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News clips: Saugeen Ojibway Nation has saved Lake Huron from a Nuclear Waste Dump

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In AWARE News Network
Feb 4th, 2020
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Lake Huron – Kevin M Klerks photo

It cannot have been easy for a small First Nation to reject $150 million – Let’s find ways (including financial) to show our gratitude

by JOYCE NELSON Counterpunch

A major victory for Canada’s First Nations has just been won in Ontario. On January 31, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) overwhelmingly voted down the proposed deep geological repository (DGR) for storage of low- and intermediate-level radioactive nuclear waste next to Lake Huron. The DGR had long been proposed by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), but in 2013 OPG had committed to SON that it would not build the DGR without their support.

Chief Lester AnoquotAs Chief Lester Anoquot of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation told the press on January 31, “This vote was a historic milestone and momentous victory for our People. We worked for many years for our right to exercise jurisdiction in our Territory and the free, prior and informed consent of our People to be recognized.”

Out of 1,232 total votes, there were 4 spoiled ballots, 170 yes votes, and 1,058 no votes, indicating that 85% of those casting ballots had said no to a DGR at Bruce Power’s nuclear generating station in Kincardine, Ont.

Chief Lester Anoquot

Dr. Gordon Edwards, a long-time nuclear critic, has advocated a “policy of Rolling Stewardship” by which the wastes would be “constantly monitored and kept in a retrievable condition [above-ground] indefinitely,” as they are now.

According to BeyondNuclear.org, the SON had been offered $150 million by OPG “in exchange for SON agreeing to ‘host’ this DGR” [2] It cannot have been easy for a small First Nation to reject this much money, so the rest of us might consider ways to thank them. After all, there are 40 million people (on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border) who obtain their drinking water from the Great Lakes.

A brief summary of the sordid history of the DGR proposal shows just how much thanks are owed the SON.

Sordid History

In 2001, Bruce Power was hived off from provincial Crown corporation OPG by the Conservative Mike Harris provincial government to become a private power company, leasing the eight Bruce nuclear reactors from OPG under a public-private partnership (P3). Bruce Power’s two major sharehholder-partners have long been TransCanada Corporation (now called TC Energy) and Borealis Infrastructure (the investment arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System – OMERS). The Bruce site’s assets (including the nuclear waste) remain owned by OPG, while Bruce Power gets the profits from selling the nuclear-generated electricity.

In the same year that this P3 was established, the Kincardine City Council approached OPG about hosting a possible long-term nuclear waste facility. OPG’s proposal was to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear wastes from Ontario nuclear power plants in chambers drilled into limestone 680 metres (2,231 feet) below the surface and under the Bruce nuclear site at Kincardine – 400 metres from Lake Huron. The nuclear waste to be entombed in the DGR would come from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear sites in Ontario – currently home to 18 Candu reactors.

After years of controversy, a Canadian federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) approved the DGR in May 2015, accepting testimony that Lake Huron would be large enough to dilute any radioactive pollution that might leak from the DGR. [4] This outrageous “environmental” ruling prompted thousands of people on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border to mobilize, and dozens of communities adopted resolutions against the DGR. Meanwhile, U.S. efforts to engage the International Joint Commission (IJC), which oversees boundary waters’ issues, had gone nowhere.

In 2015, I contacted the IJC’s Public Information Officer Frank Bevacqua, who told me by email that both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments would have to ask the IJC to intervene on the issue. “The IJC does not review proposals for site-specific projects [like the DGR] unless asked to do so by both governments,” he said. Obviously, it was the Canadian federal government that was the hold-out.

Nonetheless, after the Harper government’s JRP approval, subsequent Canadian federal politicians have been reluctant to give final approval to the DGR, perhaps knowing how much that would enrage people and politicians on both sides of the border. In August 2017, then-environment minister Catherine McKenna was the latest to pause the process, “to ensure buy-in from Indigenous people in the area.”

Money Talks (For Some)

In March 2013, an NGO called Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump reported that “OPG is paying $35.7 million to Saugeen Shores, Huron-Kinross, Arran Elderslie, Brockton [and] Kincardine. All are [municipalities] adjacent to the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant site. Ten and a half million dollars have already been paid even before approval to construct the dump is received.” [7]

Erika Simpson, political science professor at the University of Western Ontario, also noted at the time that the payments to these municipalities will continue for years “so long as they provide their co-operation in support of the environmental approvals and licensing applications…” [8]

In contrast to these municipalities, we now know that the Saugeen Ojibway Nation passed up $150 million from OPG and voted down the DGR.

Let’s find ways (including financial) to show our gratitude. The mailing address for Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s Environmental Office is 25 Maadookii Subdivision, Wiarton, Ontario, Canada N0H 2T0.

Ontario energy company ends plans to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron

By James David Dickson, The Detroit News Feb. 2, 2020

Canadian energy company Ontario Power Generation has announced that it will “develop an alternate solution” to a controversial plan to store nuclear waste underground near Lake Huron.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, called Friday’s decision a “huge victory” seven years in the making on his Twitter page. He posted a letter he, the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, and Sen. Gary Peters wrote to Canadian authorities reviewing the project, in which the four expressed “significant concern” with having nuclear waste stored “less than a mile from Lake Huron.”

