COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Nov. 23, 2012

Jessica Iron Joseph
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There are people who don’t want you to know what I’m about to share with you because if you don’t interfere their pockets will get significantly fatter. Who will pay the price for our collective silence? Us, our children, our grandchildren, their children, etc., etc., etc.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is currently courting potential host communities in Saskatchewan to house radioactive waste from nuclear reactors in Eastern Canada. The communities under consideration are Pinehouse, Creighton and English River First Nation. However, they would not be the only communities affected by such a monumental decision. In brief summary, here are the short-term and long-term ramifications.

Short-term: Trucks from Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick nuclear reactor sites will send their nuclear waste on flatbed trucks to one of the above-named communities. There will be an estimated 53 shipments per month for 30 years (20,000 truckloads) to haul all of the waste to the proposed waste repository. If ONE truck has an accident or spill, volatile radioactive materials will vaporize and escape into nearby farms, cities, towns, villages and First Nations lands.

Long-term: The nuclear waste will be stored 500 metres in the earth, where temperatures inside the canisters of waste could soar, eating away at their shell, causing leakage into the nearby rock or groundwater. Earthquakes, glaciations and thermal pulses could all affect the canister, whereby the radioactive waste is released into the air or water -- maybe even through a catastrophic explosion, until it destroys everything around it, including waterways, plants, animals and … humans.

If you have followed stories like the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters, then you are well aware of the magnitude of what is being proposed.

How did we wind up with nuclear waste in the first place? Simply put, the uranium that is mined in Saskatchewan is shipped to various places where it is used in nuclear reactors for energy.

Debbie Mihalicz, a member of The Committee for Future Generations explains, “They use the nuclear rods to boil water to turn the generators.”

The waste matter produced from this type of energy is highly radioactive. This is what they hope to truck back to Saskatchewan. The theory is that since it was first mined here, we should house the nuclear waste.

There are many problems with this line of thinking. First off, we already have enough toxic waste in northern Saskatchewan -- a legacy of abandoned mine sites, and the mines that currently exist. A brochure printed by the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan, called “Saskatchewan is Being Targeted as a High-level Radioactive Waste Dump,” says, “We are burdened with more than 22 million tonnes of radioactive waste in the form of uranium mines and mill tailings at various sites. They remain a radiotoxic legacy and will for many generations to come.”

Max CB Morin, another member of The Committee for Future Generations, further outlines how badly the radioactivity has already spread. “The university did a study on the moose around mining sites in northern Saskatchewan. One hundred percent of the moose tested around those sites had cancer.”

If you’re not a scientist, it’s a lot to take in at once, I know. To paraphrase, thus far: Saskatchewan already has its own toxic waste -- radiation which can never truly be cleaned up once it has escaped into the air, water and land; and NWMO wants to impregnate our land with toxic waste from three other provinces. As if those points weren’t daunting enough, there is another, much more insidious and disturbing element to all of this.

The toxic waste can be reprocessed to isolate and extract plutonium, which is used to power nuclear bombs. This reprocessing would likely be done right at the host site -- so, in Pinehouse, Creighton or English River First Nation. Once the plutonium is extracted, it will be shipped out of the host site, to whoever has bought it.

Frances Buchan, also a member of The Committee for Future Generations says, “If they transport it, that is weapons-grade plutonium.”

This will all be neatly decided with the passing of Stephen Harper’s omnibus Bill C-45. The 457-page budget bill has so many attached items that have nothing to do with finance or budgets, but have been suspiciously added to the contents anyway.

This bill advocates for the proposed nuclear waste repository in several menacing ways:

1) The Navigations Protection Act protects our waterways. If a host site is chosen, our underground waterbed will carry potential leaked toxic waste in every direction. As Morin explains it, “Saskatchewan is one big sponge. The rivers are connected. We have an underground water table that connects north, east, south and west.”

2) The Environmental Assessments Act will be amended to shorten the length of time required for approval before development begins. The environment will suffer without proper investigation into the long-term consequences of resource development, something which is seemingly being ignored right now.

Mihalicz says, “They say we have good rock here. That’s before it’s drilled into. This has never been done before on the planet. Good rock gets compromised when you drill into it. When you put 37,000 tonnes of nuclear waste down there and one container melts, it spreads.”

3) Indian Act changes will give the Aboriginal Affairs minister far-sweeping powers. He would now have the power to lease or sell lands with a small minority of band members, no longer requiring a majority. This not only disregards the sovereignty First Nations people have fought for, but it would create strife as well as opportunity for big companies to move in and exploit First Nations people and their land.

“What started out as an environmental issue has now become a human rights one,” Mihalicz says. “Go home and talk to your leaders. Try and get them to pass a resolution to from your community.”

“We also need our leaders to speak up for us – First Nations leaders and the premier – to veto this bill,” Morin says.

For more information, visit:


Organizations: Nuclear Waste Management Organization, First Nations, Committee for Future Generations Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan Environmental Assessments Aboriginal Affairs

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Pinehouse, Eastern Canada Ontario Quebec New Brunswick Northern Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • Karlin
    November 29, 2012 - 00:43

    Jessica you are right on the money... nuclear waste belongs where it was made deadly, where the reactors are, not where it was mined. That is like saying that prisoners have to be jailed in the community where they were born instead of where they committed the crime!! If they insist on that logic, then maybe we can insist that wars can only be fought where the weapons are made!! HA!! Ho. I hope you can keep the contaminated uranium from coming back there... I would also suggest that uranium mining should stop - we did ban it in British Columbia a couple years ago. Saskatchewan should too. I wish people could understand that "mother earth", as in Ecology, has to exist before anything else can happen so it makes no sense to ruin her for a couple of generations of jobs. Besides the nuclear waste issue, I heard a CBC radio interview with one of Pinehouse's native leaders [sorry I didn't catch his name or title - Mayor maybe?] and it was SO obvious that he had been coached by corporate people. He was using "talking points" straight out of the Calgary Corporate Culture "dictionary" and not answering the questions in a straightforward manner. Pinehouse is being SOLD OUT. It sure seems like there is a small group of business people up there who intend to get rich off of the nuclear waste and polluting mining operations -something new is being proposed, and the agreement is that nobody from Pinehouse will ever complain at all about any of it no matter what happens!!. Don't let it happen Jessica. Telling the world will help, you are doing good stuff here.