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Firsts Nation, environmental groups file third challenge against nuclear waste facility

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Ottawa
Mar. 27, 2024
A coalition of three environmental groups and a First Nation has applied for judicial review of a recent federal decision to grant a species at risk permit to the proponent of the Chalk River nuclear waste disposal facility.
The permit, granted by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) on Mar. 8, enables the proponent, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), to proceed with construction of the nuclear waste facility despite the fact that construction may harm or kill three separate species considered to be at risk, according to the federal species at risk act – the blanding’s turtle and two species of bats.
The act holds that it is illegal to destroy endangered species or their habitats without a permit, and permits are only to be granted if the project proponent has considered all possible alternatives and chosen the option with the least impact on endangered species.
According to ECCC’s decision, “the applicant has successfully demonstrated that all reasonable alternatives to the activity have been considered, all feasible measures will be taken to minimize the effect of the activity on the species, and the activity will not jeopardize its recovery.”
But the application for judicial review of this decision filed on Wednesday contests this.
Kebaowek First Nation, along with the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and the Sierra Club Canada Foundation filed a legal challenge requesting the federal court review the federal environment department’s decision to grant the permit.
Thee groups claim the proponent did not choose the site with the smallest impact on the species at risk, and suggest instead that the proponent “chose the location for convenience and proximity to existing waste management areas,” according to their Mar. 27 press release.
This decision came despite Kebaowek First Nation’s written request to the environment minister in January that a species at risk permit not be granted until the First Nation be given an opportunity to present its own findings and concerns, the product of several months of on-site species research at the NSDF site, to the review board.
The federal nuclear safety regulator approved the construction of the “near surface disposal facility” (NSDF) on Jan. 8, giving CNL the greenlight to build a facility that will be used to dispose of up to 1 million cubic meters of what it claims to be low-level nuclear waste.
Much of the waste is currently sitting above ground in temporary storage akin to shipping containers.
According to a statement from the group filing for the judicial review, “the applicants are seeking an order quashing the decision to grant a species at risk permit for construction of the NSDF.”
This is the third court challenge to be launched against the decision to approve the construction of the nuclear waste facility.
The judicial review will be decided later this year.

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