AECL and CNL sign long-term agreement with Canadian indigenous group

June 14, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (AOPFN) have signed a long-term relationship agreement that aims to foster mutual respect, collaboration, and economic opportunities between Canada’s indigenous communities and the nuclear industry.

Under terms of the agreement, a working group featuring representation from all three parties will be formed to facilitate ongoing engagements and collaboration among the organizations. This is in addition to the creation of what will be known as the AOPFN Neya Wabun (guardian program), which will establish a regular presence of Pikwakanagan guardians at CNL operations and AECL sites within the territory.

The AOPFN, located in the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation in eastern Ontario, have long been engaged in discussions with AECL and CNL regarding the Chalk River Laboratories site. The nuclear research and development site is owned by AECL and operated by CNL.

Chalk River disposal facility: A key focus of the agreement, announced on June 9, is CNL’s Near Surface Disposal Facility project at the Chalk River site. The proposed facility would accept Chalk River’s low-level radioactive waste, replacing temporary waste storage and disposing of legacy contaminated soils and aging infrastructure. The project is currently under review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and is subject to federal assessment, a process that has been ongoing since 2017.

Since 2020, AECL and CNL have had extensive engagements with the AOPFN regarding the proposed disposal facility. As a result, CNL has made improvements to the project to address concerns raised through these engagements.

With those changes in place and other tribal conditions and commitments met by CNL, the organizations have reached agreement on the disposal facility project, and the AOPFN will provide its consent to CNL and Canadian regulators to move forward with the construction of the facility.

They said it: “Pikwakanagan now has a significant say in their operations, incorporating traditional knowledge and values while protecting Algonquin rights and the environment,” said Pikwakanagan chief Greg Sarazin. “Responsible and modernized management of existing on-site radioactive waste will be ensured, and importation of low-level radioactive waste will be limited. Given the reality of operations at CNL/AECL, this agreement is the best path forward as we seek to protect mother earth and ensure the safety of future generations.”

“I want to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan for putting their trust in CNL by entering into this long-term relationship agreement,” said Joe McBrearty, CNL president and chief executive officer. “At CNL, we believe that the inclusion of indigenous knowledge into our projects and across all of our operations will help to improve the way we do our work, and to build understanding between CNL staff and indigenous people.”

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