We the Nuclear Free North held a webinar on May 10. The night had panelists from the group which is an alliance in northern Ontario groups and individuals opposed to the transporting and the burying of high-level radioactive waste in northwestern Ontario.
The alliance is fairly new, only launching a few weeks ago.
Brennain Lloyd, who works with Northwatch, an advocate for environmental protection and public participation in environmental decision-making and one of the members of the alliance, said the purpose the webinar is to share their three primary concerns about the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) proposal to transport and bury spent fuel cells.
According to We the Nuclear Free North’s website, the NWMO is made of up those utilities that generate electricity using nuclear reactors and so generate high level radioactive waste, in the form of solid ceramic rods. Those are Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick power.
The NWMO is studying the possibility of burying Canada’s nuclear waste in one of two locations in Ontario. One potential location is an area 40 Kilometers west of Ignace. If the NWMO plan goes through, an estimated 100,000 tones of high-level nuclear waste, in the form of used fuel bundles, would be shipped to the selected site, repackaged and buried.
At their candidate site in the Revell Lake area between Ignace and Dryden, NWMO is drilling the rock and collecting information they will use to apply to construct a ‘deep geological repository’ as early as 2023. Construction could begin in 2024.
Lloyd said Dryden, Kenora, many Treaty 3 communities and Winnipeg’s drinking water are all downstream from the NWMO study area.
The groups concerns fall into three broad categories: informed consent, lack of scientific evidence of safety and dangers of transportation.
Kathleen Skead was chosen by many concerned elders within the Treaty 3 area to speak on their behalf on the topic of informed consent.
Skead brought up the importance of the United Nations Declaration regarding free, prior and informed consent. There are 46 articles that underlines Indigenous rights to protect their cultural identity, religion, language, health, education and community.
Article 29 of the declaration speaks to no storage or disposal of hazardous materials to take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free prior and informed consent, Skead added.
Skead then expanded on what the different levels of consent means to Indigenous communities: Free refers to a consent given voluntarily and without coercion, intimidation or manipulation. Prior means that consent is sought sufficiently in advance of any authorization or commencement of activities at the early stages of development or investment plan and informed refers mainly to the nature of the engagement and type of information that should be provided prior to seeking consent.
Panelist Paul Filteau said decisions are bring made that future generations cannot give their consent to.
“We’re passing on a considerable liability,” Filteau said. “If we’re dealing with something that threatens our health and the environment, then the type of informed consent that we should have is where there is a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, the implications and future consequences of establishing an underground repository for nuclear waste.”
The next primary concern related to the scientific and technical uncertainties associated with this idea of burying high level waste deep underground.
Lloyd said that no jurisdiction in the world has licensed and brought into operation a deep geological repository for fuel waste, adding that here are also many uncertainties associated with the deep geological repositories.
An example Lloyd brought up is the issue of corrosion. The NWMO has brought forward a design that would see nuclear waste in a steel container with a coating of copper. Another concern is the pressure that will build up in the repository, the potential for excavation and cracking.
NWMO says on its website that the metal container is designed to withstand the expected pressure, and it part of a multi-layered containment design, including bentonite clay, concrete, and natural and engineered barriers.
Lastly, the group touched on their concern of transporting the nuclear waste.
Panelist Dodie LeGassick said the greater the distance, the greater the risk.
“One of the risks that occurs with the distance is collision,” LeGassick said. “This is typical of some of the transport that happens especially in northwestern Ontario.”
The groups website states that if the waste was transported to northwestern Ontario, it would entail two to three transport truckloads per day for 40 years with most of the waste coming from facilities in southern Ontario.
Lloyd said the group will be continuing their effort to inform the public by hosting more webinars. More information about their concerns and future webinar dates can be found on the We the Nuclear Free North Facebook page.
Nuclear Waste Management Organization:
We the Nuclear Free North: