By Jim Harding
Speaking for the English River band, Councilor Bernie Eaglechild said that “nothing has been decided and talks are still at an early stage”, emphasizing that “the band can still back out at any time.” Pinehouse mayor, Mike Natomagan, who also heads the Kineepik Métis Local, had a similar message; that this “learn more opportunity does not commit the village or Métis local to any further steps.” This doesn’t mean “Pinehouse has said ‘yes’ to the project”.
NORTH BEING BRIBED
But can negotiating with the NWMO lead to informed consent. Under both international law and Canada’s Charter of Rights the “Duty to Consult” means there must be “free, prior and informed consent.” The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes it clear that this can’t involve monetary inducements such as the NWMO is using. Informed consent requires sufficient time to consider all relevant information, from all sides of the controversy, and not being bribed under the threat of losing benefits to another community.
And we know that northern communities are being bribed to take nuclear wastes. In November 2009 the NWMO met privately with all the Environmental Quality Committees (EQC) across the north. In its 2009 Report the government-run North Saskatchewan Environmental Quality Committee (NSEQC) said that the NWMO made “communities aware of the opportunities to host a nuclear waste management storage site.” It continued, “There will be incredible economic benefits to such a community, but suitable geology and accessibility are also factors.” Such bribery is outrageous and must be stopped.
The neo-colonial situation surrounding the uranium industry in the north will not and cannot encourage informed consent. Since 1991 Cameco has supported importing Ontario’s nuclear waste, including from its co-owned Bruce Power nuclear complex. It sees this as a lucrative business venture. It is now concentrating toxic, radioactive uranium tailings at its huge Key Lake mine site, and having Pinehouse, south of Key Lake, as a nuclear waste dump would fit in with a nuclear industry waste corridor in north central Saskatchewan. Prince Albert and La Ronge would become the gateway to nuclear wastes, not a gateway to northern fishing, hunting and eco-tourism.
NOT MORALLY OBLIGED
So why are these northern communities even considering a nuclear dump? English River’s Councilor Eaglechild says “the band is tired of seeing resources hauled out of its traditional land without receiving any payments for it”, and Pinehouse’s mayor Natomagan notes the recent Conference Board study showing northern Saskatchewan having the second lowest median income of any Canadian region. This concern about the wealth of resource development not being shared with the north is compelling and, along with the cumulative ecological effects of uranium mine expansion, was the main reason why the Joint Federal Provincial Panel in the 1990s recommended against two uranium mines going ahead. But a nuclear dump makes no economic sense compared with much cheaper sustainable options such as adding value to the renewable sectors in the north. Creating a deep geological repository to store nuclear wastes would be even more capital-intensive than uranium mining. And the Conference Board study that Pinehouse’s mayor refers to, confirms that the north remained amongst Canada’s poorest regions, even though it has been the highest uranium-producing and most profitable uranium mining region in the world.
DOES NDP OPPOSE NUCLEAR DUMP?
The Wall government’s own 2009 public consultations on the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) found that, of the thousands who participated, over 80% opposed bringing nuclear wastes to the province. At its last provincial conference the United Church called for a ban on nuclear wastes. This public opinion, including, coming from what the government itself called the most extensive public consultations ever held on the nuclear industry in Saskatchewan, must be respected. We now need a provincial ban on transporting and storing nuclear wastes. It is the right thing to do!