Much has happened since the Forum for Truth on Nuclear Waste Storage was held in Beauval June 2nd. Organized in two weeks by the newly-formed Committee for Future Generations, the forum was attended by 200 people, most from ten northern communities. Within a few weeks committee members had organized a second forum, held in Pinehouse July 26th. The next day thirty northerners left Pinehouse to begin a twenty day, 7000 Generations Walk Against Nuclear Waste, which will end up at the Regina Legislature.
The 800 km walk will pass through twelve communities, with rallies in Prince Albert on August 3nd, Saskatoon on August 8th and Regina August 15th. On August 16th the walk will go down The Green Mile along Albert Street to present petitions to the Wall government. Organizers are encouraging supporters to join in the walk wherever they can and for however long they can. Several carloads are expected to join the walkers at Lumsden the morning of August 15th.
This is no small feat and walkers are bound to be tested by this summer’s extreme weather. First Nations, Métis, environmental and ecumenical networks are providing lodging, food and support along the route. This is an unprecedented event, with northerners calling for southern support to win a nuclear waste ban.
The mainstream media is finally reporting the growing opposition to a nuclear dump in the north. Provincial politics is heating up and the nuclear waste controversy may yet become a fall election issue. The NDP, which has a policy against a nuclear dump, has now indicated it will support the walk. We will see whether this resonates with the voting public or is seen as getting on the band wagon late in the game. Organizers want support from any and all groups that are willing to help; it’s a politically non-partisan action.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), which has been promoting a nuclear dump In the north, appears to have changed its approach since the success of the Beauval forum. On July 21st, a week prior to the July 26th Pinehouse forum, NWMO’s Communications Director, Jamie Robinson, contacted the Committee for Future Generations, the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES). It invited members to come on an all-expense paid tour “to a waste management facility at a nuclear generating station in South Ontario where used nuclear fuel is currently stored on an interim basis.” NWMO said it wanted to “hear their concerns and questions and to provide a briefing about our activities.”
These tours are regularly given to political officials and business groups to try to get them onside. The timing of this invitation to opponents of a nuclear dump is most interesting, for it came after the NWMO declined to send anyone to the Beauval forum. This was the largest, broadest-based discussion of nuclear wastes to occur in the north to date, and would have been an opportune time for them to hear “concerns and questions”. (The forum organizers wanted the industry view presented and when no one turned up they bent over backwards and played two NWMO videos at the beginning of the meeting.)
NWMO’s invitation could have created divisions, but on July 25th the Committee simply responded “we are unable to attend at this time as we are extremely busy with our forum in Pinehouse and our 7000 Generations Walk to the legislature in Regina.” We’ll have to wait and see whether the offer to take people opposed to a nuclear dump here, to Ontario, where the wastes are produced and should be stored, still stands after the summer’s activities.
The Committee for Future Generations has been calling for more transparency from NWMO; they want to know what money is going into the north as part of its promotions. A July 27th Star Phoenix story sheds some light on this, reporting that “Resources of up to $75,000 per community were made available for expenses incurred at this stage of the selection process…” The story fails, however, to mention the $1,000,000 that went to the FSIN or the $400,000 that went to the Métis Nation.
The Committee has also been asking NWMO what payments have been going to the hand-picked elders that are “advising” it. When pushed on this, NWMO’s Toronto-based spokesman, Michael Krizanc, admitted they received “a per diem that would be several hundred dollars a day”. That means that when NWMO-appointed elder, Jim Sinclair, for example, goes to any community forum to try to convince people to consider a nuclear dump, he is getting paid. Such monetary inducements completely go against the meaning of “duty to consult” and “informed consent”.
There’s a lot of twisting of words in this controversy. Pinehouse official Glen McCallum suggests that the community is “just interested in gathering information”, yet village officials haven’t contacted people outside the industry, and it took forming the Committee for Future Generations to get an open public forum in the community. It’s hard to accept that “there is no coercion” going on behind the scene. Industry spokesperson Krizanc says NWMO wants an “informed and willing” community to display its willingness in a “compelling” way, but then adds “we haven’t defined what a compelling way is yet”. What is compelling is the growing opposition to a nuclear dump!
Those working behind the scene may be getting nervous. Pinehouse spokesperson, Vince Natomagan, had an op ed in the July 28th Star Phoenix, just the day after the 7000 Generations Walk left his community. He attacked the June 2nd Beauval forum as sending a “fear-based, short-sighted message”, while failing to say anything about the opposition to a nuclear dump expressed at the July 26th Pinehouse forum . Natomagan tried to make the SES sound like it supported his position, without mentioning that the SES supports a ban on nuclear wastes in Saskatchewan. Natomagan supported Jim Sinclair, who was heckled at the Beauval forum, without mentioning that Sinclair was actually applauded when he started his speech by opposing a nuclear dump. Sinclair then flip-flopped and ended up supporting a dump as if that was the way to help the next generation avoid addiction, suicide and prison. Many present were aghast!
Such manipulation of the deep concern about the social crisis in the north may be backfiring. One of the founders of the Committee for Future Generations, retired RCMP officer, Max Morin, told the Star Phoenix he “was invited to be part of an elder’s summit focused on problems of death and addiction among the community’s youth. Two hours in, the meeting turned out to be a presentation on nuclear waste storage set up by those working with NWMO.”
Northern Saskatchewan remains the second poorest region in all of Canada in spite of the uranium mining “boom”, and bringing 20,000 truckloads of highly radioactive nuclear wastes to the north will not change the highly inequitable pattern of mal-development. A new, sustainable path will need to be charted. Natomagan talks rhetorically about “standing up straight and making an informed decision”. The northerners walking from Pinehouse to Regina are not only standing up for the future of the north but for the future of the whole province.