Two First Nations near the proposed expansion of Canada’s largest nuclear power plant will not support any new projects until there is a solution to the nuclear waste problem on their territory, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation wrote in a letter to its membership obtained by Canada’s National Observer.
Bruce Power, the operator of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, will have to demonstrate safe nuclear waste management, the Ontario government said in a press release announcing the province’s first large-scale nuclear development in three decades. However, the release stopped short of mentioning the development of a deep geological repository set to be the solution for long-term nuclear waste storage for the country.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation, composed of the Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, is one of two possible hosts for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) proposed nuclear waste facility, along with Ignace, Ont., located 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.
The NWMO, a Canadian non-profit tapped to address the disposal of used nuclear fuel, will select a site to store Canada’s nuclear waste roughly 500 metres underground — as deep as the CN Tower is high — in a geological repository in March 2024.
“Until the Saugeen Ojibway are comfortable on the plan on how we’re going to resolve that waste issue, it’s really hard for us to buy into 100 per cent of what the province is doing,” Veronica Smith, chief of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, told Canada’s National Observer.
There will be compensation for the communities chosen to host the deep geological repository, Smith added. But it’s unclear if host First Nations might benefit from a nuclear waste facility revenue-sharing model or a lump sum payment. Those conversations haven’t even started between Saugeen Ojibway Nation and the NWMO, Smith said.
It’s also unclear if community members of both First Nations will be comfortable with the NWMO’s plan for a nuclear waste facility. Smith notes community members are the ultimate decision-makers over a proposed agreement to host the waste facility, not the elected chief and council.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the political organization that represents 49 First Nations in northern Ontario, has vehemently opposed building the waste facility in the North. In 2022, the organization passed a resolution stating concerns over watersheds that lead up into Hudson Bay.
However, Grand Council Treaty 3, which represents the First nations where Ignace is located, currently has relationship agreements with NWMO.
Within the northern First Nations, there are also worries a nuclear spill from transport trucks carrying waste could cut off the northern communities’ winter road access, cutting a vital supply route to several communities.
“What is NWMO going to say if both communities say no?” Smith asked.
In its letter to membership, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation also wrote that it wants a resolution and reconciliation over the historical legacy issues of nuclear power on their territory.
In the 1960s, the Bruce Power Station, one of the largest nuclear power stations in the world, was constructed on Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s territory without consultation and consent.
Until recently, there was no revenue sharing between the nuclear power station and the nations.
Now, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation is set to benefit economically after striking a revenue-sharing agreement with Bruce Power, the private proprietor of the nuclear station, to share profits from a new medical isotope used in the treatment of prostate cancer.
— With files from Cloe Logan