Nuclear waste not for the Northwest

by Derek Cornet

Proposed nuclear waste storage in northern Saskatchewan is unlikely after two communities were recently struck from the list of potential candidates.

While Creighton, a town of 1,500 people located near the Manitoba border, remains a contender, English River First Nation (ERFN) and the Northern Village of Pinehouse fell short.

But, according to ERFN band councillor Bernadette Eaglechild, there are no winners or losers when it comes to storing nuclear waste. She said safety has always been the first priority and the entire process has been more or less a learning process for all parties involved.

“We want to put it somewhere safe,” Eaglechild said. “Our community was removed from the list because the geology nearby isn’t suitable.”

In November, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) – a federal body mandated to manage Canada’s used nuclear fuel – completed the first phase of preliminary assessments in eight of 21 communities that expressed interest in storing spent fuel. Even if the First Nation remained on the list, Eaglechild said it would have been an uphill battle for a project of its magnitude to commence. She said decisions regarding the environment and sustainability would need to be made, as well as a membership-wide referendum would need to be held.

Although ERFN is no longer in the running for the development, the community was also awarded $400,000 for its contributions and participation in the process. Eaglechild, who was given the portfolio of community health and wellness after band elections in October, said the money would likely be spent in her department considering it’s been earmarked for community well-being projects.

“I’d like to see the cash spent on our youth and seniors,” she said. “Perhaps we could start a program like Meals on Wheels or form a group to seek ways to address bullying.”

John Smerek, Pinehouse resident and vice-president of the Committee for Future  Generations, said just because Pinehouse was also removed from the list doesn’t mean nuclear waste storage isn’t a possibility.

“The assessment was only preliminary, which means those decisions aren’t set in stone,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave Pinehouse a second look.”

The committee was formed in May 2011 when Pinehouse first took an interest in storing nuclear waste near the community. The group claimed the NWMO was aggressively targeting northern Saskatchewan communities and they were providing one-sided information in favour of uranium. Also in 2011, the committee and its supporters walked from Pinehouse to the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina to raise awareness about the issue. They returned in 2012 with 12,000 signatures opposing the project.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Smerek said.

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