Indigenous Peoples, the Nuclear Industry, and Canada’s Nuclear Waste

Earth Day - Special Blog - Ole Hendrickson

By Dr. Ole Hendrickson

Just before the Easter holiday, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) gave the multinational consortium that operates the federally-owned Chalk River Laboratories a stripped-down 10-year operating licence.  The CNSC brushed off dozens of detailed submissions raising concerns about inadequate waste management, missing reactor design safety provisions, and the trampling of indigenous rights.

Chalk River is ground zero for industry dreams of a nuclear renaissance. In three consecutive federal budgets, the Trudeau Government has allocated roughly $2.5 billion for the multinational consortium’s plans, which include developing a new generation of “small modular reactors” that could be deployed in remote northern communities and industrial sites such as the tar sands.  At an upcoming international ministerial forum Canada will be touting a “NICE Future” (Nuclear Innovation – Clean Energy) for nuclear energy. 

Apparently forgotten in all this hype and cash is the Government of Canada’s lack of policies and plans for dealing with its own 70-year legacy of accumulated radioactive waste.  At Chalk River this includes the shut-down NRX and NRU reactors, plutonium-contaminated buildings, old reactor cores dumped in the sand, and numerous leaking waste plumes, some already in contact with the Ottawa River.  Other federal “legacy wastes” include the Gentilly-1 reactor in Becancour, Quebec; the Douglas Point reactor in Kincardine, Ontario; the WR-1 reactor in Pinawa, Manitoba; and the NPD reactor in Rolphton, Ontario. 

The multinationals are offering their own “solutions” for Canada’s 7.9-billion-dollar radioactive waste liability.  They propose to fill the WR-1 and NPD reactors with concrete and abandon them -- beside the Winnipeg and Ottawa Rivers, respectively.   Transportable wastes are to be shipped to Chalk River, put in a giant mound exposed to the elements, and eventually abandoned, one kilometre from the Ottawa River.

First Nations have been particularly vocal -- and so far ignored -- about these proposals. 

In Manitoba, the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Hollow Water First Nation, Black River First Nation, Sagkeeng First Nation, Wabaseemoong Independent Nations, and Manitoba Metis Federation have filed concerns about concrete “entombment” of the WR-1 reactor

In Ontario, the Anishinabek Nation, Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, Hiawatha First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, Algonquins of Ontario, and Métis Nation of Ontario have expressed concerns about the NPD reactor entombment and/or the Chalk River mound; as have the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council in Quebec.

During the 2015 election, the Liberal Party promised to “ensure that on project reviews and assessments, the Crown is fully executing its consultation, accommodation, and consent obligations, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations, including Aboriginal and Treaty rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” 

Article 29(2) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says “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.”

Indigenous groups participating in the environmental assessments (EAs) of the various nuclear waste proposals are demanding free, prior and informed consent before projects are approved. 

With astounding arrogance, the CNSC has rejected this demand, asserting that it alone “makes EA and licensing decisions for all major nuclear projects,” and that “Decisions made by the Commission are not subject to any governmental or political review, nor may they be overturned by the Government of Canada.”

Federal ministers Carr (Natural Resources) and McKenna (Environment) have steadfastly deferred to the CNSC on these projects -- which were initiated during their terms -- chalking up yet another broken election promise. 

Given the Canadian government’s lack of response, the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus are taking their concerns to the United Nations on Monday, April 23rd.  The two groups, which represent many individual First Nations throughout the Great Lakes Basin, will hold an event during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to bring international attention to the Government of Canada’s inaction.  

Thirty-seven non-indigenous groups and four First Nations have written the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations body, to point out that the federal nuclear waste projects are inconsistent with that body’s guidance on permanent radioactive waste disposal. 

Please show your support by signing House of Commons e-petition 1450, which attempts, yet again, to bring the attention of the Canadian government to its missing policies and plans for the long-term management of radioactive waste. We need to get as much support as possible before the petition closes on May 11th.

Thank you.

Ole Hendrickson, PhD., and Researcher at Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County

For more background on this issue, please see Dr. Hendrickson’s blog from November 20, 2017