Algonquins: “Cancel nuclear waste site”

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Left to Right: Chief Lance Haymond (Kebaowek First Nation); Chief Dylan Whiteduck (Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg); Elder Verna McGregor; Justin Roy, Councillor, Kebaowek First Nation; and First Nation advisor, Rosanne Van Schie speak against the proposed nuclear dump at the CNSC hearing held on August 10, 2023.

Katharine Fletcher
Local Journalism Initiative

OTTAWA – The Chiefs of Kebaowek, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Mithcibikonik First Nations presented statements concerning the proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) at Chalk River during the August 10 Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearing.

It was held at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s headquarters at the confluence of the Rideau, Gatineau and Ottawa rivers.

In an unprecedented recognition of the seriousness of these First Nations’ concerns, the CNSC extended the hearing timeframe, recognizing the groups must be given a proper opportunity to present their concerns regarding the proposed NSDF on their unceded territory.

On August 10, Chief Lance Haymond (Kebaowek First Nation), Chief Dylan Whiteduck (Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg) and Chief Casey Ratt (Mithcibikonik) tabled their opposition, agreeing that CNL has no authority to build on their  land.

Chief Whiteduck explained, “We never surrendered our land. This NSDF is forever; we don’t give consent for establishing this project on our territories.”

The NSDF’s proximity to the Ottawa River, the fact that the Ottawa Valley is prone to earthquakes as well as increasingly extreme weather and wildfires due to climate change, all represent concerns. As well, there are concerns about contamination of drinking water when tritium and other contaminants are released into Perch Lake, Perch River – and subsequently flow into the Ottawa River.

Chief Haymond noted that costs of remediation are born by taxpayers when accidents occur.

First Nations advisor Rosanne Van Schie addressed Ground Truth, First Nations intimate knowledge of their territory, saying 16 hectares of forest would be clearcut if the NSDF goes ahead. “There are three bear dens here,” she said. Because there will be permanent, irreversible loss of biodiversity, she thinks an NSDF containing 1 million cubic meters of low-level nuclear waste should be located elsewhere.

Warden Toller rejects plan

Warden Toller was at the hearing. She stated, “CNL employs approximately 300 people in the Pontiac, and we appreciate them as an employer. However, I do not support the present NSDF as I think it is too close to the Ottawa River. I support our Algonquin chiefs. Our MRC is closest to the site, and we will never forget the dumping that was previously done with nuclear waste in the Ottawa River.”

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Ottawa Valley’s President, Paul Lemoine, said CPAWS-OV rejects this NSDF. “To store radioactive waste, countries such as Sweden and Finland have used a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste for decades. Canada does not have a DGR.

“If the NSDF is rejected, the process to create a DGR could start. Beginning by following the United Nation’s declaration (UNDRIP)  is key. It declares: ‘States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.”

Chief Haymond added, “I believe that the UN should be involved if Canada fails to uphold their responsibility to protect our lands as UNDRIP is an international standard that Canada professes it wants to implement. I would consider it an illegal occupation of our lands and it has been since 1944 when they first stole the land from the Nation.

“We all want to find lasting solutions but before we can do that, we need to stop making more nuclear waste, stop investing in unproven technologies like SMRs, and spend that money on green energy and renewables.”

The final decision by the CNSC is expected in late autumn 2023.