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The Duplicity of the Nuclear Industry in Northern Saskatchewan

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

 Last Tuesday I drove from Saskatoon to Pinehouse, a five hour drive north, with three other anti-nuclear activists and a filmmaker.  We had been asked to come to support those residents of Pinehouse who were facing some portentous meetings scheduled for Tuesday  and Wednesday evenings at which both the government and the nuclear industry were going to be unveiling important news to the community. These meetings were taking place days after the provincial budget was announced.  One was being held behind closed doors and the other was open to the public.  Oddly, the owner and operator of the local radio station , Vince Natomagan, announced over the air that he  had enough people to come and that people  need not  show up. Considering the gravity of what was being discussed, the whole village should have been there. It was Natomagan  who made the original invitation to Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO)  to consider the  Pinehouse community as a candidate for a nuclear waste storage site in exchange for remuneration to the community.  He also is the head of the Community Liason Committee and receives an undisclosed “salary” from the  NWMO in return for promoting the nuclear waste organization’s goals.  He is also the mayor’s, Mike Natomagan's  brother-in-law, and is known throughout the community to be an intimidating and threatening figure.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization  was created by federal law in 2002.  Originally  given the mandate of dealing with the two million bundles of spent uranium rods which remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years, it soon narrowed its focus.  Its mission became to find a community somewhere in Canada willing to host the country’s only DGR or “Deep Geologic Repository”, its  only burial place for high-level nuclear waste.  (The DGR would be similar to the one which had been proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but scrapped by the US government in 2010.  The number of DGR’s in the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand, as few govermnents are willing to convince their citizens of their long-term safety.)  The purpose of the meeting Tuesday evening was to present the results of an independent third-party review focused on the safety and socio-economic possibilities of using Pinehouse as a possible site for Canada’s DGR.   We arrived at the town hall to find very few community members but many concerned people had arrived from other parts of Saskatchewan.
The Third Party Independent Review  panel was reporting after a few months of work. It turned out that this very important research was put into the hands of two inexperienced young people, whose main credentials were papers written on related subjects in graduate school. They were not scientists and they were not economists, social workers, or of any other useful profession that would have given credence to their findings. Their own findings after this time period    were largely missing in their public presentation.   “Matt and Bobbi” had been hired by the CLC  through a Prince Albert-based company called NRG. They were paid, we were told,  $30,000  Young and inexperienced,  their report was  going  to comprise 80% of the decision-making of the CLC  as to whether or not Pinehouse will move on to the next step in NWMO’s nine-step host community selection process.  Matt presented the NWMO’s  plan of “Adaptive Phase Management” the outline for  Pinehouse citizens  if they chose to take further steps toward becoming a host community. It quickly became clear that,  with all it’s cliche words and the barely illegible print on the power point that ,Matt and Bobbi would not be unveiling any original work but that they would  merely be presenting  the spin words from the nuclear industry.  Once this was done  they could say they had done it, and the process of the NWMO could move ahead. In fact we were being asked to accept this proposal with no discussion.”  When interrupted with questions and comments from our group, Matt merely shook his head, chewed his gum, and answered, “I don’t know.”  When asked what percentage of the material he had reviewed was given to him by the NWMO and what per cent was from outside sources, he looked confused and befuddled.  He didn’t seem to understand that we were asking him serious, real questions.  None of their work had been translated  into the Cree language.  They could not answer questions from the assembly, and there was no evidence at all that they had researched the socio/ economic situation in Pinehouse.  This reporting by a supposedly independent third party failed in every way to  do what it was supposed to do.
    This "independent review", had actually been funded by NWMO through Pinehouse’s Community Liaison Committee (CLC).   This accounted for the two young presenters inability to do more than spout the jargon of NWMO’s official document regarding the selection process (Moving Forward Together:  Process for Selecting a Site for Canada’s Deep Geological Repository for Used Nuclear Fuel, NWMO, May 2010, available at )  and their inability to answer  basic and direct questions about their “research” and the project.  Clearly, several of the NWMO’s stated “fundamental values” as to how the host selection process was going to be conducted (as laid out in the official document )  were being violated at this meeting.   When Matt  admitted that “everyone knows this is paid for by the CLC”, he was calling into question NWMO’s dedication to :
·    Integrity:   We will conduct ourselves with openness, honesty and respect for all persons and organizations with whom we deal.
The fact that none of the work had been translated into Cree cast doubt on NWMO’s attempt at:
·    Transparency:   We will be open and transparent in our process, communications and decision-making, so that the approach is clear to all Canadians.
The decision to employ such inexperienced people in a process of such importance leads one to doubt the NWMO’s commitment to another of its stated core values to be used in this process, namely:
·    Excellence:  We will pursue the best knowledge, understanding and innovative thinking in our analysis, engagement processes and decision-making.

