On April 14th a petition calling for a legislated ban on nuclear wastes was presented to Premier Wall’s government. The 4,800 names were collected after Bruce Power announced its proposal to build nuclear power plants along the North Saskatchewan River. Representatives from several member groups of the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan attended in support. This included RPIC (Renewable Energy the Intelligent Choice) and Council of Canadians from Prince Albert, the Fort Qu’Appelle ecumenical group KAIROS and “Clean Greens” from Regina and Saskatoon.
Pat Atkinson, MLA from Saskatoon, agreed to present the Coalition’s petition to the Legislature. Karen Pederson of the North Saskatchewan Environmental Society which initiated the petition in Cutknife, and Heidi Hougham of Save Our Saskatchewan (SOS), Lloydminster, spoke to the media on behalf of those who signed the petition.
Premier Wall’s government ended up rejecting Bruce Power’s proposal. However the industry-based Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) continues to negotiate with northern communities for a site for high-level nuclear wastes, mostly from southern Ontario. It’s estimated that it would take 18,000 truck loads to haul wastes accumulating at nuclear power plants in eastern Canada. Due to the nuclear decay process these wastes become even more radioactive after 100,000 years.
When asked about the petition Premier Wall admitted that there was “negative public opinion about a nuclear waste facility.” He added “I don’t sense the mood of the province has changed, and frankly, what happening in Japan has got people thinking, just generally speaking about the issue”. (Regina Leader Post, April 15, 2011, A3).
THE JAPANESE CONNECTION
It certainly has, and many people are now realizing how directly involved the uranium industry here is with Japan’s nuclear disaster. TEPCO, the company operating the Fukushima reactors that continue to spew radioactive contamination, gets much of its uranium from Cameco, with which it has a joint-venture at the Cigar Lake mine. What this means is that much of the dangerously radioactive particles, which will most certainly increase cancer rates, are coming from uranium fuel from northern Saskatchewan. Russian, Belarus and Ukrainian Academy of Science researchers have concluded that Chernobyl led to nearly one million deaths between 1986 and 2004, mostly from cancer.
Cameco’s partner, TEPCO, had a history of covering up reactor safety problems and falsifying data prior to Japan’s March 11th earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. But, unlike the rest of us, Cameco head Jerry Grandey, is not rethinking the nuclear industry. At an April 14th Saskatoon luncheon he tried to downplay the severity of the Fukushima disaster, now ranked with Chernobyl, by saying no one had died at TEPCO’S nuclear plants. This shows ignorance and/or deception about the long-term risks to human health that will inevitably come from the contamination. When asked by the Star Phoenix reporter what he thought of the petition calling for a Saskatchewan ban on nuclear wastes, Grandey replied “it’s a good thing that some provincial communities want to study the idea of nuclear waste storage, which he called a ‘tremendous opportunity’”. It’s no surprise that Cameco continues to support Saskatchewan taking high-level nuclear wastes from Ontario, for it co-owns Ontario’s Bruce Power reactor complex which has accumulated more than 40% of Canada’s nuclear wastes.
One way the nuclear industry has maintained support in Ontario is by telling the public it will someday take the high-level wastes far away. For Cameco, Bruce Power and the NWMO, that place apparently is Saskatchewan.
The Saskatchewan NDP is now on record as opposing a nuclear dump anywhere in Saskatchewan. According to the April 15th Leader Post, Premier Wall has said his government “would not rule out such a law on nuclear waste in Saskatchewan.” The Saskatoon Star Phoenix article even headlined its story on the Coalition’s petition: “No nuclear waste storage facility for Saskatchewan: Wall”. Neither party, however, has yet come out against the NWMO shopping around the north, looking for a community that will “host” a nuclear dump in return for some of the jobs involved. This would be a high price to pay for employment. And, as Premier Wall himself says “This would be very much a provincial issue…there should be a sense that the province in general is supportive – and I don’t have that sense.”
So why isn’t Wall’s government, with NDP support, acting proactively to protect our environmental and human health? Why aren’t they joining hands to pass a legislative ban on the importation, transportation and storage of high-level nuclear waste? Manitoba banned nuclear wastes back in 1987 and in 2008 Quebec banned importing wastes from other provinces. Recently New Brunswick’s Premier said they wouldn’t consider becoming a nuclear dump. That leaves Ontario, where most the wastes are produced, and Saskatchewan. It’s time we joined the list of provinces explicitly saying they won’t take Ontario’s nuclear wastes.
AN ELECTION ISSUE
Saskatchewan residents living along the prospective transportation route – the Trans-Canada, Yellowhead and through the Prince Albert area into the north – might want to ask their candidates for the May 2nd federal election whether they oppose a nuclear dump in Saskatchewan. The Harper government is on record as supporting the NWMO’s strategy of creating a centralized storage area to allow plutonium to be recovered for future nuclear plants. How many Conservative MP’s here have been transparent about this? Is this another example of how they try to displace our attention from what they are actually up to?
Awareness that we are at the top-of-the-list for a nuclear dump will hopefully grow as we approach the fall provincial election. People across the province might want to start asking their local MLA’s and candidates for the fall election what their view is on bringing Ontario’s nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan. Perhaps the Coalition that brought this matter to the fore, and presented the petition to the Wall government on April 14th, could keep an inventory of the views of all Sask Party and NDP MLAs and all nominated candidates, and make this available to the voting public.
If we want to resurrect democracy and move towards a sustainable society, it is becoming abundantly clear that organizations outside the political party system are going to have to take more of a lead. The petition from the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan is an important step in that direction.