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Northern band says 'no' to nuclear waste

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FLIN FLON -- The most controversial economic-development proposal in the history of this area may have just had its Elijah Harper moment.

Brandishing a feather in her hand, Eileen Linklater announced her native band, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, is against bringing radioactive waste to the Flin Flon region.

"We don't want (any) nuclear waste in our territory," Linklater, a PBCN councillor, told officials studying the concept in May.

To say PBCN's opposition complicates the potential of nuclear-waste storage in Creighton, Flin Flon's sister community just across the Saskatchewan border, is an understatement.

Creighton (pop. 1,498) is involved in the early, learning phase with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), which is mandated to find a site to stockpile Canada's nuclear waste.

The waste -- spent nuclear fuel rods from nuclear power plants -- will be buried about 500 metres underground in a highly secure repository.

The geology of the chosen area must be sound, but just as importantly, surrounding residents must convincingly demonstrate they want the project.

On that point, NWMO has placed heavy emphasis on the will of First Nations people, recognizing they have "unique status and rights," says the agency's website.

With this in mind, Linklater attended a May meeting of the Community Liaison Committee, a group that forms a bridge between Flin Flon-Creighton-area residents and NWMO.

During question period, she dropped the bombshell that her band had adopted a resolution opposing any nuclear-waste storage "in or around PBCN communities, lands, or traditional territories."

"You should know of the pros and cons," Linklater, a grandmotherly figure with a no-nonsense air about her, told the meeting. "All you think about is money here. Money. But after that money is gone, what's going to happen?"

PBCN is one of the largest native bands in Saskatchewan, with over 10,000 members in northeastern Saskatchewan. Many PBCN members live in Flin Flon-Creighton, and even more utilize the community as a service centre.

Despite the band's lucidly worded resolution, NWMO says Creighton remains in the learning phase of the project along with more than a dozen Ontario communities.

"NWMO will continue its efforts to engage PBCN, to answer their questions, address their concerns and understand their views on Canada's plan for the safe, long-term care of used nuclear fuel," said NWMO spokesman Mike Krizanc.

Krizanc reiterated, as he often does, that Creighton is in the early stages of a lengthy procedure to learn about nuclear-waste storage. The final decision on where the repository will go is probably a decade away.

PBCN's hostile position disappoints advocates who genuinely view the repository as the region's best hope to finally shed its status as a one-industry (mining) town.

NWMO foresees 400 to 1,200 jobs during a construction phase of up to a decade.

After that, it will take upwards of 40 years to truck waste to the repository, creating 600 to 800 jobs.

Once transportation is complete, roughly 200 people will be needed to maintain the repository for an undetermined period of time, perhaps indefinitely.

NWMO has gone to great lengths to illustrate the safety of the project and its reliance on the best available science.

Earlier this year, Neale Hunt, manager of safety assessment for NWMO, shared research showing the anticipated annual radiation dose for someone living atop a nuclear-waste repository would be far, far less than an average Canadian's exposure from everyday sources.

Still, science is not infallible, and PBCN -- as well as many residents -- worry something could go terribly wrong. Hence the Nimbyism.

Perhaps NWMO can allay PBCN's fears that burying tens of thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste amounts to poisoning and desecrating the land.

Maybe NWMO can provide some sort of employment guarantee for aboriginals, or even sell enough PBCN members on the idea so as to compel the band council to backtrack.

But unless the band council does retreat from its opposition, at some point for some reason, it is difficult to imagine Creighton being a contender for Canada's radioactive waste.

Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2014 A13

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