Three or so years ago I attended an open house at the Delta Hotel that was being hosted by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to promote the idea of Saskatchewan becoming a storage ground for spent nuclear waste. The project was semi-touted as being an economic windfall for all the jobs that would be involved in the construction and maintenance of the facility — which would be located deep underground in the bedrock of the Canadian Shield.
Around the same time the Wall government was exploring the idea (through the Perrins Commission) of building a nuclear reactor in the province for energy generation and the production of medical isotopes. That idea wasn’t well received by provincial residents, and the government eventually abandoned it. The government hasn’t categorically ruled out the possibility of giving the go-ahead to a waste storage facility, but it hasn’t been actively pushing the idea either.
Now the NWMO is back in the news. According to this CBC report it’s provided the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations with $1 million to hold a series of public meetings to gauge the interest of northern First Nations in hosting such a facility. There was a meeting in Saskatoon last night, and another is scheduled for Prince Albert tonight.
There is a sovereignty card that can be played, I suppose, where a First Nations community could argue that it has the right to do what it wishes on its territory and that it’s entitled to take steps to improve its economic fortunes by agreeing to host a waste dump. Others argue that the storage of nuclear material that remains toxic for a million years is an issue that concerns everyone in the province and it can’t be reduced to a simple argument over territorial sovereignty.
Then there’s the added reality that, to reach the facility, the waste material would have to be transported either by truck or rail through heavily populated areas of Saskatchewan. Waste from central Canada would surely be stored at the facility, which would impact on people living in Ontario and Manitoba too. And down the road, who knows where waste might be shipped from — the United States, Europe, Asia. So, really, pretty much every Canadian has a stake in this discussion.
To close, here’s a 20-minute documentary that Regina filmmaker Myek O’Shea and others put together examining the activities of the NWMO in Saskatchewan: