Saugeen Ojibway Nation walkers visit proposed nuclear waste site
TEESWATER, ONT. -- Members of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation ended a three-day Water Walk, by passing by the potentially permanent home to Canada’s most radioactive nuclear waste.
“I’m not totally anti-nuclear, because I like the comfort, but what’s the compromise. How do we get to the middle of the road on this,” says Water Walk organizer, Joanne Keeshig.
Plans to bury as many as 5.5 million used nuclear fuel bundles 500 metres under 1,500 acres of farmers fields north of Teeswater, will not move forward without the consent of the Saugeen Ojbway Nation (SON).
That’s because the land falls within its traditional territory. Early last year, SON members overwhelmingly voted down plans to bury Ontario’s low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste within the territory.
“That was low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste, what’s being proposed here is high-level waste. I don’t think that’s a good idea, but I also know it’s a big issue and I don’t think we can just say no flat out. We need to find solutions,” says Keeshig.
“If a vote was held tomorrow on the high-level waste, a lot of people would vote no, just for the sake of it. I don’t know if that’s right or not,” says Vernon Roote, Saugeen First Nation council member, who was at Wednesday’s Water Walk ceremony.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), tasked with finding a home for Canada’s high-level nuclear waste, says they are taking Indigenous voices into consideration as they plan their borehole drilling near Teeswater and ultimately select a site in two years' time.
“Our aim at NWMO is to protect the water, people and the environment, so protecting water runs through all our activities over the potential repository site, as well as borehole drilling,” says NWMO senior geoscientist, Martin Sykes.
“We really want to make sure we are creating an invitation for communities to work with us, and together. By building our project with the best knowledge we have in front of us, with Indigenous knowledge being a part of that structure,” says NWMO’s Indigenous Knowledge and Reconciliation Section Manager Jessica Perritt.
In her view, Keeshig says it’s not a matter whether engineers can find a way to bury Canada’s high-level nuclear waste underground, it’s more a question of should they?
“I have found a way to live in harmony with creation, without destroying the environment. That’s what we need to be doing. That’s why we are doing this walk,” she says.
The Saugeen Ojibway Nation is expected to provide their consent or dissent for the project by 2023.
South Bruce and Ignace, the final two host communities being considered, will say yes or no to the project by then as well. If it is approved, construction is expected to begin in 2033, with operations underway by 2043.
The project’s estimated price tag is $23 billion.