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Northern Ontario town of Ignace votes in favour of hosting nuclear waste site



Northern Ontario town of Ignace votes in favour of hosting nuclear waste site

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Uranium pellets are shown during a tour of a Nuclear Waste Management Organization facility in Oakville, Ont. on Dec.12, 2023.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The Township of Ignace, a community of roughly 1,200 in Northern Ontario, formally declared its willingness to host a nuclear waste disposal facility on Wednesday, ending negotiations that began more than a decade ago.

A location 40 kilometres west of the town, known as the Revell site, is one of two candidates to host an underground disposal site for radioactive spent fuel from Canada’s nuclear power reactors, known as a deep geological repository. According to a hosting agreement signed in March, Ignace would receive payments totalling $170-million over the project’s 175-year duration, should its proponent, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, select the Revell site. The facility is estimated to cost $26-billion.

The municipality’s decision represents a milestone for the NWMO, which has been searching for a site with suitable geological characteristics and other features since 2010. It selected the Revell site and another candidate, in the Municipality of South Bruce located east of Lake Huron, for detailed studies four years ago, and has said it will choose between the two by the end of this year. South Bruce has scheduled a referendum for Oct. 28 to determine whether residents are willing to have the facility.

Ignace’s municipal government had previously said the repository could “advance the long-term well-being of the community” through economic growth and environmental sustainability. The government decided against holding a referendum because, it said, few residents wanted one, and a referendum also “cannot determine whether someone is informed.”

The municipality instead hired a consultant, With Chela Inc., which provided a study examining residents’ perspectives about the project to a “willingness ad hoc committee,” which provided its recommendation to the town council on Wednesday.

Roger Dufault, co-chair of the ad hoc committee, said 640 of an estimated 1,035 eligible residents participated in a community vote conducted online and in-person in late April. Of those, 495 voted in favour of proceeding as a host community for the repository, or 77 per cent of the total. Only 133 residents, or 20.8 per cent, voted to drop out of the NWMO’s process. It recommended the council pass its resolution to proceed as a host community, which the council promptly did.

In addition to the two municipalities, the NWMO also seeks hosting agreements from the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation (for the Revell site) and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (for South Bruce). Negotiations continue, but neither First Nation has committed to make a final decision this year.

Clayton Wetelainen, chief of Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, said during an interview last month that his organization is striving to ensure its membership is sufficiently informed to vote this fall, but was unsure whether that could be accomplished. He also emphasized his community would not grant a binding approval of the project this year, as Ignace has just done.

Tensions with First Nations threaten to delay nuclear waste facility

“We remain optimistic that we will select a site this year and are encouraged by active discussions under way with potential host communities,” NWMO spokesperson Fred Kuntz wrote in an e-mail.

Northwatch, an environmental group opposed to the Revell repository, said in a statement that other communities are closer to the Revell site than is Ignace, which is situated in a different watershed, and said its municipal council lacked jurisdiction. Spent nuclear fuel would also be transported through many communities on its way to the site.

“There’s no rational reason for Ignace to be making the decision, other than the fact that they’ve accepted money from the NWMO for 14 years,” said spokesperson Brennain Lloyd.

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