By Jeanette Stewart
July 27, 2011
Seven semi-truckloads of nuclear waste per day, every day for 20 years, trucked into Saskatchewan's north en route to a storage facility deep underground - that's the scenario a group of people walking 800 kilometres from Pinehouse Lake to the legislature in Regina say they are trying to prevent.
The walkers will leave Pinehouse Lake this morning and plan to arrive in Regina Aug. 16.
The nuclear industry is searching for a permanent home for the waste accumulated since Canada's nuclear power program began in the mid-1970s. The used fuel is stored at the reactor sites in an "interim" storage situation. Reactors in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have created about two million used fuel bundles, each the size of a fireplace log.
The nuclear industry says the used fuel is toxic, radioactive and must be isolated from humans and the environment forever.
Some northern residents say the nuclear industry is bribing elders and leaders in their community to support the controversial project.
"We wanted to wake people up to the reality that Saskatchewan is being targeted for Canada's nuclear bundles," said Debby Morin, a Pinehouse Lake resident and member of a group called the Committee for Future Generations, which is organizing the walk.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a group funded by the nuclear industry and asked to find a home for the waste, said it isn't "targeting" communities, but rather presenting them with the option of hosting the waste repository.
The plan is to isolate the waste and contain it deep underground using multiple barriers, said Michael Krizanc, the Toronto-based NWMO spokesperson.
"Even if one of the barriers fails, there are other barriers there," he said.
Pinehouse Lake, the English River First Nation and the town of Creighton have formally declared their interest in the project.
All of the communities have completed Step 2 of the consultation process, which included a feasibility study. Resources of up to $75,000 per community were made available for expenses incurred at this stage of the selection process for the $16-billion to 24-billion project.
"No community should be out of pocket for participating in this process," said Krizanc.
The NWMO is looking for an "informed and willing" community, which must display its willingness in a "compelling" way.
"We haven't defined what a compelling way is yet," said Krizanc.
The walkers say NWMO is using strategies to drum up community support under false pretences.
Morin said she and her husband Max found out about the project when Max was invited to be part of an elder's summit focused on problems of death and addiction among the community's youth. Two hours in, the meeting turned out to be a presentation on nuclear waste storage set up by those working with NWMO.
"We thought, if we didn't know about it, how many other people don't know about it?" Morin said.
Morin said proponents of the facility are on the payroll of the NWMO, including participants in an aboriginal elders' forum sponsored by the organization. The forum was set up in 2005 and includes Pinehouse Lake residents as well as elders from across Canada.
The NWMO denies the elders are on the "payroll" of the NWMO, but acknowledged they provide an honorarium.
"It would be a per diem that would be several hundred dollars a day," said Krizanc.
"If that isn't bribery, I don't know what is," said Morin.
She wants the provincial government to follow the example set in Manitoba and Quebec and legislate a ban on the long-term storage of nuclear waste.
"No one else in Canada wants this waste," Morin said. "We're kind of a final frontier."
Earlier this year, Premier Brad Wall said it was unlikely he would support a nuclear waste storage site in Saskatchewan after a petition with 4,500 signatures of those opposed to a storage site was delivered to the legislature.
The walkers plan to reach Saskatoon Aug. 8. They will gather at City Hall at noon.