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Nuclear exploration event gives opportunity to learn more

Nuclear exploration event offers an opportunity for the community to learn more about nuclear waste management.

IGNACE — This past weekend's Northwest Nuclear Exploration Event saw over 200 people engage with exhibitors to discuss nuclear energy, safety, community willingness, and environmental research.

In late 2024, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is expected to select the site to build Canada’s deep geological repository, which would be the burial site for the storage of the country's decommissioned nuclear waste.

Two potential sites remain — Ignace and South Bruce in southwestern Ontario.

But before site selection can happen, the Town of Ignace must first consent to the project.

As part of the site selection process, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has community’s willingness to participate in this project as a key factor, which is why they have brought in experts in the field of everything nuclear to help the residents of Ignace make an informed decision.

“This is a big event for the community. It's a real opportunity for the community to come out and meet all of our experts. We have people here from every discipline that can answer any question and it's just a great opportunity for the community to be able to come out in a very informal manner and just talk to people and get their questions answered,” said Lise Morton, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's vice president of site selection.

“These events are incredibly important for the community. The Ignace community and the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation area are going to be making a very important decision in the next year as to whether they want to be informed and willing hosts for this project. It's very important that people come out. They can get their questions answered so that they really can make that informed decision.”

During the two-day trade show event, took advantage of speaking with experts directly involved and indirectly involved with nuclear energy and the project including Contact North, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Science North, and Ontario Power Generation.

Chela Breckon, the willingness study’s lead facilitator, engaged with residents regarding her role within the community over the next year.  

“We're here to investigate where people stand with respect to the Yes, no or I'm not sure about a deep geological repository here in Ignace. At the end of the day, my role is not actually to sway or influence anyone's opinion, it's to capture it,” said Breckon

“When I get into the community work and start looking and engaging with people at the door with interviews, small groups and large events, we're definitely going to be asking that question unfiltered. So, our hashtag is “team neutral”. We are absolutely not here to influence and we want to see that true representation of the voice of community in our reporting.”

Breckon said that the Willingness Study will extend to the youths of the community. The voices of children as young as 11 will be included in the final willingness report.

“I would never underestimate the power of youth, you know, they're changing the world actively right before us. So, we will absolutely be weighing that voice appropriately,” Breckon said.

Although the exploration event trade show layout allows people to wander from booth to booth, the event also had informative presentations from experts in the prospective field.

Jason Donev, a professor of physics who teaches energy issues at the University of Calgary, said teaching about nuclear energy is his passion. 

Donev's presentation, titled The Power of Story: How Science Fiction Has Influenced the Stories We Tell About Technology, dives into how humans use storytelling to understand the complexities of the world. 

“One of the greatest stories out there, one of the greatest TV shows ever created is The Simpsons. It is so amazing how it gets into the minds of people in a relatable way. But then it winds up creating a narrative and that narrative around nuclear is actually more effective at sticking in people's minds than anything that is actually true about nuclear. And it's fascinating,” added Donev.

He goes on to discuss how the imagery of the fictional town of Springfield’s nuclear power plant is a source of inadequacy in the nuclear industry.

“I get people coming to take my nuclear class at the University of Calgary and these are engineers, these are scientists who study the material and they come to me and they're really shocked that this is what nuclear waste looks like because it's a solid. It is not green glowing goo, but the stories that we tell about it being something that can ooze, something that can flow, something that could get anywhere, something that you could stick inside of a tree like in the Marge versus the Monorail episode,” Donev reflected.

“Just to be really specific about this, that's just not how nuclear waste works. It's a solid. It's a ceramic like a coffee mug or if you prefer like the shielding on the space shuttle for re-entry into the atmosphere. These ceramics are tough, they are powerful and they don't dissolve in water."

The exploration event was hosted by the Municipality of Ignace. In attendance, the mayor and council also took the opportunity to gain more knowledge about the nuclear industry and gauge the community's response.   

"This event was all about the community, offering people the chance to hear from experts from various sectors of the nuclear industry, ask questions and gain a deeper understanding of the project so that as a Council, we consider their perspectives," said interim Mayor Kim Baigre.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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