A public forum was held on Tuesday April 26 by officials from MRC Pontiac to discuss the proposed “near surface disposal facility” at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ site at Chalk River. The event took place at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fort-Coulonge and brought out around 40 people. The event was organized by Pontiac Warden Jane Toller and was meant to give citizens an opportunity to voice their opinions prior to the upcoming regulatory hearing at the end of May. Toller has already registered to speak at the event, and said that she would be submitting a recording of the forum as well. Pontiac MP Sophie Chatel has also filed a request to intervene at the hearing.
The NSDF is an engineered mound that would hold up to 1 million cubic metres of low-level nuclear waste, the majority of which is already housed at the Chalk River site. Public consultations on the project have been ongoing since 2016.
Many attendees questioned the decision-making process for the location, which would be roughly 1 km from the Ottawa River.
Davidson entrepreneur Jim Coffey said that residents shouldn’t be “intimidated by the science”, explaining that the onus should be on CNL to prove that their choice of location for the site was the best option.
Resident Dave Herault, who works at Chalk River, said that he wasn’t sure if he supported the NSDF project but pointed out that a lot of the waste the site would hold is currently sitting next to the river. He also commented on the number of Pontiacers employed at the site, either as actual employees or contractors.
Litchfield Mayor Colleen Larivière, in a French-language interview, said that this was a long-standing issue, and despite assurances from the experts over the years, she was concerned about the possibility of natural disasters and also the longevity of the plan.
“Well, this debate here has been going on since 2016. It’s a major concern for everyone who lives downriver from the Chalk River,” she said (translated). “The fact that the site in question is less than a kilometer from the source of drinking water for several of our municipalities, as well as the cottages and residences on the shore of the Ottawa River, represent an inconceivable risk for the people of Pontiac. I understand that several experts have stated that the site would be safe and, yes, possibly in a perfect world, but we all know that we do not live in a perfect world. So that’s it, will the facility remain safe from earthquakes, floods, natural disasters and how will it hold up over time. My concern is for future generations, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren. Once it’s done, it’ll be there forever and there’s no going back. That’s a million cubic meters of waste by 2070, they have to find another solution, it’s definitely not a legacy we want to leave to our future generations.”
Catherine Emond-Provencher, the new president of the Pontiac NDP Riding Association, said that they are against the facility and questioned the independence of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the government organization that regulates nuclear energy and material in Canada.
Following the meeting, Toller said that the next step would be initiating a petition that she could present at the regulatory hearing.