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.
© Herald photo by Alex Di Pietro
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.”