On May 14, 2012 the northern-based Committee for Future Generations (CFG) delivered a petition of 12,000 names calling for the province to legislate a ban on nuclear wastes. Meanwhile, the nuclear industry-run Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) continues to target three northern communities as prospective sites for millions of highly toxic, ever-lasting spent fuel bundles from Ontario’s 20 nuclear plants.
Last summer, members of the newly-formed Committee walked 800 km from one such targeted community, Pinehouse, to Regina to raise awareness of NWMO’s agenda. The previous April the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan presented a petition of 5,000 names calling for a nuclear waste ban, after which Premier Wall gave an ambiguous response. What was he going to say this time, in the face of more than twice the names?
Several people spoke at the rally held outside the Legislature prior to presenting the petition. I spoke about the “Japanese connection”. The previous week Japan had shut down the last of its 58 nuclear plants. The probable phase-out of nuclear power in Japan is no small thing, for after the US and France, Japan is the third largest producer. Prior to the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Japan was to expand its nuclear fleet to produce 50% of its electricity, requiring 20 new plants. Saskatoon-based Cameco looked forward to this profitable, new uranium market.
However, Fukushima’s disaster fundamentally altered public opinion. Previously, 60% of the public had passively supported nuclear expansion; afterwards, 80% supported a nuclear phase-out, and you can hardly blame them. In the first three months after the meltdown there had already been 170 times the radioactivity that had been released in 1945 when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. From Hiroshima to Fukushima, Japan has been the world’s greatest victim of the nuclear threat.
The international media hasn’t kept up, as radiation continues to spew from the damaged reactors. And there remains concern that the spent fuel stored atop damaged reactor # 4 could endure a loss-of-coolant accident, leading to massive plutonium contamination. It’s hard for Saskatchewan people living on the vast prairies to imagine the density and scale of things in Japan. Fukushima is the same distance from the 19 million inhabitants of Tokyo as Brad Wall’s Swift Current riding is from the Regina Legislature. Building these nuclear plants on an island, on an earthquake fault line, was foolhardy from the start.
TEPCO AND HITATCHI
Japan’s shift to renewables has direct implications for the uranium industry here. One of the first contracts signed when the Blakeney NDP expanded uranium mining at Cluff Lake in the late 1970s was with Japan. Since then, Japan has been a main customer of Cameco. Tepco, the Japanese utility operating the damaged Fukushima plants, is Cameco’s partner in the huge underground Cigar Lake mine. Its uranium had been destined for a nuclear power “boom” in Japan which will never materialize. Meanwhile, much of the radioactivity that will go on threatening air, water and food across SE Asia comes from uranium fuel from Saskatchewan.
Premier Wall’s government seems unmoved by the moral and ecological inter-connections. While Japan considers a nuclear phase-out, the GE-Hitatchi consortium which built the flawed Fukushima plants and was to build the new ones, looks for opportunities abroad. And Wall’s government remains open to the nuclear business. It has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GE-Hitatchi to do research at the University of Saskatchewan on small nuclear reactors for the tarsands and on nuclear fuels involving “recycling” of nuclear wastes.
This MOU follows on the heels of the industry-dominated Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) which recommended that Saskatchewan embrace nuclear power and support NWMO’s plan for locating a nuclear dump. In spite of the government’s own public consultations showing that over 80% oppose this plan, the Wall government carries on. The NWMO continues to penetrate the north with erroneous promises that employment from a nuclear dump will solve the crisis of youth suicide, while GE-Hitachi penetrates higher education with manipulative promises that their research will benefit nuclear medicine.
NDP Environment Critic and MLA from Saskatoon-Nutana, Cathy Sproule presented the petition. She read out all the Saskatchewan communities where those signing resided. Watching from the gallery, I expected a fairly short list, perhaps mostly along the route of last summer’s walk, until I realized she had already named several communities and was still on “A” in the alphabet. Some government MLAs heckled, but Sproule persisted reading out the names at a steady pace. It became hypnotic! The compelling list of over 250 Saskatchewan communities included many from which Wall’s MLAs were elected. I noticed that as the list of communities got longer and longer, Sask Party heckling subsided.
I hadn’t been to the Legislature for a while so wasn’t prepared for the immature antics of some government MLA’s. The Sask Party MLA for Meadow Lake, Jeremy Harrison, was particularly disrespectful and obnoxious; hardly a good example, from the Government’s own House Leader, for the visitors filling the galleries. Unfortunately Premier Wall exited the Legislature while the petition was being presented so he never heard the huge cross-section of Saskatchewan communities involved in the campaign for a nuclear waste ban.
MEETING THE MINISTER
Later, members of the Committee and Coalition met with the Minister of the Environment, Dustin Duncan, MLA from Weyburn-Big Muddy. At first I wondered whether I was still in the province which had been so stridently pro-nuclear over the decades. Minister Duncan was candid that he didn’t know much about the nuclear fuel system, but to his credit, he admitted that the enriching process was used for nuclear weapons as well as nuclear power. However, he seemed unaware of northern concerns about uranium tailings, and that no baseline health study had ever been done to scientifically assess the impact of uranium mining on human health. He seemed totally unaware of the history of environmental reviews on nuclear wastes, or of the nature of the risks from nuclear wastes being stored underground, in perpetuity.
Duncan was aware of his government’s UDP, though he didn’t acknowledge that public consultations had shown overwhelming opposition to transporting nuclear wastes into the province. He listened but didn’t say anything at all about the government’s plans. We heard nothing from him about environmental concerns about bringing nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan. Perhaps it didn’t matter that he seemed so innocently unaware of this vital matter, for, since then, the Cabinet has been re-shuffled. Duncan has moved on to Health and people will now have to talk to Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff, who, based on earlier statements, remains supportive of the nuclear industry.
WALL OF RHETORIC
The Leader Post reported that Premier Wall admitted “I don’t think there’s an interest (in a nuclear dump) on the part of the Saskatchewan people”. He’s got that right! He also said “the government isn’t interested in welcoming a storage site either”. This was encouraging but then he said “the province isn’t considering legislation to ban nuclear wastes”.
Why not? Do we live in a province governed with smoke and mirrors? In spite of the Fukushima catastrophe and Saskatchewan’s complicity in this, and in spite of the public’s opposition to the UDP, Wall forges ahead with his nuclear agenda. When even more petitions are delivered from across the whole province, Wall continues mincing his words so as to say nothing.
Why won’t Wall follow the lead of Manitoba and Quebec and ban nuclear wastes here? Is he leaving the door open for nuclear wastes to be transported here from Ontario? Perhaps he and Prime Minister Harper have already had such discussions. I am starting to think that the Premier is hiding something behind his wall of rhetoric.