By Lloyd Dolha
The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations wants to make it clear to the Saskatchewan government that there needs to be full and meaningful consultation and accommodation with the FSIN on any nuclear development plans in the province. “First Nations need to be accommodated and involved every step of the way,” said FSIN vice-chief Delbert Wapass, in light of a new report on nuclear development in the province. “We want to ensure that we balance our responsibilities as stewards of the land, but at the same time providing safe and sustainable economic opportunities for our people,” he said.
A report released by the government-appointed Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) on April 3rd says the recommendations could increase the province’s gross domestic product by an estimated $50-billion and create 6,500 construction jobs and 5,500 long-term jobs. The long-awaited report includes 20 recommendations, including the construction of a new nuclear reactor. According to the report, Saskatchewan is currently the largest uranium producing region in the world and accounts for about 30% of annual world uranium production.
Dr. Richard Florizone, believes it is important to “develop a process and a timeline for a (new nuclear reactor) and define the role of government.” Florizone, a nuclear physicist, is also vice-president of finance at the University of Saskatchewan. He said “The province will require at least 1,000 megawatts of new generation in the next 15 to 20 years” and recommends considering nuclear energy as an option.
The report makes several specific suggestions: partnering with the federal government to build a research reactor and pursuing medical isotope production, creating a centre of excellence for nuclear research and training, partnering with developers of laser-enrichment technology, reviewing the province’s royalty framework, defining duty to consult parameters with Métis and First Nations, and prioritizing the development of infrastructure in the north. “The report has, for the first time in the province’s history, put forward a thoughtful, measured, and well-researched strategic plan to revitalize and expand Saskatchewan’s uranium industry,” said Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart, who added that a public consultation process will start immediately. The consultation process will feature a conference of so-called major stakeholders and a series of community consultation meetings between May 19 and June 5 around the province. Individual stakeholder organizations will have a chance to provide oral and written submissions over two days, with an extra day set aside to hear from First Nations and Métis groups.
There has long been debate over benefits and cost of nuclear development, and grass roots opposition in the province is growing. In late March, in anticipation of the report, the Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan (CCGS) was formed. The CCGS is comprised of a network of diverse grass roots organizations across the province who want the government to move toward many renewable energy options in a more sustainable manner. “The Coalition was formed to oppose the push towards an economically and ecologically detrimental nuclear pathway, and to propose modern renewable energy technologies and strategies,” a press statement from the group noted. “We propose that the best way to build a prosperous and healthy Saskatchewan is to implement creative energy efficiency and conservation strategies and to develop wind, solar, biomass, co-generation, and small-scale hydro electrical sources. A shift toward decentralized renewable electricity generation could greatly benefit many communities throughout the province by providing high quality jobs. These small energy producers should include First Nations and Métis communities, farmers, ranchers, co-operatives, regional businesses and rural and urban municipalities.”
The CCGS points out that current proposals for nuclear development in Saskatchewan include nuclear reactors, uranium refining, conversion, enrichment, reprocessing, new uranium mines, and a high-level radioactive waste storage facility. According to the coalition’s background materials, nuclear power is not a “clean” energy alternative. A full energy audit of nuclear power shows a massive carbon footprint from uranium mines, energy-intensive uranium enriching processes, nuclear power plant construction, and the decommissioning of nuclear plants and spent fuel storage. Nuclear power plants routinely release invisible, dangerous isotopes into the environment, and a series of European and American studies now link higher instances of childhood leukemia among those living near nuclear facilities.
Still, the benefits and risks of any future nuclear developments in the province have yet to be scrutinized and debated by its populace. “I can assure you that no decisions have been made,” said Minister Stewart. “The input received will be considered by the provincial government as part of the decision-making process. As such, I encourage all citizens to get informed and get involved.”
The FSIN points to Article 29 of the United Nations, which affirms that “Indigenous peoples must give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent before hazardous materials are stored or disposed of on their lands.” Vice Chief Wapass added, “The federation wants to ensure that future generations for all Saskatchewan people will continue to enjoy and benefit from a clean and sustainable environment.”