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'Not realistic': Saugeen Ojibway Nation may not vote on nuclear waste plan in 2024

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The chiefs in charge of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation said their community will get to vote on whether or not they want Canada’s most radioactive waste buried in their territory.

“The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) will have a referendum, and the majority wins,” said Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Chief Greg Nadjiwon.

When that vote will take place however is still undecided. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), tasked with finding a permanent home for Canada’s used nuclear fuel, wants to select a site by year’s end.

“That’s the NWMO’s goal, whether we will be able to meet that target is I would say no, not realistic,” said Nadjiwon, speaking from the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s Environment Office in Wiarton, Ont. on Friday.

The NWMO has plans to bury Canada’s high level nuclear waste, 5.6 million used nuclear fuel bundles worth, under 1,500 acres of farmers fields north of Teeswater, Ont. in Bruce County.

Those fields fall within the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

According to the NWMO, the project will not move forward without the approval of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, or the local municipality, the Municipality of South Bruce, who have scheduled a community referendum on the project this October.

Graphics show what a deep geological repository to store Canada’s used nuclear fuel bundles might look like. (Source: Nuclear Waste Management Organization)“Worldwide it’s accepted as the right thing to do, to put it [used nuclear fuel] well beneath the ground where it can be contained and safely stored,” said Municipality of South Bruce Mayor Mark Goetz.

In January 2020, members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted overwhelmingly against plans to bury Ontario’s low and intermediate level nuclear waste within two kilometres of Lake Huron.

Nadjiwon said while this project is different, the biggest question facing SON voters will be whether containing the radioactive waste in underground containers is the safest thing to do.

“You’ve got to ask yourself the question: if they do break down, what is the risk of that un-contained radioactive waste getting to the surface, where it could have an impact?” asked Nadjiwon.

Nadjiwon said SON will continue to educate itself and its members on the NWMO’s nuclear waste plan, and will hold their community referendum when they feel the time is right, whether that’s this year or next. 

A used nuclear fuel bundle is seen in Mildmay in October 2016. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

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