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Nuclear Haste Makes Waste: Regulators

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Issue: 44 Section: Environment Geography: Ontario Pembroke Topics: nuclear, Indigenous, Algonquin

April 17, 2007

Nuclear Haste Makes Waste: Regulators

Pembroke-based SRB denied license for tritium processing

by Stephen Salaff

The Ottawa River.

In a significant regulatory shift, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) recently refused to renew the operating license of tritium-processing firm SRB Technologies in Pembroke, Ontario on the Ottawa River. This departure resulted largely from pressures exerted by a coalition of the Pembroke-based nuclear concern and environmental protection NGO Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Algonquin activists.

The Pembroke Decision was the first in history where CNSC, Canada’s chief nuclear regulator, denied a license application from a major nuclear industry firm. SRB intended to continue operating in Pembroke with tritium, a hazardous radioactive substance purchased from Ontario Power Generation Inc. for incorporation into glow-in-the-dark illuminating devices.
CNSC hearings revealed that SRB long operated in a failed, unfenced Pembroke industrial park with no plant confinement, no containment and no physical security. SRB’s plant lacked a buffer zone, and adjoined a busy Pembroke artery near a heavily used hockey arena, a well-fished river and a residential subdivision.

CNSC’s 31 January 2007 “reasons for decision” document explained: “the licensee has not taken all reasonable precautions to control the release of a radioactive substance within the site of the licensed activity into the environment.”

During the precedent-setting hearings, CNSC encouraged knowledgeable intervenors to separate fact from fiction. These included radiation protection professional Rosalie Bertell, PhD in biometrics, representing the International Institute of Concern for Public Health and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County, and landscape painter Alfred Villeneuve, an Algonquin guardian of the Ottawa River.

Villeneuve is an Algonkin artist living since birth in Renfrew County and has resided in Pembroke for the past twenty-three years. “We have been here since time out of mind,” Villeneuve told the Dominion.

“As our ancestors did, we continue to follow Algonkin Law as it pertains to the outright protection of this Earth, our Mother, and all that exists on it.”

He said that the use of the Ottawa River for the disposal of nuclear waste fits into a long pattern of grave mistreatment and attempted genocide against Algonquin Nations.

“Less than two dozen people escaped and survived, out of an entire nation … First the old men, boys, girls and women at their encampment on what is now known as the Ottawa River, and then the wholesale slaughter of the men that were hunting elsewhere in their territory.

“Even through this horrific act of genocide, our ancestors survived.”

“SRB Technologies,” said Villeneuve, “in order to reduce toxic, nuclear waste contaminating their site, believes it is better to use our river for a nuclear dump.”

“You have no right to pollute the waters of our Spiritual and Historic Heartland … You have no right to dump any garbage … into our waters.”

Villeneuve warned civil servants in Ottawa against allowing further release of nuclear waste.

“While this land and this river is still under dispute with our nation and the governments of Canada and Ontario, we … will do all that is in our power as a nation of people to alert others of any destruction of our homelands including the United Nations.”

CNSC’s decision document created a new class of license, called a “nuclear substance processing facility possession license” for SRB in Pembroke. The firm sought rapidly to amend this license, and CNSC scheduled a hearing on this amendment for 12 April in Ottawa.

Joseph Castrilli, counsel for Canadian Environmental Law Association representing Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County (CCRC) objects to CNSC procedures in “prematurely” scheduling this hearing, at which CCRC has been denied speaking rights. Only CNSC staff and SRB are presently scheduled to speak at the “premature” hearing, and the staff supports the SRB position.

Villeneuve told the Dominion: “We object to any SRB backdoor continuation whatsoever of activities.”

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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