Long-term nuclear waste repository ‘not worth it’: FSIN vice chief

Alex Di Pietro
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Aboriginal leaders and community members met with representatives from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) for a session Friday at the Prince Albert Inn to learn more about a plan to potentially store nuclear waste in northern Saskatchewan.

Pat Patton, director of aboriginal relations for the NWMO, holds an empty nuclear fuel bundle at an information session regarding nuclear waste management at the Prince Albert Inn on Friday. 

Sessions were held in Saskatoon and Regina earlier this week to discuss the same topic. The NWMO provided the FSIN with $1 million over three years to fund the nuclear waste sessions.

While Friday’s session was open to First Nations people but closed to the media, participants spoke with the Daily Herald during a break in the day’s agenda.

Bobby Cameron, vice chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), said the purpose of the meetings has always been the same.

“That’s to inform and educate our First Nations people on nuclear waste management, the storage and transportation,” he said. “We have nothing to hide. We invite our First Nation folks to come out and raise their concerns.”

Twenty-one communities in Saskatchewan and Ontario have expressed interest in accepting the NWMO’s plan to build a nuclear waste repository, with those in Saskatchewan currently in the first phase of step three — an 18-month to two-year process.

Cameron clarified that there are far more communities in Ontario that are interested, with only three out of the 21 being in Saskatchewan.

“As I said in my opening comments this morning, there are far more communities interested in Ontario than there are in Saskatchewan. It’s not set in stone that waste is going to be stored here in Saskatchewan,” Cameron added.

The NWMO is in the midst of searching for a site to store millions of used nuclear fuel bundles, which are currently being stored on an interim basis at various facilities around the country.

While Pinehouse, Creighton and English River First Nation are being considered, there has been opposition shown toward the proposal by residents of those communities.  

Citing environmental concerns, Cameron said he is aware of the opposition that exists.

“To tell you the truth, I represent 74 communities, and the consistent message out there is the majority of them don’t agree with nuclear waste management and the safety of it — and I speak on behalf of them,” he said.

Used nuclear fuel is created from the generation of electricity in nuclear power plants. One nuclear fuel bundle, which is roughly the shape and size of a fireplace log, can power up to 100 homes a year.

While Cameron conceded that the deep geological repository would bring jobs, he said one must assess the pros and cons of the plan.

“The pros being the jobs, the revenue it’s going to generate and the cons being nothing’s more important than our land (and) nothing is more important than our water,” Cameron said.

“In 40 or 50 years, many of us are going to be dead,” Cameron continued, noting that after speaking to aboriginal communities, the bottom line is that it isn’t worth it.

“Do we want to leave jobs and money or do we want to have a nice clean healthy environment, so our kids can enjoy it every day?” he asked rhetorically.

Cameron shared more of his perspective on the possible environmental effects of a long-term repository.

“You look at the uranium mining here in northern Saskatchewan — the tailing ponds and the pollution that it’s causing our lakes up in the north,” he said. “It’s to a point now where some of our people can’t even eat the fish in some of those lakes up there. The potential is there for sure.”

Regardless of whether they are stored in Saskatchewan, however, the bundles must be stored somewhere.

Pat Patton, director of aboriginal relations for the NWMO, said the selection of the site will depend on both the approval of the community in which it will be built and whether it’s safe to build the site.

“Towards the end of this year, we will begin to narrow down to a smaller number of communities,” she said.  “If they had strong potential they will know and then they will decide if they go to phase two of step three, which would be another two- to three-year process.”

However, Patton said more research must be done to decipher whether the three Saskatchewan communities are geologically suitable for the long-term repository.

“Once we move into phase two, we would have a better understanding, but there are many potentially strong locations in Canada,” she said. “We still need to do a fair amount of study before we would know for sure.”

Patton said 15 of the 18 communities interested in the project in Ontario are currently in step three, with the other three still in step two.

Ashley Marie Wilson, one of many Idle No More Prince Albert organizers, was in attendance for Friday’s session. She expressed sincere discontent over the storage site being potentially built in Saskatchewan.

“I do not stand with this nuclear waste and came here today to get answers to bring to the people, because we need to protect the earth,” she said through tears. “We need to protect the water. It is very important that people know what’s coming if they let this happen and they don’t stand up to do something about it now.

“I encourage everybody to learn as much as they can and put this to a stop.” 


