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This article was published 30/7/2020 (325 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission sent its president to Manitoba in February to placate anger from a local First Nation over the decommissioning of a Whiteshell facility, according to internal documents.
"CNSC’s conduct in this matter is disrespectful, colonial and inexcusable," reads an internal letter the Free Press obtained through a freedom-of-information request.
The federal regulator is reviewing a plan to bury nuclear waste at the site of the former research centre, owned by the firm Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.
The plant is at Pinawa, which is 113 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
Sagkeeng First Nation, the closest reserve to the site, says the location is sacred.
In filings, it has argued that nuclear facilities that close most often send waste to a more remote location to be buried, save for emergency situations.
While Canada has strict protocols for offloading radioactive fuel, there is no federal policy for managing non-fuel waste such as parts, attracting the ire of activists.
A scathing letter sent on behalf of Sagkeeng says the consultation process falls short of other federal regulators, and has early deadlines.
"You have rejected each and very request without any substantive engagement or consultation. Instead you have unilaterally imposed your own framework, which bears no resemblance to Sagkeeng’s requests," reads the Jan. 29 letter.
"There is no public emergency requiring these materials to be cemented in place in Sagkeeng territory for all time."
The letter threatened legal action, which would delay plans to fully decommission the site in 2024. It also called on the federal Liberals to have the Natural Resources department intervene, instead of the independent regulator.
The band says putting the waste "in situ" (burying it on the site in concrete) introduces the risk of thousands of years of contamination near the Winnipeg River, and claims CNL hasn’t adequately looked at other options.
In filings, the CNL says it’s dedicated to a safe remediation of the site.
In any case, CNSC sent its president, Rumina Velshi, to Manitoba this February to hear about the concerns and understand if local bands felt the consultation period was adequate.
A lawyer for Sagkeeng said that visit seems to have sparked progress, despite ongoing concerns.
"The relationship between Sagkeeng and CNSC has improved quite considerably," said Corey Shefman.
"They’ve really started thinking outside the box, in terms of Indigenous consultation."
CNSC itself said it feels the visit has helped guide its process.
"We recognize that Indigenous peoples may have concerns with regard to the nuclear sector, and that it is important to seek opportunities to work together in ensuring the safe and effective regulation of nuclear energy and materials," wrote spokeswoman Isabelle Roy.
"The CNSC will continue to work with each Indigenous group to address their concerns, comments and priorities throughout the environmental assessment and regulatory review process."
The internal records also show that local bands want to use traditional ceremony "to help CNL solve the issue of waste management on their traditional territories."
It also mentions that some bands asked to visit Indigenous groups in Saskatchewan and Ottawa who have had nuclear sites remediated on their territory.
CNSC said Wednesday the idea is on the table, but hasn’t been confirmed; it might occur virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.