On the afternoon of June 2nd two hundred people mostly from ten northern communities gathered in the school auditorium at Beauval for the “Forum for Truth on Nuclear Waste Storage”. It was organized by the recently formed Committee for Future Generations, which in barely two weeks got the word out all across northern Saskatchewan. When I arrived at Beauval late on June 1st I was astonished by the number of road signs announcing the event.
People came from Beauval, La Loche, Buffalo Narrows, Ile a la Crosse, Canoe Narrows, Turnor Lake, Pinehouse, Patuanak and La Ronge. A few also came from Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Lloydminster and Regina. Northern mayors, elders, women and youth attended, with the presence of youth being remarkably strong. When I walked into the school auditorium I was greeted by students holding signs they had painted for the forum, saying: “Why here?; “We Want To Keep Our Environment Clean and Safe”; “Why Is This Happening?”, and “Is Mother Earth Important To You?” One read: “We Don’t Want Your Death Money!”
Great concern was expressed about the way the nuclear industry was trying to buy its way into northern politics and culture. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has created a committee of hand-picked, paid “elders” who they say will bring an “Aboriginal perspective” to the search for a northern community to host a nuclear dump. The Committee for Future Generations has asked “who are they, how were they appointed, what is the protocol for representation, how are they being accountable to the people, and how are they getting paid?” These are questions the NWMO should answer.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Métis Council of Canada have warned of this insidious approach. In its 2005 report the AFN said “To cite with favour the seven generations teaching while at the same time promoting nuclear energy is inconsistent at best and at worst denigrates and belittles the value of Traditional Knowledge and the First Nations cultures, beliefs and spiritual practices.”
If NWMO sincerely wanted to get aboriginal community perspective it would have come to this widely-attended gathering. But Pat Patton, who heads up NWMO’s “Aboriginal Relations”, declined. It turned out that her previous commitment was taking Pinehouse and Patuanak officials to tour a nuclear facility in eastern Canada. So while people from the communities being targeted for a nuclear dump gathered to ask questions and air concerns, some elected community officials were away on a nuclear industry-sponsored tour.
This is clearly more about manipulation than consultation.
The Committee for Future Generations calls for complete transparency of NWMO’s activities in the north. Many at the forum expressed concerns and even anger about all the meetings behind closed doors. A closed NWMO strategy meeting at Pinehouse May 4th inadvertently left its flip-charts behind. These were most revealing. One recorded comment was about “sugar-coating the information” going into the north. Another was about being sure there were “knowledge interpreters”. Some NWMO-selected, paid “elders” were in attendance.
The NWMO is following a two-track strategy in the north. On the one hand it says that a community has to agree to “host” a nuclear dump; that there must be “informed consent”. On the other hand it works behind the scene, with multi-million dollar inducements, to make sure some people are already benefitting, while sugar-coating a nuclear dump to sound good for the north. Several Métis and First Nations leaders spoke eloquently about how NWMO’s process is undermining the duty to consult. NWMO’s deceit is starting to unravel.
The NWMO wouldn’t send anyone to this first large northern forum on nuclear wastes. It also wrote the organizers that high-profile paid “elders” like Jim Sinclair couldn’t speak for NWMO. But the Committee for Future Generations didn’t want the forum to occur without the NWMO’s position being fairly presented. They did not want to repeat what the NWMO does and present only one side of the controversy. So right at the beginning they played two NWMO’s video’s describing the nuclear waste repository project.
I was then invited to speak about why Saskatchewan should declare a ban on nuclear wastes. I’ve read most NWMO documents as part of my ongoing research, but was still taken by the statement in one video that their nuclear waste containers would “last 100,000 years”. How can any credible organization make such a claim? And how would future generations ever verify this? Would people continue to communicate about NWMO’s guarantee of a period ten times recorded history, and then, after 100,000 years, risk digging down to see if the containers were still intact? And if they weren’t intact, where would they go? And anyway we know that the radioactivity in the nuclear wastes would actually rise after 100,000 years.
Such absurd NWMO claims show why an arms-length body, not controlled by industry, should be considering what to do with nuclear wastes. I asked those at the forum what they would think if DOW Chemical or DuPont came to their community to entice them to take their toxic chemical wastes. We wouldn’t tolerate this. So why are the Wall and Harper governments even allowing the nuclear industry to try to find a place to dump their wastes in the north?
ARMS LENGTH GROUP
A non-industry group should be looking at realistic options for nuclear wastes, including stopping producing them. And you can be sure that it wouldn’t consider trucking 18,000 truckloads of high-level nuclear wastes half way across Canada to dump in northern Saskatchewan. The only reason the industry is shopping around here is because Ontario doesn’t want to have to dump its nuclear wastes within its more densely populated province. And the major rationale for centralizing waste storage is to be able to get the plutonium as a future fuel source.
If a geological repository was such a safe idea and would bring such economic benefits, why isn’t it happening in southern Ontario, near the nuclear plants? The nuclear plants are, after all, also in the Canadian Shield. History explains! Northern Ontario kicked the industry out in the 1970s, Manitoba did the same thing in the 1980s, and now Quebec has banned importing nuclear wastes. When the industry came to Saskatchewan in 1991, to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), they were also told to go home. But the industry has come back in sheep’s clothing, peddling the same idea that was rejected by the federal inquiry in 1998. This time the NWMO is playing the economic card in a big way.
FORUM SAYS NO!
The Committee for Future Generations has seen through the deceit. After seeing NWMO’s videos, hearing the argument for a nuclear waste ban, and hearing from many people from the north, the forum voted unanimously to ban nuclear wastes in Saskatchewan. It also voted to hold more open forums, the next one to be held in Pinehouse where the NWMO is in negotiations to host a nuclear dump. After that they will go to Patuanak, the other targeted community. Some elders also asked for their names and photos to be removed from NWMO documents, so there was no impression being left that they supported a nuclear dump in the north. Now we will have to wait and see whether the NWMO just ups the ante, and pours even more “death money” into the north, or whether the hand-picked “elders” still receiving NWMO money finally realize they don’t speak for their communities.
This is self-determination and participatory democracy in action. People throughout the south who don’t want to see nuclear wastes trucked along their highways should support the northerners who have spoken at this forum. You can show your support by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org or going to their Face book: “Say No To Nuclear Waste Storage In Northern Saskatchewan”.