Across the street from the Westin hotel in Ottawa Thursday, Sean McLaren pointed to the suites perched atop the building.

“It’s a shame,” said the vice-chief of Timiskaming First Nation in Quebec, about 500 kilometres north of the capital.

“At the top of that building there, you could have a nice glass of water, clean, right out of the tap. Us, up north in the bush, we gotta boil our water. If everybody had to boil their water in Ottawa to have a drink, we’d all be standing here right now.”

This concern about water, he said, is what brought him to demonstrate outside the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference this week.

McLaren joined about two dozen others from Algonquin communities and local citizens’ groups to protest a proposed radioactive waste dump near Deep River, Ont.

The project, which Canada’s nuclear regulator approved in January, would entail construction of a “near-surface disposal facility,” similar to a municipal landfill, at the Chalk River nuclear laboratory.

The lab is about 190 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, but the facility would sit about a kilometre away from the Ottawa River, or Kichi Sipi. The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation has consented to it, but others remain vehemently opposed.

“We’re here to defend the Kichi Sipi,” said Grand Chief Savanna McGregor of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, which represents six communities in Quebec.

“It needs to be protected.”

Kebaowek Chief Lance Haymond is leading the charge to stop the project. His First Nation, also in Quebec north of Ottawa, filed a court challenge against the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in February.

“It’s the wrong solution in the wrong location so let’s go back to the drawing board,” he said outside the hotel.

Deep rock dump seeks site

Inside the hotel, the country’s top nuclear players touted their vision for the future. The industry is in the midst of a public relations push, bolstered by a burst of government support.

The 2023 federal Liberal budget made nuclear power projects eligible for a clean-energy tax credit. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is also planning on nuclear expansion.

Last fall, federal Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson endorsed the near-surface disposal method in general, as well as the deep geological repository method proposed by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). 

A man in a sweater poses inside a hotel.
Terry Richardson, chief of Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick, supports nuclear development as an economic opportunity for First Nations and alternative to fossil fuels. (Brett Forester/CBC)

Terry Richardson, chief of Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick, said he thinks the technology is safe.

“As First Nations, we have to take action and address this climate issue right now and the way to do that is to reduce our carbon emissions,” he said.

“This is a way to do it — through nuclear.”

NWMO is presently seeking a willing community to host a deep geological repository, which would involve burrowing 700 metres underground into solid bedrock to isolate radioactive waste indefinitely.

The organization intends to select a site before year’s end, said Vince Ponka, NWMO northern Ontario regional communications manager. NWMO is eyeing either Ignace in the province’s northwest or South Bruce in southern Ontario.

Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Rudy Turtle wrote the NWMO this week opposing the Ignace site, which would be upstream on the Wabigoon River watershed.

“Downstream, we’re very concerned that it’s gonna hit us again. We’ve had mercury contamination in our land,” Turtle said.

“We’re not very pleased about having possible nuclear contamination in our traditional territory, so that’s why we’re opposing it.”

Grassy Narrows opposed

In the 1960s and ’70s, industry dumped an estimated nine tonnes of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River system, leading to mercury poisoning among members of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong Independent Nations.

Also known as Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishinabek, Grassy Narrows is about 90 kilometres north of Kenora.

Ponka called the mercury poisoning “a black mark on Canadian industry.” He said NWMO intends to respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says states shall take measures to ensure no hazardous materials are stored on Indigenous lands without their consent.

But, he added, Grassy Narrows isn’t considered the host First Nation for the Ignace site. This is Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, which is closer than Grassy Narrows, said Ponka. 

A man speaks into a microphone with demonstrators holding signs behind him.
Rudy Turtle, chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation, addresses a rally in Toronto against mining proposals on First Nations territory on July 20, 2023. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Turtle rejected that position. His letter said the waste in question will remain radioactive for thousands of years, far too long for anyone to forecast the impacts.

“Wabigoon is not the only First Nation that’s close by,” Turtle said.

“There’s other First Nations as well, and I think most of the First Nations oppose this project.”

Ponka acknowledged it’s difficult to plan to monitor the site for thousands of years but that the idea behind the system is that the rock would contain the waste if human-made measures eventually fail. He cited the example of Finland, which is building the world’s first repository of this kind.

Turtle, however, is unconvinced. He said he’s preparing to protest, like Haymond and the others.

“We strongly say no.”

Source link

By admin