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NAN representatives say no to nuclear fuel waste

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization is under fire as Nishnawbe Ask Nation delegates from the Treaty Nine Territory react to the potential effects the Deep Geological Repository might have on the environment if the Revell Lake site is located in the Treaty Three Territory is picked.
NWMO Ignace office
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TIMMINS – NWMO believes the potential Revell Lake site in Northwestern Ontario would be a good fit due to its location within the sedimentary rock of the Canadian Shield, however, because the location is near the Wabigoon watershed, which flows directly through NAN territory, there is just cause to worry about the probable chance that nuclear waste will pollute the environment.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Chiefs have passed a resolution to oppose the DGR (deep geologic repository) project in the Wabigoon Lake territory.   

Vince Ponka, regional communications manager, NWMO, said “We engaged with NAN at the beginning of the project – when there were 22 potential siting communities, of which one fell within NAN territory - put their hand up to learn more about the possibility of becoming hosts.  However, once we narrowed the process down to two communities, there was not as much dialogue as there was in the beginning. I think it would be great to re-engage with NAN and bring some of our experts together to answer any of the technical questions they have.”

The DGR project isn’t a new idea. The NWMO has been surveying sites around the country for the last decade. According to NWMO, sites are no longer being studied “because they were screened out based on completed studies, or in one case, withdrew.”

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with NAN again, having reached out to them today, to share more about the project and address any concerns they may have. This project has always been and continues to be shaped by many views and we encourage talking about them. Each engagement gives us more opportunities to listen and learn," Ponka said.

It should be noted that at the moment, there is no active DGR in the world; however, there is a global consensus within all nuclear power nations that a DGR is the safest approach to the long-term storage of used nuclear fuel.

Currently, Finland will be the first to create an active DGR. Finland is excavating a DGR in the ONKALO facility under the authority of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. Operation of the repository is expected to begin in 2023.

Nevertheless, the consensus around the north suggests that what other countries are doing with their nuclear waste is a concern for this country. The preventable impacts on this land and particularly within the NAN communities are the most concerning.  

Constance Lake First Nation Ramona Sutherland asks the presenter at the Keewaywin Conference Jennifer Guerrieri why she was there informing NAN about the NWMO.

“If they made it at a particular (nuclear power station) site, why don’t they get rid of it at that particular site, why are they giving us this problem?” Sutherland asks.

Guerrieri responds, “this waste has already been produced, so we are talking about the last 50 to 60 years of nuclear power generation in Canada. And there hasn’t been any other solution proposed to how they are going to manage the waste when they are done with it. 60 years of waste have accumulated at these reactor sites and, my take on it, is one: they want to get rid of it, and two they need to because they continue to generate the waste. They are probably running out of places to store it and they need somewhere to store Canada waste as a whole.”

“I don’t want this in my land. I don’t want my children and grandchildren to inherit this problem,” Sutherland said.

Guerrier also points out that Canada is looking to produce small modular reactors as a solution to the carbon crisis, which would potentially be placed in rural and remote communities to supplement and power industrial zone and communities.

Therefore, nuclear waste is going to accumulate more and more over for generations to come.  

Potential risks come with anything major project and fears over these risks are justified.

Another big concern is the transportation from the nuclear site to the DGR.Road in Northwestern Ontario is dangerous.

In a freedom of information request, Guerrieri presented statistical data from the Ministry of Transportation that shows between 2015 and 2020 an average of 52 per cent of accidents between Shabaqua to Ignace were transport truck accidents.  

This data is alarming; however, what Guerrieri fails to address is that Transportation Planning Framework is still in its concept stages and that shipping of the container won’t begin for another 20 years. The amount of used nuclear waste Canada stores in an above-ground facility in containers that have a life cycle of 50 years, NWMO is expecting to transport three to four containers per day for approximately 45 years.  

“Transportation is an essential part of the implementation and having confidence that a safe and socially acceptable transportation plan can be developed is a key part of selecting a preferred site for the deep geological repository, acknowledges Ponka. “While transportation of used nuclear fuel will not begin until the 2040s when the repository is operational, the NWMO recognizes that transportation is a subject of broad public interest, and we started our planning early. This leaves lots of time for engagement with NAN and other stakeholders.”

At this point, once site selection is approved, the site will still need a rigorous regulatory review from the federal government and licensing from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission before transportation of used nuclear fuel can begin.

Ponka also explains that the NWMO transportation approach isn’t something that is studied entirely in-house, but it is a “collaborative approach to developing a safe and socially acceptable transportation plan, and to date, we have engaged with thousands of Canadians and Indigenous peoples to understand their perspectives, suggestions, questions and concerns.”

This DGR project isn’t going to be some kind of shadow operation performed by the federal government.   

The NWMO has gone on record numerous times stating, “Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the interested municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it.”

Therefore, if the public decides not to go through with NWMO DGR, then either an alternative will be set up for the long-term storage of used nuclear waste or Canadian nuclear power plants will just continue to accumulate it at their power station faculties until there is no more room to house it leading to a much larger problem.