Organizations: Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, First Nations, Daily Herald Prince Albert

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Ontario, Saskatoon Regina Northern Saskatchewan Canada

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Recent comments

  • Ron Darling
    March 13, 2013 - 17:55

    Right on, Debbie. Thankfully we have our native brothers and sisters leading the charge against this insidious industry. If we continue to allow the nuclear industry to continue spreading its deadly ways, the natives will be correct....goodbye Earth.

  • John
    February 25, 2013 - 10:28

    So the good people of Saskatchewan think that they are somehow entitled to profit from Uranium Production, Benefit from Medical Isotopes, and reject any possibility that they share in the burden of dealing with the waste of those benefits? Please...

    • Debbie Mihalicz
      March 05, 2013 - 20:26

      Since its inception, the "good people of Saskatchewan" have been saying NO to uranium production, but are consistently ignored, decieved and lied to by government and industry. Medical isotopes can and are being produced by a cyncotron on U of S campus -no need for nuclear reactors to do that. And it's a myth that uranium production "profits". Millions of our taxpayer dollars subsidize the propping up of this expensive and lethal industry. Please do the research; start by googling Nuclear Power in Canada: An Examination of the Risks, Impacts and Sustainability.

  • Chaitanya Kalevar
    February 24, 2013 - 15:16

    I challenge all NWMO members to take their weight equivalent of nuclear waste to their home. If you can not do that resign from your positions as some kind of experts to deal with Nuclear Waste and can can it for millions of years safely away from the environment. I know no one can and you can not do it too! So stop playing these deadly games with life on our only planet. Your fat bank balance will be of little use when the air or water or both become radioactive or your kids or grand kids are mutant and you will not have stomach to even lift them with a smile and horrified at the thought of giving them a kiss. If you really want to understand how it affects the biology of human species, then yes take a trip to Marshall Island or any of the islands where nuclear bombs were tested by the US, France or UK and then kindly go home and resign from your positions with NWMO.

  • Debbie Mihalicz
    February 23, 2013 - 19:00

    A great truth is re-awakening in this land, that we must act now to protect the water and land that sustain all life on earth. The impact of a single community's decision to host an underground repository (which has never been done before) would be global, as it would give the nuclear industry a green light to keep producing this lethal byproduct. Nuclear waste is a billion times more radioactive than the uranium originally taken out of the ground, and according to the industry's own documents, is extremely hazardous and must be isolated from people and the environment, virtually forever. It breaks DNA molecules, forwarding a legacy of mutations in all species for millennia. It contains hundreds of unnatural fission products which migrate to certain parts of the body, impacting surrounding cells and eventually causing cancer. If the nuclear fuel bundle held by Pat Patton in the photo was real, everyone in the room would be dead in a matter of minutes, and it would remain radioactive for a million years. There is enough nuclear waste already accumulated in Canada alone that it would take 53 truckloads a month for 30 years to ship . Would you trust anything made by humans to stop this much deadly fuel from leaking into our groundwater for a million years? Every nuclear disaster that has occurred to date worldwide had been promised by the nuclear industry to be "safe". We've seen time and time again that, tragically, that was not the case. NWMO says they have a backup plan; if it wasn't so serious, that would be laughable. The environmental audit recently released by the federal commissioner revealed that industry's accident insurance is so woefully inadequate that the billions of dollars required for a "clean up" would fall on taxpayers' shoulders. And one need look no further than Uranium City/Beaverlodge mine, as well as examples of nuclear accidents to date to realize, there is no such thing as cleanup. And once radioactive waste gets into the environment, there is no going back. The only sane solution is to a/ keep nuclear waste where it sits in eastern Canada, b/ keep it above-ground where it can be monitored and c/ stop producing it! The Vice Chief of the FSIN has publicly stated that the majority of First Nations in this province are opposed to nuclear waste. This is in addition to 88% of Saskatchewanians who participated in the 2009 UDP hearings saying No, 17,000 signatures on petitions to the Sask govt to legislate a ban on the storage and transportation of nuclear waste (including over half the adults in Pinehouse and English River First Nation, two of the communities whose administrations are in site selection process with NWMO) and a majority of Canadians who expressed to the Seaborn panel in the '90s that storing nuclear waste underground is too great of a risk to pursue. It's high time that the voices of the people are acted upon. NWMO must withdraw from our province, nuclear waste must be kept where it is, above ground, and most importantly of all, the nuclear industry must stop contributing more deadly contents to this Pandora's box. "Anything else you're interested in won't matter if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something." -Carl Sagan