Toronto Star
November 9, 2017
Julien Gignac

Indigenous demonstrators, environmentalists urge governments to stop using nuclear power 
First Nations people and environmental groups are airing their grievances about nuclear power and its storage

A large demonstration at Queen’s Park called on Canadian governments to phase out nuclear power and opt for renewable energy sources, instead.

First Nations people and environmentalists from around Ontario joined in solidarity on Thursday

Initially, they had gathered to attend a panel discussion on Wednesday at the University of Toronto.

Some held placards baring the words “Protect the sacred.”

They formed a drum circle at one point.

Activists say waste generated by nuclear energy must be regulated more efficiently, and that future production of nuclear power will only lead to more waste, so it should be terminated in order to safeguard human and environmental health.

“Collectively, we’re addressing the nuclear industry and what is to be done with the waste afterwards,” said Quinn Meawasige, 24, a member of Bawating Water Protectors, a grass-roots organization. “We’re raising awareness. We don’t want to burden our future generations with this problem.

“We need to act now.”

Before settlers arrived in what was to become Canada, all land belonged to Indigenous people, Meawasige said. Now it’s home to industry, he added.

First Nations remain steadfast in their opposition to a waste repository at the Bruce nuclear facility, located near Lake Huron. The federal government has yet to sign-off on the project proposed by Ontario Power Generation.

“There’s no burial or transportation of radioactive waste without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous communities, the First Nations who would be impacted,” Meawasige said. “We need to be working toward a renewable future.”

Radioactive waste disposal is tightly regulated and is safe, said a spokesperson from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal agency tasked with monitoring and regulating the nuclear industry, and issuing licenses to producers.

“CNSC imposes rigorous reporting requirements on the operators of nuclear waste management facilities, and verifies that facilities comply with established safety requirements through inspections and audits,” said spokesperson Aurèle Gervais, adding that current, licensed radioactive waste facilities do not adversely affect bodies of water.

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee is focused on the solution, he said, which starts with individual environmental stewardship.

“You can write letters to the editors of papers. You can write letters to your member of parliament, petition environmental ministers,” he said.

“Would you poison your mother?

“That’s really what we’re doing when we poison mother earth.

“We’re saying we got to stop this nonsense.”

Dr. Gordon Edwards, the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, takes aim at the federal and Ontario governments, saying they do not have adequate policies in place to manage nuclear waste.

“Both levels of government have been basically abdicating responsibility to the nuclear industry,” said Edwards.

Edwards said that the nuclear commission spearheads environmental assessments for these projects.

But it has never refused to grant licenses to industry players, he said.

“We’re concerned about their lack of objectivity. Now, we’re getting to the point where the industry wants to abandon this waste,” he said, adding that storage locations are mainly located near major rivers and lakes, which can have an impact on First Nations and municipalities.

“It’s scary prospect, because many of these wastes remain dangers for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said.

Angela Bischoff, outreach director for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said it is high time Ontario switches to renewable energy entirely.

The Pickering nuclear plant was supposed to shutdown a decade ago, she said, but it keeps getting license extensions. She added that its current operating license is set to expire in 2018.

“It starts with making a deal with Quebec,” she said. “They have surplus water power and (they are) offering it to Ontario at a fraction of the cost of keeping our aging nuclear fleet alive.”