the voting, Breckon will consider all the data her firm has collected and write a report for submission to the township’s Willingness Ad Hoc Committee in June.

The committee will review her report and make a recommendation to township council, which will then make a decision on whether Ignace truly does wish to be a host community and report that decision to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

The nuclear organization is slated to choose a site for its underground repository late in the year. The choice is between a site west of Ignace and one in southwestern Ontario.

Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, northwest of Ignace, is undergoing their own willingness process and will report their decision to the NWMO at about the same time.

The industry-funded nuclear organization has said community willingness is a prerequisite for whatever place it chooses to locate the underground nuclear waste facility.

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source