In the end, it was the vote from the Ojibway Nation, not Canada’s neighbor to the south, that halted the project.

Kildee wrote on Twitter: “I have great respect for the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and United Tribes of #Michigan, whose opposition to this proposed Canadian nuclear waste site made this day possible. I thank them for their unwavering support to protect our environment and shared #GreatLakes.”

In Friday’s vote, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation overwhelmingly disapproved the project. Of the 1,228 non-spoiled ballots that were cast, 1,058, or 86%, voted no.

“This vote marks a historic exercising of our aboriginal and treaty right and free, prior and informed consent in our territory,” read a statement from the nation. “The communities have voted against the (project).”

“OPG respects the decision of SON members,” said OPG CEO and president Ken Hartwick, in a statement Friday, after the nation’s vote was announced. “We will now move forward to develop an alternate solution.”

“SON will now begin working closely with OPG and others in the nuclear industry to find an acceptable solution for the waste,” its statement concludes. “This process may take many years.”

The waste plan was opposed by Michigan lawmakers for years. In 2017, six Michigan U.S. House members joined representatives from other Great Lakes states in asking Donald Trump’s administration to try to stop a controversial Canadian plan for disposing nuclear waste near Lake Huron.

More than a dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers signed a letter that called on President Donald Trump to oppose a long-gestating proposal to build an underground storage facility for low- to mid-level nuclear wastes near the shore of Lake Huron. OPG had sought approval of the project since 2005, but in 2013 said it would not build the Deep Geologic Repository, as the project was called, at the site if it were opposed by the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

Previously, OPG had argued that going in a different direction would be too costly.

“The studies show that relocating the (deep geologic repository) to an alternate location would result in increased environmental effects and significant incremental costs, with no assurance of increased safety to workers and the public, or protection of the environment,” OPG said in 2017.

Even as it announced it would not pursue the Deep Geologic Repository project, the energy company touted its virtues. The project would have been built (2,230 feet below ground) in strong, dry and impermeable rock that has been isolated from the lake or any groundwater for hundreds of millions of years.”

And both the tribe and the energy company acknowledge that the waste does have to be stored somewhere.

Indigenous community votes down proposed nuclear waste bunker near Lake Huron

Members of Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted 85% against the deep geologic repository

The Canadian Press · Feb 01, 2020

An Indigenous community has overwhelmingly rejected a proposed underground storage facility for nuclear waste near Lake Huron, likely spelling the end for a multibillion-dollar, politically fraught project years in the making.

After a year of consultations and days of voting, the 4,500-member Saugeen Ojibway Nation announced late Friday that 85 per cent of those casting ballots had said no to accepting a deep geologic repository at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont.

“We were not consulted when the nuclear industry was established in our territory,” SON said in a statement. “Over the past 40 years, nuclear power generation in Anishnaabekiing has had many impacts on our communities, and our land and waters.”

The province’s giant utility, Ontario Power Generation, had wanted to build the repository 680 metres underground about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron as permanent storage for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste. The project was tentatively approved in May 2015.

While Kincardine was a “willing host,” the relative proximity of the proposed bunker to the lake sparked a backlash elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Politicians, environmentalists and scores of communities expressed opposition.

Successive federal governments have withheld final approval. In August 2017, then-environment minister Catherine McKenna paused the process — the last in a string of delays for the project — to ensure buy-in from Indigenous people in the area.

The generating company, which insisted the stable bedrock would safely contain the waste, items such as contaminated reactor components and mops, said it respected SON’s decision.

“OPG will explore other options and will engage with key stakeholders to develop an alternate site-selection process,” Ken Hartwick, head of OPG, said in a statement shortly after the vote was announced. “Any new process would include engagement with Indigenous peoples as well as interested municipalities.”

The apparent end of the road for the project comes shortly after the federally-mandated Nuclear Waste Management Organization said it was making progress toward choosing a site for storing millions of far more toxic spent nuclear fuel bundles.

The organization, comprising several nuclear plant operators, said it had struck deals with landowners in South Bruce — about 30 minutes east of Kincardine — that will allow it to begin site tests. The only other site under consideration for high-level waste storage is in Ignace in northern Ontario.

Despite the rejection of OPG’s proposal, the utility said it planned to continue a relationship “based on mutual respect, collaboration and trust” with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, which comprises the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.

Vote called ‘historic milestone and momentous victory’

Chippewas of Saugeen Chief Lester Anoquot called the vote — 170 for and 1,058 against — a “historic milestone and momentous victory” for the community.

“We worked for many years for our right to exercise jurisdiction in our territory and the free, prior and informed consent of our people to be recognized,” Anoquot said. “We didn’t ask for this waste to be created and stored in our territory.”

At the same time, Anoquot said, the vote showed the need for a new solution for the hazardous waste, a process he said could take many years.

Ontario depends heavily on nuclear power for its electricity but a permanent storage solution for the increasing amounts of waste now stored above ground has proven elusive. The radioactive material, particular from used fuel, remains highly toxic for centuries.

The utility insists exhaustive science shows a repository in stable and impermeable rock offers the best solution.

“Permanent and safe disposal is the right thing to do for future generations,” Hartwick said.

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