(Page 2, Moving Forward Together:  Process for Selecting a Site for Canada’s Deep Geological Repository for Used Nuclear Fuel, NWMO, May 2010)

Though the finances in Pinehouse have never been made clear, it is well known in the community that lavish amounts of money are being spent on Vince, his family, those who support him.
     It is fortunate that these meetings were captured on film for these films will show the world the unacceptable manipulation  of a small isolated community in a duplicitous way  by the unscrupulous and , lethal uranium  industry.   The incompetence of the research team and its financial backing, its bias ,its failure to have done a real study of the community, or to have provided the communtiy with  written information in Cree, and the total  failure to be a truly  independent third party must be brought to light.   Objective viewing of these proceedings will be a warning for other communities who are  also being sought after  by the NWMO.
   Our gathering afterwards was full of good energy, prayers, and smiles.  As a group we had voiced our concerns clearly and openly. As a team we felt triumphant . We had  protested the NWMO’s progression in its agenda  and its relentless forward motion without our consent or input from the community.  Idle No More co-founder, Sylvia McAdam Saysewahum was with us, and by Arlene Seegerts, an outspoken  writer and educator, and representatives from other Idle No More groups who spoke encouragingly and with strength and wisdom. Now is the time that we need to stand up to protect the earth. It is  why we were together that evening. Speaking up without fear at this meeting  was perhaps a new and heady feeling to those from Pinehouse who have been  opposing the activities of NWMO. Until now it has been a lonely job. Now, we will be there to support them. More than ever people are joining together .
     The next day was a scheduled meeting of the Community Liason Committee with four officials from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  This meeting was not publicly announced. We took our seats in a row behind those seated at the table.  Vince Natomagan made his opening comments, welcoming all.  A prayer was given in Cree by a member of the CLC.  I overheard a council member talking about the vacation his family had just returned from to Disneyland.  Another council member we learned later, who had been outspoken in questioning the NWMO project, had just accepted a job with Cameco, one of the biggest players in the nuclear industry. It is clear that people are being bought with nuclear dollars. Even the elders of the community are being given “honorariums” of $600 for speaking positively of the project. A member of our group told us that an honorarium used to be in the $150 range not long ago.   This was no longer a respectful, traditional offering of tobacco, but hard cash bribery. The nuclear industry is throwing around its money in a shamefaced way, dividing families and separating people from  their traditions.
     We were included in the opening around-the-room introductions.  There were teachers, mine workers, hard-working, proud citizens of Pinehouse, fishermen, and others.  Interestingly enough, there were no Pinehouse women on the CLC.  The three women at the table were from the CNSC.  The three others, including myself, were there from the outside world , an indication of how far the village of Pinehouse has changed since days when women were respected leaders in the community and involved with decision-making.
     The meeting continued with questions to the CNSC.  “What were they doing here, now, when there has been no decision to move forward in the proposed steps towards accepting nuclear waste?”, someone asked. “ Were they here to issue a licence?”  The senior man from the CNSC replied that they were just getting ready in case a licence is applied for, a sort of pre-licencing stage.  The two pilots and four guests from the CNSC must have cost quite a lot to fly up for a short, pre-licencing session.   In fact, it was hard to believe that this was the truth.  From our group, an expert in the energy field offered to come to Pinehouse to help start businesses that produce alternate, green systems of energy as an option to the jobs the nuclear industry was offering.  Another in our group  is  a nurse who works with cancer patients in Saskatoon and who  has gotten to know many First Nation’s and Metis’ people at the cancer hospital.  The number of deadly cancers is steadily rising  amongst northerners . This is a frightening reality that the nuclear industry always hides in its intense pitch of its project. Up here, many families have lost loved ones to cancer.  Another one of us said, “ in this beautiful environment with all of the lakes and rivers, a geological repository would certainly lead to disaster, as rock is constantly being changed by water. The water systems connect with each other and travel over and under all of the north . An accident or leak would effect all of the waterways and the whole province.” How could the NSC grant a licence for something so completely experimental?   The senior man from the CNSC gave many questionable and disturbing responses during this meeting.  He said,  “If the Wright brothers had quit after their first attempts at flight failed, do you think we ever would have learned to fly?”.   A head-scratcher, and certainly it was an unusual comparison. The Wright brothers were not experimenting with the live souls of an entire community. When asked why it couldn’t be left where it was for on-site monitoring, instead of dragging it all the way across the country to bury in northern Saskatchewan, the man said he worried about his grandchildren, who would have the responsibility , every fifty years ,of  re-encasing it.  He didn’t want his grandchildren to have this enormous responsibility. In this response he admitted to two things- that nothing can hold this hazardous material forever, not even fifty years (how could he think of burying it?) And secondly, that his children and grandchildren were more important than those of the people he was sitting at the table with! His audacity was astounding to all of us. The last thing he had to say, when questioned about the recent discovery of the very  serious leakage at the Hanford nuclear waste storage facility where millions of litres of highly radioactive water have entered the Columbia River system, was the moment we had been waiting for. He turned around to look at us and asked gruffly, “Do you want me to stop licencing the nuclear industry?”  Out loud, and in our hearts, our fervent prayer was that he would do just that.

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