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Reactor waste in Saskatchewan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 19, 1994) The developments in northern Canada around the waste issue have led to the formation of the Indigenous Women's Environmental Network. The Network's goal is to work toward educating people at the community level about these issues. Members of the new group have traveled to the US to Washington DC to take part in a workshop on nuclear waste issues, as well as attended an Indigenous Women's gathering in Minnesota.

(424.4199) Inter-Church Uranium Committee - Plans are also in the works to send delegates to New Mexico to meet with people fighting plans to build a temporary storage facility (or monitored retrievable storage -- an MRS -- as it is known) on the Mescalero Apache reservation. Other activists in Saskatchewan, Canada have pledged to continue to work with forces opposing nuclear insanity in Canada and around the world as well.

One of the things that has led up to all this is the attempts by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a federal crown corporation, to build a nuclear Waste repository in Saskatchewan. AECL has been searching for a site to build a permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste in Canada for many years. In 1989, AECL came to the province of Saskatchewan with the stated goal of selling a CANDU-3 nuclear reactor to the provincial government. However, as well as attempting to sell nuclear reactors, AECL's real goal has been to convince Saskatchewan residents that nuclear waste disposal will create thousands of jobs and resolve the problems of a depressed economy.

In 1991, AECL commissioned a report to study the development of the entire nuclear fuel chain in the province, taking advantage of the existing infrastructure provided by the presence of the uranium industry. The report clearly states the objective is to site a high-level nuclear waste repository for domestic and international spent fuel. The report was followed in 1992 by a suggestion from Bill Gatenby, then Chief Executive Officer for CAMECO, that Saskatchewan should "rent" uranium and dispose of the waste resulting from its use. Gatenby said buyers would be reassured if they knew they could return spent reactor fuel to Saskatchewan for safe disposal.


Mescalero Apache tribe officials and representatives of 33 nuclear power companies met in Florida, US in early December to finalize an agreement for the temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel rods on Mescalero land. According to a Mescalero spokesperson, the agreement could be signed at any time now.

The Tribal Council applied about four years ago for a federal grant to study the possibility of siting a monitored retrievable storage facility on their New Mexico reservation. However, after they worked their way through several stages and received more than US$300,000 in federal funds, the US Congress cut off study money. Council members, headed by Wendell Chino, then turned their attention to the private sector for money to pursue a federal permit for a stOrage facility. In late February 1994, they signed their first deal, with Northern States Power. (See also WISE NCs 409.4054, 398.3878 and WISE Special Edition, 387/8 box.)

With regard to the current deal, even if the partners applied for a permit immediately, government experts estimate that fuel would not begin to arrive at the reservation until 2005.
Source and contact: SWNA Action Committee, 10011 Hickory Crossing, Dallas TX 15243, USA. Fax: + 1-214-183-1956.

AECL has been studying the granite rock formation in the Canadian Shield at its research station near Pinawa northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba) for its suitability for waste disposal since the late 1970s. In a report released 27 October 1994, AECL said spent nuclear fuel can be placed in containers and buried up to a kilometer below the surface in stable rock formations known as plutons. A federal government environmental assessment review is now underway to determine the acceptability of the deep rock disposal concept, with no specific site being examined. An AECL spokesperson in Pinawa said the next phase is to look for a specific site, and suitability could take another 20 years to be determined.

The Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) representing nine treaty bands in northwestern Saskatchewan is conducting a feasibility study to examine the economic benefits of siting a high-level nuclear waste repository in northern Saskatchewan. Although MLTC representatives say no decisions have been made to proceed with such a project, a document outlining a plan to bring spent fuel from the US to Canada has been made public.

The document's plan calls for an exclusive contract between the "Meadow Lake Tribal Council Repository" and the Mescalero Apache Tribe in New Mexico, US for permanent storage of the spent fuel which the Mescalero Apache are planning to store in a temporary facility (an MRS) on their reservation. The Mescalero Apache are presently in the final stages of negotiating an agreement for the MRS with 33 nuclear power companies (see box), but according to Oneil Gladue of the MLTC in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, the Mescalero have "jumped the gun" by compiling the chart shown in the document. Gladue added, "we don't have a proposal in place". However, Mr. Gladue is also quoted as saying the Band Council believes its job is "to leave no stone unturned in identifying opportunities for the future," and as Saskatchewan has a large uranium mining industry, the permanent storage of used nuclear fuel seemed obvious.

The MLTC made its plans known to the international nuclear establishment by presenting a paper to the annual symposium of the Uranium Institute in September of this year. The paper, entitled "Resource Development and the Environment: Opportunities in Economic Development and Self Determination for Indigenous Peoples", outlines the MLTC's desire to "assert their 'Indigenous peoples' identity, regain their dignity and take their rightful place as equals in the global community." The MLTC, like many Indigenous communities in North America, is struggling to foster self-sufficiency and economic development for its people, and indeed, the discussion as to whether nuclear waste should come to Saskatchewan is already being framed as an issue of Native self-government by some players. This is not an issue of Indigenous sovereignty, however, but one of dumping nuclear garbage. All citizens of the world must be involved in this decision.

Although the idea of an environmental assessment review may provide some degree of comfort to Canadians fearful of the MLTC plan, it should be noted that environmental assessment recommendations are not legally binding for either provincial or federal governments in Canada.

As seen from the recommendations made by the two review panels examining uranium mine expansion in Saskatchewan, such recommendations can and most likely will be ignored. The review process provides a false sense of security and does nothing to protect the public from projects that may harm people and the environment for generations.

It should also be noted that the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement says Canada cannot refuse to accept nuclear waste coming into the country. The US Department of Energy (DOE) has been unsuccessful in its bid to site a waste dump south of the border and therefore the MLTC proposal will indeed be attractive to American utilities desperate to find some-where to put their, nuclear garbage. American Indian tribes have also been targeted for disposal, although there are currently only three tribes who have agreed to conduct feasibility studies.

Source & Contact: Inter-Church Uranium Committee, BOX 77~4, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7K 4R4.
Tel: + 1-306-934-3030; Fax: + 1-306-652-8277. (Sorry, we do not have the address of the Indigenous Women's Environmental Network, but you can reach them through Stephanie Sydiaha at the Inter-Church Uranium Committee.)