By Connie Tabbert
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Pembroke — The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) was told by a delegation from the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan there is no emergency requiring immediate action for the development of a Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) at Chalk River and Canada and its contractors should take the time it needs to develop a project First Nation members can consent to.
“The worst possible outcome would be for CNSC staff to state `we hear you’ to the members of Pikwakanagan and then refuse to act in a meaningful way,” Amanda Two-Axe Kohoko, consultation co-ordinator for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, said during her presentation. “The essence of reconciliation can only be found when listening results in acting meaningfully on what is being heard.”
There were numerous objections and concerns presented by the First Nation, including the impact on the nearby Ottawa River, the lack of meaningful consultation with Pikwakanagan, the right of band members to use the land and the importation of nuclear waste into Algonquin territory, among others.
“CNL proposes to create a previously unplanned permanent hazardous waste disposal facility in the unceded Algonquin traditional territory close to the Kichi-Sibi River,” she said.
While noting the First nation, “agree that the radioactive legacy at Chalk River Laboratories needs to be cleaned up” she cautioned there are flaws in the proposed project. It has not yet been shown the proposed project is the right or acceptable means to accomplish this goal, she said.
The CNSC held five days of hearings in Pembroke recently where Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko was the speaker representing the delegation from Pikwakanagan.
The NSDF project is a permanent waste facility to deal with historic waste at the Chalk River site and other locations. Part of the approval process includes consultations with the public and stakeholders. This public hearing included presentations from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), CNSC staff regarding recommendations, Indigenous Nations and communities, members of the public and stakeholders.
After a lengthy presentation, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko said in her concluding statement as the priority constitution right holder and most impacted First Nation located closest to the proposed NSDF project, the First Nation of Pikwakanagan is committed to working with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), as well as the CNSC, to ensure a meaningful assessment of effects is undertaken and adequate measures adopted to ensure the protection of their rights, traditional use and interest.
Pikwakanagan was established in 1873, and the Algonquin people have been practicing their rights since time immemorial, she noted.
“In fact, there is evidence to prove that the Algonquin people have been in this traditional territory for over 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived in North America,” she noted.
Its members continue to practice and exercise their rights, which include the ability to hunt, trap, fish, gather and perform a lot of other activities that are important to its culture and way of life throughout the Algonquin traditional territory, she explained.
As of this hearing, nine of 10 issues the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (AOPFN) have remain outstanding, she said.
Given the time constraints built into this proceeding by the commission, the First Nation cannot speak to all of its recommendations, but each of them are important to this process and should be carefully considered by CNSC, she continued.
CNL and AECL have indicated no willingness to reconsider the location of the NSDF farther away from the Kichi-Sibi River despite concerns raised by the community members, she said.
CNL and AECL did not engage AOPFN prior to making a determination of their preferred location; did not commit to respecting AOPFN’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) in relation to the NSDF project; have not been willing to remove the imported waste stream from the NSDF project, and have not shown adequate evidence of offsetting benefits to the First Nation for the creation of this permanent hazardous waste disposal facility in the unceded traditional territory, she said.
Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko stressed the AOPFN is concerned about the narrowness of the scoping of this assessment, overall focusing on the outdated requirements even though there has been a marked improvement in dealing with Indigenous issues; is concerned about the language in the CNSC in the Commission Members documents that suggest minimum impact on AOPFN rights in the project case, which directly contradicts the findings and the rights impact assessment; CNSC staff has also accepted that no impacts of findings of the Environmental Impact Statement on Traditional Land and Resource Use, Culture and Wellbeing, despite the First Nation’s four studies of all findings that impacts some evaluated magnitude and long-term consequence are likely; and there has been no evidence of meaningful and complementary measures brought forward by CNSC staff.
With respect to the closeness of this project to the Kichi-Sibi River and the lack of meaningful engagement with the First Nation in the project planning, the First Nation members continue to practice their rights and interests along the Kichi-Sibi River, but this has been declining over time, especially in and around the Chalk River Laboratories area, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko said.
In the Consultation, Engagement, and Accommodation Requirements for all Nuclear Sector Proposed Developments in the Algonquin Traditional Territory, Principle 9 states water must be clean and accessible and trusted by AOPFN members, she said, adding, such trust is unlikely to increase in the Kichi-Sibi River in the future with a permanent radioactive waste disposal facility close to its shores.
The NSDF would be located within 1,100 metres of the Kichi-Sibi River, she said, adding its members have consistently raised concerns about how close this is with AECL and CNL, and about the lack of engagement of AOPFN in the consideration of the alternative locations for the permanent waste disposal. But no revisions have been made to this proposal as a result and the AOPFN have not been engaged by AECL or CNL in the site planning activities to date.
The Algonquins of Pikwakanagan are recommending AECL and CNL engage AOPFN in a planning process regarding the desired end land use state for the Chalk River Laboratories as a whole, prior to making determinations on where and how to permanently dispose of radioactive waste currently at this site, Ms. Two Axe Kohoko said.
The First Nation has identified it needs to be a Willing Host for this permanent hazardous waste disposal facility, she said. It is also recognized as a requirement under Canadian and international law, that the First Nation’s request for FPIC be sought, she added.
Canada has committed to implementing UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) in regard to all federal laws and practice of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent is a requirement under UNDRIP, she added.
The proposed project is not required as an emergency solution and should be undertaken successfully and safely in other locations on and off Chalk River Laboratories, she said. The proposed project is in a special class of development, hazardous waste disposal facilities, which are subject to heightened FPIC requirements under Section 29(2) of UNDRIP, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko noted.
