NWMO extends timeline for site selection on heels of strong ‘no’ from Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Saugeen Ojibway Nation, Protect Our Waterways members respond

TORONTO – The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) revised its timeline for the site selection for the deep geological repository (DGR), pushing the date for a final decision back by a year, from 2023 to 2024.

The announcement released on Aug. 12 comes one day after news broke about the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) vehemently opposing the whole project being located near Ignace, Ont., one of the two remaining locations being investigated for the DGR.

Forty-nine NAN chiefs passed a resolution at their recent 40th annual Keewaywin Conference held in Timmins from Aug. 9 to 11, sending a clear message to the NWMO: no nuclear waste on their traditional territory.

The NWMO says they need more time to provide information to potential hosts for the project.

“We have experienced significant delays in our face-to-face consultation and interaction activities, particularly in communities exploring their suitability to host the project,” said Lise Morton, vice president of site selection at the NWMO. “Making this small adjustment to our schedule will also give us and potential host communities additional time to review and absorb new information as they determine whether the project’s arrival will align with their vision and priorities.”

Although Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has not officially voted on the DGR project in South Bruce, some of its members spoke out after the NWMO’s announcement, reiterating the 2020 vote that shut down the low to intermediate-level nuclear waste DGR that the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) proposed to build near the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant in Kincardine.

SON member Patrick Lavalley told Midwestern Newspapers that he is opposed to the DGR and believes that SON already made their decision when they voted on the matter in 2020.

“The Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted 85 per cent against a low-level nuclear waste dump in January 2020,” Lavalley said. “Ontario Power Generation said they wouldn’t build the $2.4 billion underground facility under the Bruce Power site without the SON’s approval. That should have been the end of this issue. Instead, OPG doubled down and is now trying to inflict a medium- and high-level nuclear dump on us.”

When asked if the decision to wait another year would affect his decision, Lavalley said, “OPG’s altering the nomenclature and re-issuing the question is breaking their original oath to us. My opinion will not change based on that alone. They cannot be trusted at their word.”

Ephraim Sandy, also a SON member, has been following the DGR discussions for years and opposes the high-level nuclear waste project.

“There is a giant elephant in the room; no one wants to bridge this subject,” said Sandy. “Look, this nuclear waste will not be shipped, railed, driven out of the territory, period. It’s not going to happen. We said ‘NO,’ however, this reality has to be discussed. We need to leverage what position we have today. And benefit from this impossible situation that isn’t going anywhere before our leverage is taken and they legislate us out of the storage equation.

“There are no agreements with us for storage. We need to move forward and press them for payment before we even discuss this issue further. Rent is due before we talk about permanent storage.”

Officially, SON has not decided on the high-level waste DGR being built on their territory, but a source close to the band who chooses to remain anonymous for now said that several “legacy” issues need to be addressed with SON before they would consider any new agreements.

A source within SON indicated that there would be an announcement soon regarding SON’s position on the DGR.

Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste (POW-NNW) responded to the NWMO announcement with several points, including questioning the timing of the announcement.

“Why the sudden decision to delay site selection? Is it a coincidence that this was announced after Nishnawbe Aski Nation Chiefs voted to ‘vehemently oppose’ the NWMO’s concept of a DGR near Ignace?” POW said in an email.

“Is this delay to allow more time for the NWMO to follow the Systematic Development of Informed Consent (SDIC)? SDIC is a strategy used by several of the NWMO consultants and employees who have participated in this training by Bleiker. Is it to give the NWMO a chance to spend more money in an attempt to manufacture ‘informed consent?’

“Just because the NWMO is postponing its decision it doesn’t mean the community has to wait until 2024. The current council has time and time again told residents it is too soon for the community to make a decision, yet our current council continues to sign agreements with the NWMO to continue further into the process. We need a council that will listen to the community. Our risk. Our choice. We need a council willing to listen to the voices of the residents and ratepayers.”

An Aug. 12 media release from the NWMO said, “This schedule change should not impact the overall Canadian plan schedule. Construction of the repository is still expected to begin in 2033, and operation of the repository is expected to begin in the early 2040s.

“Since 2010, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has been leading a process to identify a site for a deep geological repository. The selection of a site is a crucial step which will mark the beginning of a new series of activities, in particular the regulatory decision-making process.

“With a project of such complexity and generational scope, we always anticipated that we would have to adapt things as we went along without losing sight of our longer-term goals.

“As with all organizations and businesses, several provincial lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted our work. Reviewing our five-year implementation plan and considering the impacts of the pandemic, we have made the decision to postpone the timing of site selection. We now expect that we will identify the optimal site by fall 2024.”

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Cory Bilyea is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Wingham Advance Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.