Safeguarding water near a planned nuclear waste facility requires more rigorous examination, Indigenous consultation and mitigation measures, an Algonquin First Nation chief told a federal committee Thursday.

In testimony before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Kebaowek Chief Lance Haymond said, “Canada should not dump garbage where you draw your water.” 

The committee hearing is part of a larger study on freshwater issues across Canada.

“I want to talk about a project poisoning the Ottawa River,” he explained while describing the cultural and historical importance of the waterway to the Algonquin nation. “The Kichi Sibi, as we call it … has been our highway for time immemorial.”

Haymond told the committee that he asked Ottawa to hold back permits issued two weeks ago to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), which is developing the facility. The permits allow CNL to move forward with construction despite risks to Blanding’s turtles and two bat species. Haymond told Canada’s National Observer that the permits amount to a kill order.

In January, Kebaowek First Nation urged the federal government to withhold SARA [Species at Risk Act] permits due to “insufficient consideration” of the impact on at-risk species and the First Nation’s rights and responsibilities to protect endangered species on their ancestral territory.

But the federal government’s review determined that construction of CNL’s radioactive waste disposal facility won’t jeopardize the recovery of endangered turtle and bat populations.

The committee testimony arrives amidst a court challenge launched by Kebaowek First Nation in February. The court challenge questions whether the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was properly considered by nuclear regulators before approval of the Chalk River waste disposal facility.

“The consultation process, however, was flawed from the outset,” suggests the Federal Court application launched by Kebaowek. “It was not procedurally fair and did not consider the UN Declaration, Canada’s UNDRIP Implementation Act, or how these instruments might affect the depth and scope of consultation.”

CNL gave Kebaowek nine months to provide input, and the nation offered it through an Algonquin-led environmental assessment, Haymond told the committee.

However, he believes enough time for consultation was not given and that “most decisions had already been taken.”

“We were routinely scoped out of the process,” he added. “If we were consulted, we would have asked for other site selections.”

Haymond brought forward concerns about tonnes of nuclear waste stored in the facility that might leach from the site into the Ottawa River over the next few hundred years once synthetic containment liners break down.

Haymond also brought up Chalk River’s history, beginning with its role in the Manhattan Project developing plutonium in the early 1940s and leading to the world’s first nuclear reactor meltdown in 1952. Algonquin nations were never consulted about a nuclear research facility at that time, he said.

— With files from Natasha Bulowski

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

By Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 22, 2024 at 12:36

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario
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