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The federal panel that is reviewing a controversial plan to bury nuclear waste on the shores of Lake Huron is facing a challenge to its own impartiality over concerns that Ottawa's top nuclear regulator essentially endorsed the project at a meeting with its promoters.

In a submission to be presented Monday, a former provincial lawyer says Ontario Power Generation held "illegal and secret meetings" with municipal officials and senior officials from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is running the review.

Rod McLeod is a former deputy minister of the environment and deputy solicitor-general in Ontario and is a summer resident in Saugeen Shores, a community near the Bruce Power nuclear site where the deep geological repository (DGR) for low- and intermediate-level waste would be built.

Mr. McLeod is scheduled to appear at a federal panel hearing looking into the environmental impacts and safety issues surrounding OPG's $1-billion plan, which has divided the community and raised concerns as far away as Michigan and Ohio over threats to the Great Lakes.

In his written submission, he argues the CNSC president Michael Binder has fundamentally undermined the process by meeting with OPG and local mayors in 2009 and speaking in support of the project. According to notes taken by an OPG employee of the meeting, Dr. Binder spoke about opposition to the project and warned it was growing. He was quoted as saying, "You haven't seen anything yet."

As he left, he said he hoped their next meeting "would be at a ribbon-cutting ceremony" for the DGR, according to the notes.

Mr. McLeod said it is clear Dr. Binder had made up his mind about the DGR. Because members of the review panel received their mandate from him, they "are necessarily and unavoidably tainted by the reasonably apprehended bias or even closed mind of the president," he wrote.

Dr. Binder refused to comment on the allegations, or his attendance at the meeting with CNSC official Kelly McGee, who is now working for the review panel.

But commission spokesman Aurèle Gervais said they were invited to attend by the local mayors, who formed a community consultation group that worked with OPG, and that CNSC often accept invitations to discuss regulatory matters, regardless of the position of the hosts.

"The fact that President Binder and Kelly McGee attended the meeting will have no bearing on the outcome of the hearing," he said in an e-mailed statement. "The three independent members of the joint review panel are the only individuals that will be deliberating on the matter and preparing a report for the [federal] Minister of the Environment."

In an interview, Mr. McLeod said the panel should either cancel the hearing and find new commissioners, or hand the entire matter back to the federal government to find a safe solution for dealing with nuclear waste rather than leaving it in the hands of OPG and the local mayors.

He insisted he personally remains "pro-nuclear," but opposes the plan.

Opponents of the project accused the mayors in the local communities of jumping into bed with OPG several years ago when they signed community-benefit agreements that provide $35-million over 30 years to municipal coffers in lieu of taxes, on the condition of their support for the DGR. Since then, OPG and the federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization have met regularly with the mayors in closed-door sessions. Mr. McLeod criticized those meetings as "secret and illegal" because they did notprovide public notice or keep minutes.

In an interview this summer, Saugeen Shores Mayor Mike Smith rejected the idea that there were "secret" meetings. OPG officials "have been in our communities since 2005; they met with service clubs, the Rotaries, and anybody who wanted a briefing they were there," he said. "And our meetings were just part of that."

OPG spokesman Neal Kelly said Friday the provincially owned utility held "hundreds of meetings with thousands of people" over the past several years, and that the meetings attended by the mayors were information sessions, not decision-making ones.

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