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Open letter: Near Surface Disposal Facility Project

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) would like to provide clarity and information on the regulatory process for reviewing Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) project.

Here’s what you need to know:

About the project

NSDF is a proposed engineered disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste planned for the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) site. The project is currently undergoing regulatory review of the environmental and safety and control measures proposed by the licensee. The project requires both a licence amendment to CNL’s current Chalk River Laboratories licence under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, and a federal environmental assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

It should be noted that the role of the CNSC is not to recommend methods for waste storage; its mandate is to ensure that the method being proposed does not pose a risk to the public or the environment.

About the environmental assessment

An environmental assessment (EA) is a planning and decision-making tool. Its objectives are to minimize or avoid adverse environmental effects before they occur, and incorporate environmental factors into decision making. An EA decision affirming that the proposed activities will not cause significant adverse environmental effects is required before the CNSC can make a licensing decision on this proposal.

The CNSC, as well as government agencies of various levels, Indigenous groups and members of the public have completed an initial review of the proposed project and identified a number of areas where additional information is needed from CNL. Complete licensing and environmental impact statement submissions are required from CNL before the CNSC can conclude its assessment of the project and proceed to public hearings. There are currently no time frames associated with the submission of CNL’s completed responses, nor for the remainder of the regulatory process.

About the decision-making process

The Commission – the CNSC’s independent decision-making body – makes decisions based on the most current scientific information and provides extensive reasons for those decisions. The CNSC’s expert staff will review and assess CNL’s proposal thoroughly against regulatory requirements, and will only recommend to the Commission that a project proceed if it is convinced that it is safe for the public and the environment. CNSC staff also take into consideration domestic and international safety standards to support the regulatory requirements for acceptable design and performance of regulated facilities or activities.

About public participation

The Commission strongly and actively encourages the participation of Indigenous peoples, members of the public and stakeholders in its regulatory decision-making processes, including public hearings, which are often held in local communities.

Indigenous groups, members of the public and stakeholders had previous opportunities to comment on both the project description and the draft environmental impact statement. They will also have the opportunity to submit written and/or oral interventions when the project comes before the Commission, if and when a date is set.

The concerns and interests of Indigenous groups, members of the public and stakeholders are of vital importance to the Government of Canada and to the CNSC, who will ensure an open and balanced process, and one that strengthens the quality and credibility of a project’s review.

About our commitment

As Canada’s independent nuclear regulator, the CNSC is committed to protecting health, safety, security and the environment. CNSC staff also live and work in communities along the Ottawa River, and have not only a professional regulatory obligation related to the project, but also a personal interest in ensuring safety.

The CNSC will review and assess CNL’s proposal thoroughly, and will only allow the project to proceed if it is convinced that it is safe for the public and the environment.

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