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Reserve opposes nuclear waste storage at proposed site

Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Rudy Turtle has said "no" to the nuclear waste storage site proposed in the Wabigoon River watershed near Ignace. This week, Turtle sent a fourth letter to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization opposing the proposed development citing fears of contamination. He said three letters of concern that he sent to the organization on July 2, 2020, and in 2022 on Feb. 7 and Oct. 7, received no response from the organization. In his latest letter this week, he said, "The water from that (repository) site flows past our reserve and into the waters where we fish, drink, and swim. The material that you want to store there will be dangerous for longer than Canada has existed, longer than Europeans have been on Turtle Island, and longer than anything that human beings have ever built has lasted." He asked, "How can you reliably claim that this extremely dangerous waste will safely be contained for hundreds of thousands of years?" Turtle spoke to The Chronicle-Journal about the community's concerns. "They explain that it's deep underground, but regardless, we're very concerned that in the future, there could be possible leaks that come down river towards our area," Turtle said. "Nuclear waste is dangerous and we don't want our animals, our land and our people contaminated. We've been exposed to contamination before and we just don't want that anymore for our people." The community has battled contamination from the discharge of almost 10 tons of mercury into the Wabigoon River by the Dryden Pulp and Paper Mill, between 1962 and 1970. Turtle said his community and neighbouring First Nations communities should be part of the consultation process for the proposed repository. "We do have our lands alliance that would be there if any of our First Nations needs help," he said. "We will stand together against the development as an alliance so I do have First Nations behind me." The chief is also a proponent of the proximity principle of keeping the nuclear waste nearest to the point of generation as possible. Vince Ponka, communications manager for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, says they are committed to working with First Nations. "Once a site is chosen, we will begin an extensive multiyear impact assessment study and regulatory compliance process that includes additional engagement with communities, including First Nations," Ponka said. Ponka says the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has replied to Turtle's July 2, 2020 letter, but regrets they did not meet the standards of their policy of replying to every question put to them and are working to address the gaps. "We are responding to those letters now and will send them directly to Chief Turtle and Grassy Narrows First Nation," he said. Ponka stressed that after more than a decade of detailed studies led by their science and engineering teams, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is confident that a deep geological repository could safely contain and isolate Canada's used nuclear fuel at either of the two potential sites.

Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, The Chronicle-Journal