The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced July 5 that they plan more time for engagement and consultation with Kebaowek First Nation and the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg on the proposed radioactive dump along the Ottawa River. This news comes after the “final hearings” of the site’s environmental review process. At those hearings, from May 30 to June 3 in Pembroke, multiple Indigenous communities spoke out about their concerns over the waste facility. Their concerns must be considered — it’s their land which will contain it. Any disasters will affect them first. Canada has signed The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which means the government is supposed to obtain the free, prior and informed consent on issues that may affect Indigenous peoples or their territory. Several First Nations said at the hearing they had not been adequately consulted.
A precedent for other nuclear facilities would be set here. The CNL plan gives the Agency a sort of sovereignty over land that does not belong to them. The staggering amount of waste that needs to be cleaned up does not fit well with CNL’s repeated claim that the waste is “only” low-level radioactive. During the hearings, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation criticized the misleading nature of CNL’s definition of low-level waste; they fear more highly radioactive materials will be stored in the mound, eventually. The NSDF would walk away with $450 million of the federal government’s $8.1-billion liability for remediating old nuclear sites, a dollar-sign incentive that seems to outweigh any environmental risk concerns, at least from CNL’s point of view.
The municipalities of MRC Pontiac have opposed the project, as have the metropolises of Montreal, Gatineau, and Ottawa. Threats to the water and air of this vast area must be honestly addressed.
CNL must dispose of its own hazardous waste, but does this allow putting our water sources at risk? This seems merely the easiest way. Radioactivity spread through water and air over much of Eastern Ontario and West Quebec is an unacceptable risk.
This decision could create a new standard for the protection of the environment; it give CNSC the opportunity to demonstrate how they set priorities for the land they take from others for their use.
Shouldn’t our hope be that marginalized voices, suppressed in the past, will be given their rightful seat at the table and their concerns be addressed to their satisfaction? Actions are more powerful than more and more words, especially in this era of reconciliation.