Kebaowek First Nation brings fight against radioactive waste to Parliament

The Kebaowek First Nation and opponents of a newly approved radioactive waste disposal facility took the fight to Parliament on Wednesday with a peaceful demonstration urging the federal government to stop the project.

“We stand united to safeguard the well-being of our shared environment and the fundamental right of all Canadians to access clean, uncontaminated drinking water,” Kebaowek Chief Lance Haymond said at a morning news conference.

Shortly after, more than 100 people demonstrated at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill to oppose the project, which would house up to one million cubic meters of radioactive waste about a kilometer from the Ottawa River.

After the rally, Algonquian leaders watched question time from the gallery where Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the waste facility.

Kebaowek officially challenges the decision by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to give the green light to the construction of the “near surface disposal facility” (NSDF) on the basis that the commission did not obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the First Nation during the licensing process, as required by the United Nations Declaration Law. One second legal challenge The report presented by three groups argued that the CNSC failed to take into account a series of tests about the project’s design and the radioactive waste that would be needed. A handful of nuclear industry veterans warn that some of the waste slated for disposal is a “hodgepodge” containing unacceptably long-lived radioactivity, according to reports. Canadian National Observer.

“The NSDF is the wrong technology in the wrong place,” said Ole Hendrickson, representing all three groups. “What a terrible precedent for future radioactive waste facilities.”

Haymond came to Ottawa “to ask the current federal government, nation to nation, to intervene and stop the senseless decision made by the CNSC.” At the news conference, he was flanked by Indigenous leaders and MPs from the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party.

This is a “golden opportunity” for Trudeau to show that the UNDRIP (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) is more than just a piece of paper, Haymond said.

“I grew up watching The Simpsons and we’re going to have a potentially three-eyed fish situation,” said Kitigan Zibi boss Dylan Whiteduck, referring to the mutated orange fish found in ponds outside the nuclear power plant in the television show. A major concern for opponents is the project’s proximity to Algonquin’s sacred Kichi Sibi (Ottawa River) and the release of contaminants over time, both planned and unplanned, depending on how the containment mound is maintained.

Opponents of a newly approved radioactive waste disposal facility took the fight to Parliament on Wednesday with a peaceful demonstration urging the federal government to stop the project.

Whiteduck said “this whole process and the fact that Canadians are allowing this to happen” is “mind-boggling.”

“Accountability has to fall to this government,” he added.

Whiteduck said Kitigan Zibi and other Algonquin First Nations will not join Kebaowek or act as intervenors in the legal case. Instead, he and other Algonquian chiefs will follow Haymond’s example and fully support the Kebaowek First Nation.

“It’s very important that we support it because we want to form a united front of all Algonquian communities,” said Henry Rogers, chief of the Long Point First Nation. Canadian National Observer. Rogers is one of six other Algonquian chiefs and leaders who joined Haymond at the press conference and rally.

Sébastien Lemire, local MP and BQ spokesperson for indigenous relations, wants ministerial intervention. He reiterated the Bloc’s long-standing opposition to the project and said his party “unequivocally supports” Kebaowek’s legal challenge.

Haymond is “very disappointed” that Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and the prime minister have not responded directly. Specifically, he asked Guilbeault to withhold a permit that would allow Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) to destroy the habitat of at-risk species until Kebaowek’s legal challenge goes through the courts.

Kebaowek First Nation Chief Lance Haymond at a news conference in Ottawa on February 14, 2023. Photo by Natasha Bulowski

At the time of this publication, Guilbeault had not responded to Haymond’s request and did not respond directly Canadian National Observer asks about the permit issue at a news conference later that day.

Instead, Guilbeault pointed to the CNSC, which manages all impact assessments for nuclear projects, as well as Natural Resources Canada.

In an email, a spokesperson for Wilkinson said the ministry has no comment on the two judicial review applications and awaits the court’s decisions.

The minister “has no role in CNSC licensing decisions,” it reads, adding that the CNSC is an independent, quasi-judicial body that makes scientifically based decisions.

The federal government has not taken a position, “but indirectly because it delegated its responsibilities and authority to the CNSC, who, in our opinion, has made the wrong decision,” Haymond said. Kebaowek calls on federal ministers to acknowledge that there were mistakes and intervene to make the necessary adjustments and corrections.

“It is playing Russian environmental roulette by threatening present and future generations,” bloc MP Monique Pauzé said in French in a party press release.

Haymond and the three organizations behind the second legal challenge also want the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct a comprehensive review of the NSDF and CNL waste management systems.

According to CNL, the estimated bill to build and operate the NSDF is $750 million and Canadian taxpayers would fund it, Hendrickson said.

“The government of Canada owns the waste. You must take responsibility and not leave matters in the hands of for-profit private sector corporations,” he said at the press conference. As Green Party Leader Elizabeth May noted, CNL is owned by a consortium of three multinational companies, including AtkinsRealis, formerly SNC-Lavalin, and two Texas-based companies, Fluor and Jacobs.

CNL was created by the corporation Crown Atomic Energy of Canada Limited in 2015 and sold to the consortium. CNL is contracted to run daily operations at federal nuclear sites and is responsible for obtaining license permits under this government owned operated by contractors model.

“We continue to come across examples of where [the] “Liberals celebrate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until it gets in the way of a decision they have already made,” May said.

“We really need to… take a stand here,” May said. “The primary jurisdiction and sovereignty here is that of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe First Nations.”

Matteo Cimellaro and Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada

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