With respect to the importation of radioactive wastes, AOPFN recognizes low-level waste at the CNL site needs to be permanently disposed of, though it is a yet-to-be-asked, let alone answered, question whether the proposed NSDF is the best approach, she explained. CNL has proposed to add as much as 10 percent of total waste stream from off-site sources, which would mean as much as 100,000 cubic metres of waste imported back into the unceded Algonquins of Pikwakanagan traditional territory over the next 50 years, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko stated.
“The importation of radioactive waste from other facilities is opposed to, including the First Nation’s Nuclear Sector Principles and also the Anishinabek Nation Declaration on Nuclear Waste, which calls for no import or export of nuclear waste,” she said. “The fact that Canada has already in the past imported waste to Chalk River without AOPFN’s permission is not an acceptable argument for why this should continue in the future.”
She also presented recommendations on the importation of radioactive waste. They are: all radioactive waste management must be planned and subject to the approvals of the AOPFN people whose unceded lands are being operated on; at a minimum, the 10 percent of off-site import waste needs to be removed from the NSDF project should the project proceed; there is a critical need for CNSC to require CNL and AECL to convene with Indigenous people in a more dedicated planning forum in regards to nuclear waste, and an inadequate consideration of the Algonquin knowledge and inaccurate assessment of use project effects on AOPFN’s traditional land..
She noted with funding provided by CNL and CNSC, the First Nation has conducted studies and developed reports with evidence on three different topics: the Algonquin Pikwakanagan Knowledge and Land Use Study; the Culture and Rights Study, and the Diet and Harvest Study.
“The EIS and the Commission Member Documents have not been updated to accurately reflect the findings from these studies,” Ms.
Two-Axe Kohoko pointed out.
The First Nation studies have found that the NSDF project will impact on AOPFN’s traditional use by increasing the length of time into the future where portions of the CRL facility will likely be inaccessible to AOPFN to use due to the permanent access restrictions and habitat alterations; increase the length of time, severity and possibly even the geographic area where the First Nation’s willingness to use areas off the CRL site are impacted by the permanent presence of radioactive waste in the NSDF; there is no commitments to reduce impacts on traditional use, but those impacts will still be there and still be measurable and adverse in nature if the project does proceed, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko explained.
“The project will have impacts on AOPFN’s traditional use requiring a cumulative effects assessment on traditional use, if the project proceeds, and actually implementing conditions that protect our traditional use,” she stressed.
In regard to inadequate assessment of project effects on culture and wellbeing, the First Nation notes the focus in the EIS on culture is almost exclusively only on physical heritage resources, she said. This is a small part of a concept of the culture from AOPFN’s perspective, she noted.
“For Indigenous people wellbeing is tied to the experiences and the perception of the lands, water resources and spirits in our traditional territory. These aspects of wellbeing are not being meaningfully considered in the EIS,” she said.
One of the critical gaps of effects on Indigenous wellbeing is the absence of the consideration of psychosocial effects, which includes fear, stigma and uncertainty, and these are associated with the permanent radioactive waste disposal, she said. The recommendation focuses on the commission accepting the evidence and findings that the project will have impacts on the First Nation’s cultural wellbeing and will require a cumulative effects assessment on these valued components, if the project proceeds, and actually implementing conditions to protect the First Nation’s culture and wellbeing, she said.
Another issue is in regard to impacts on Pikwakanagan rights, she said. Its members rights to harvesting and traditional use governance, stewardship and culture continuity have been seriously constrained in the project area during the nuclear era, since the 1940s, Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko said.
Security fencing in the NSDF area will remain throughout the decommissioning period and into post-closure, which is expected to last at least over the next 300 years, she said. This means there will not be any harvesting rights practiced on the project footprint or in the buffer zone for many generations of the First Nation of Pikwakanagan members, or if ever. It is likely the creation of a permanent radioactive waste facility would increase already existing perceived risk from water and fish, she said, noting that contamination could result in continued reduced harvesting of fish, water and vegetation from the Kichi-S?b? River by the First Nation members, which is a critical part of AOPFN’s cultural landscape and considered a critical spiritual and cultural area along its entire length.
Leading Role For First Nations
Ms. Two-Axe Kohoko noted while CNL has made some solid commitments to improve the role of the First Nation in monitoring and management should the project proceed and despite this not being adequate to allay the First Nation’s extensive concerns, CNL and AECL should also recognize that in the future no matter what occurs at the laboratories site, the First Nation needs to play a leading role in project monitoring and management. As well, any new proposed project must also demonstrate positive benefits to the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, she said.
With respect to the First Nation’s overall findings, the project as proposed does not adhere to the following AOPFN nuclear principles and requirements: a self-governing Indigenous Nation’s right to free, prior and informed consent for a nuclear project will be respected; Algonquin knowledge will be used alongside western science in planning, monitoring and management of nuclear facilities; no nuclear waste will be moved into or out of the territory without AOPFN’s permission; AOPFN will be meaningfully involved in all aspects of decision making related to nuclear project planning; AOPFN will be accommodated for project-specific and cumulative impacts that do occur as a result of nuclear projects; the project, as proposed, is not ready; the AOPFN is not ready to provide its free, prior and informed consent; further work is required to confirm with impacted parties that this is the best location for CRL waste storage; removing incoming waste streams from the project plan as well as show that impacts on rights are properly predicted, minimized and accommodated for.
Connie Tabbert is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of THE EGANVILLE LEADER. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI government funding.