Saugeen Ojibway Nation members have voted overwhelmingly against a Deep Geologic Repository to store nuclear waste on its traditional territory, forcing Ontario Power Generation to consider alternative sites for the estimated $2.4-billion project.
Of the 1,232 ballots cast Friday, about 86 per cent -- or 1,058 -- were 'No' votes. The question posed to SON members in the ratification vote was: Do you support OPG's proposed DGR project as the permanent solution for low- and intermediate- level waste in the SON territory?
Only 170 voted in favour of the OPG proposal. There were four spoiled ballots.
In 2013, OPG committed to not build the DGR at the Bruce nuclear site in Kincardine without the support of SON. In a statement, OPG president and CEO Ken Hartwick says the crown corporation respects the decision of SON members.
"We will now move forward to develop an alternate solution," Hartwick says.
Hartwick says OPG will explore other options and engage with key stakeholders to develop an alternate site-selection process. The crown corporation remains committed to seeking safe and permanent disposal of nuclear waste.
“Nuclear energy – as a non-emitting source of electricity – is a vital tool in fighting climate change,” Hartwick says. “To enjoy the benefits of this low-carbon, low-cost and reliable source of energy with peace of mind, we must manage the waste responsibly. Permanent and safe disposal is the right thing to do for future generations.”
OPG's Senior Manager of Corporate Relations and Projects in Bruce County Fred Kuntz says while it's hard to predict a timeline on how far this will push back a permanent storage site for OPG's low- and intermediate-nuclear waste, typically these projects take 25 to 30 years from "inception to implementation".
A statement provided by the SON Environment Office says "We were not consulted when the nuclear industry was established in our Territory. Over the past 40 years, nuclear power generation in Anishnaabekiing has had many impacts on our communities, and our land and waters, including the production and accumulation of nuclear waste."
SON Joint Council has been in discussion "over the last number of years" with the nuclear industry and governments regarding these concerns.
"This vote was a historic milestone and momentous victory for our people. We worked many years for our right to exercise jurisdiction in our territory and the free, prior and informed consent of our people to be recognized," says Chief Lester Anoquot of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. " ... Our people have voted against the DGR; (this) tells us that we must work diligently to find a new solution for the waste."
In the same statement provided by SON, Chief Greg Nadjiwon of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation says they will continue to work with OPG and others in the nuclear industry on developing new solutions for nuclear waste in SON territory.
The statement notes this process may take many years.
"We know that the waste currently held in above-ground storage at the Bruce site will not go away," Nadjiwon says. "SON is committed to developing these solutions with our communities and ensuring Mother Earth is protected for future generations."
The Owen Sound Sun-Times reported in December SON would have received $150-million if it supported the OPG's proposal to build the DGR.
Asked about the financial incentive SON reportedly was offered, Kuntz says: "We have equity agreements with First Nations on different projects in Ontario and those details tend to be confidential because it's commercially sensitive information."
Kuntz says benefits offered to SON in three-broad categories included financial benefits, a role in decision-making on the DGR project and opportunities in employment and training.
The nuclear vault would have been built 680 metres below the Bruce site, in what the crown corporation describes as "strong, dry and impermeable rock" that has been isolated from Lake Huron or any groundwater for hundreds of millions of years.
It was submitted to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in 2005. The Municipality of Kincardine was a willing host community for OPG’s DGR since 2005. Four adjacent municipalities also passed resolutions to support the project.
However, over 230 resolutions have been passed by municipalities and other lawmakers in both the United States and Canada opposing the construction of any nuclear waste repository in the Great Lakes Basin.
The DGR would have been used to store low- and intermediate-level waste from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear power plants.
A separate site selection process is underway by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to build a DGR to store Canada's high-level nuclear waste -- or used fuel.
South Bruce is one of two remaining host municipalities being considered. Final site selection in the NWMO process isn't expected to come until 2023.
Collectively, the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation and the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation are referred to as Saugeen Ojibway Nation.
*Editor's note: This story was updated from its original version to add comments in a prepared statement provided by the Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office.