Northern forum confronts nuclear waste storage in Saskatchewan

Citizens from several parts of northwest Saskatchewan gathered in the gym at Valley View Elementary School in Beauval for the forum on nuclear waste on Thursday June 2. Outside the school were makeshift fabric signs that read “We want to keep our environment,” and “We don’t need your death money.” Here, Dr. Jim Harding lectures the guests on the risks of allowing a nuclear waste storage facility to be built in northern Saskatchewan

By Ben Ingram

 

A public forum was held in Beauval last Thursday to create discussion around the potential of long-term nuclear waste storage in northern Saskatchewan.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has been searching for a willing community to host an underground storage facility for nuclear waste, most of which is generated by the province of Ontario.

While the communities of Pinehouse and Patuanak have expressed interest in the plan, which could mean jobs and other economic benefits, outlying areas like Beauval are more concerned about what the long-term impact of waste storage could mean.

Max Morin, a retired police officer and youth worker in Beauval, was one of the organizers of the June 2 forum.

“We called for a forum to wake up people,” Morin said. “The process is happening right in their back yard. If they’re not involved, then the process will happen.”

NWMO was invited to join the discussion, to address the issues surrounding the possibility of a long-term nuclear waste storage facility in the north becoming a reality. Their representatives declined the offer.

In place of NWMO representation, a slideshow created by the organization’s communications department was presented, as well as a video outlining the process of burying nuclear waste deep inside the bedrock for centuries to come.

“We tried our best to accommodate NWMO,” Morin said, describing the forum as an opportunity to consider information from both sides. “We don’t want to be bullied into having a nuclear waste site in our backyard.”

The speaker recruited to address the negative aspects of nuclear waste storage was Dr. Jim Harding, a former professor of environmental studies at the University of Waterloo and anti-nuclear advocate.

“Fukushima changed everything,” Harding said of the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. “I think Fukushima’s changed the world outlook on nuclear power, because they kept saying it wouldn’t happen again.”

Harding said his presentation aimed to characterize the NWMO proposal as an “incredible waste of billions.”

“If we’re going to spend that kind of money, let’s spend it to create a different kind of energy system,” he said, pointing to Saskatchewan’s lack of renewable energy. “It’s already been done globally, Saskatchewan’s very far behind.”

Jim Sinclair, the former president of the Metis Society of Saskatchewan and Order of the Metis Nation recipient, was also present for the forum. Throughout the discussion he could be seen with his head bowed, frustrated at the position he said his people find themselves as a result of the proposal.

“I was on the front lines when they started digging the [uranium] mines. What did we get? Nothing,” he said.

Sinclair said he sits on a forum of elders tasked with advising on nuclear waste. While he personally feels nuclear waste storage would be a negative thing for the future of his people and the province’s environment, Sinclair called for an informed and engaging discussion with the community.

“We’re caught in the middle,” he said. “I want to make sure people are informed and they’re not going to bury this stuff without our consent.”

“The people will make that decision. The communities are going to make that decision, not someone else,” he added.

While communities like Pinehouse and Patuanak may wish to explore nuclear waste storage as a possibility, the decision could affect the entire province.

The proposal includes transport of waste from Ontario to the north by use of the province’s highways. There is also concern that the waterbed that links all of the surrounding communities could multiply any potential disasters.

Georgina Jolibois, the mayor of La Loche, was also on hand to learn what nuclear waste storage could mean for her community.

“The young people and old people alike, when they think about what’s happened in Japan, they’re very concerned,” she said.

Jolibois was upset that NWMO did not agree to send a representative, saying that information will be crucial in making the right decision.

“They ultimately need a buy-in from the people,” Jolibois said. “If they don’t show up, what does that say? This is really concerning.”

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