The industry-based Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has confirmed that two of the four Canadian communities that it is talking to about becoming a nuclear dump are in northern Saskatchewan; at Pinehouse and English River. The other two are in northwestern Ontario, much closer to the nuclear power plants along the Great lakes that produce almost all of the nuclear waste in Canada.
Speaking for the English River band, Councilor Bernie Eaglechild said that “nothing has been decided and talks are still at an early stage”, emphasizing that “the band can still back out at any time.” Pinehouse mayor, Mike Natomagan, who also heads the Kineepik Métis Local, had a similar message; that this “learn more opportunity does not commit the village or Métis local to any further steps.” This doesn’t mean “Pinehouse has said ‘yes’ to the project”.
NORTH BEING BRIBED
But can negotiating with the NWMO lead to informed consent. Under both international law and Canada’s Charter of Rights the “Duty to Consult” means there must be “free, prior and informed consent.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes it clear that this can’t involve monetary inducements such as the NWMO is using. Informed consent requires sufficient time to consider all relevant information, from all sides of the controversy, and not being bribed under the threat of losing benefits to another community.
And we know that northern communities are being bribed to take nuclear wastes. In November 2009 the NWMO met privately with all the Environmental Quality Committees (EQC) across the north. In its 2009 Report the government-run North Saskatchewan Environmental Quality Committee (NSEQC) said that the NWMO made “communities aware of the opportunities to host a nuclear waste management storage site.” It continued, “There will be incredible economic benefits to such a community, but suitable geology and accessibility are also factors.” Such bribery is outrageous and must be stopped.
The neo-colonial situation surrounding the uranium industry in the north will not and cannot encourage informed consent. Since 1991 Cameco has supported importing Ontario’s nuclear waste, including from its co-owned Bruce Power nuclear complex. It sees this as a lucrative business venture. It is now concentrating toxic, radioactive uranium tailings at its huge Key Lake mine site, and having Pinehouse, south of Key Lake, as a nuclear waste dump would fit in with a nuclear industry waste corridor in north central Saskatchewan. Prince Albert and La Ronge would become the gateway to nuclear wastes, not a gateway to northern fishing, hunting and eco-tourism.
NOT MORALLY OBLIGED
A few people cleverly argue that we are morally obliged to take back nuclear wastes from nuclear plants that use uranium from Saskatchewan. This is absurd and would lead us to become an international nuclear dump for the U.S., France, Japan and many other countries that buy uranium from here. Also, Ontario should be responsible for its own nuclear wastes and should have had a nuclear waste plan before it built all its nuclear power plants. Furthermore, after the UDP consultations, the Saskatchewan government decided not to support Bruce Power’s proposal to build nuclear plants along the North Saskatchewan River. One of the main reasons Saskatchewan people opposed nuclear power was because they did not want to create nuclear wastes.
So why are these northern communities even considering a nuclear dump? English River’s Councilor Eaglechild says “the band is tired of seeing resources hauled out of its traditional land without receiving any payments for it”, and Pinehouse’s mayor Natomagan notes the recent Conference Board study showing northern Saskatchewan having the second lowest median income of any Canadian region. This concern about the wealth of resource development not being shared with the north is compelling and, along with the cumulative ecological effects of uranium mine expansion, was the main reason why the Joint Federal Provincial Panel in the 1990s recommended against two uranium mines going ahead. But a nuclear dump makes no economic sense compared with much cheaper sustainable options such as adding value to the renewable sectors in the north. Creating a deep geological repository to store nuclear wastes would be even more capital-intensive than uranium mining. And the Conference Board study that Pinehouse’s mayor refers to, confirms that the north remained amongst Canada’s poorest regions, even though it has been the highest uranium-producing and most profitable uranium mining region in the world.
DOES NDP OPPOSE NUCLEAR DUMP?
The question we should be asking is: “why these northern Métis and First Nations communities are so hard-pressed that they have to consider bringing deadly radioactive wastes into the north to create a few toxic jobs”? An even more fundamental question is: “why the NWMO is able to end-run the people of Saskatchewan and negotiate the location of a nuclear dump in the province solely with a northern Métis or First Nations community?” Why are the rest of us being left out of the process?
In 1987, the NDP government of Manitoba acted to protect the long-term public and environmental health of its people by legislating a ban on the importation and storage of nuclear wastes. Quebec did the same thing in 2008. Do Saskatchewan people deserve anything less?
Just why is the Wall-led government allowing the industry’s NWMO to travel around the North and privately negotiate the location of a nuclear dump that will affect people throughout the whole province? At the June 2009 NDP convention held after Lingenfelter was elected as party leader the delegates passed a resolution that an NDP government will not consider “storing nuclear wastes under any circumstances.” This resolution was co-sponsored by Regina’s Douglas Park constituency which later elected Lingenfelter as an MLA. So when will the NDP opposition and its leader start standing up for the rights of Saskatchewan people on this matter? Have provincial politics become so personal and vindictive that vital matters of ecology and justice aren’t worth the effort?
The Wall government’s own 2009 public consultations on the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) found that, of the thousands who participated, over 80% opposed bringing nuclear wastes to the province. At its last provincial conference the United Church called for a ban on nuclear wastes. This public opinion, including, coming from what the government itself called the most extensive public consultations ever held on the nuclear industry in Saskatchewan, must be respected. We now need a provincial ban on transporting and storing nuclear wastes. It is the right thing to do!
Next time I will look at the risks transporting nuclear wastes from southern Ontario to northern Saskatchewan.