Recently, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) celebrated Earth Day by announcing that 1,450 square kilometers of boreal forest in northern Ontario near Hearst will be protected. Certainly, this is a step in the right direction. The cost of purchasing this land from Domtar is $46 million.
By comparison, 3,182 square kilometers were removed from Crown land in Northern Ontario for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), an industry organization, between 2013 and 2015. This is more than double the area purchased by the NCC. Unfortunately, this was done at no cost to the NWMO and without prior public or aboriginal consultation by the province. In size, these 18 samples represent three-fifths the size of Prince Edward Island or the area of Lake Nipigon. The reason for the withdrawals; however, was not to preserve nature – but a very different purpose.
They concerned the NWMO’s studies of potential host sites for 5.5 million radioactive fuel rod bundles to be stored in a nuclear deep geological repository (DGR) for eternity. The withdrawal requests were granted under former Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle. Included were locations near Ignace, Schreiber, Hornepayne, White River, Manitouwadge, Blind River and Elliot Lake (a drawn map of the setbacks shown in color is from the NDM Mining Lands Administration System (MLAS) and is attached) .
Worryingly, Canada has no law against importing radioactive waste and, indeed, it is now happening in a storage ‘mound’ at Chalk River where a proposed near-surface disposal facility meets considerable opposition. In April 2021, Radio Canada’s “Enquête” program revealed that former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was part of a secret nuclear waste storage project in Labrador. One wonders if the provincial Liberals under Kathleen Wynne were in cahoots with Jean Chrétien on the import of international nuclear waste into Northern Ontario? Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador were quick to deny being part of the scheme, and Labrador residents were horrified. Here in Northern Ontario, the story is different.
The pullouts near Lake Revell, 42 kilometers west of Ignace and the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation downstream have been identified by the NWMO as one of two preferred locations for the DGR. This site is at the source of not just one but two major rivers: the Turtle River and English-Wabigoon river systems. Revell and Raleigh headwaters and nearby fresh trout lakes are all spring fed. This vast and beautiful water-covered landscape eventually reaches Lake Winnipeg and continues to Hudson Bay via the Nelson River. It sits in the heart of Treaty 3 which itself has more surface water than Lake Ontario (watershed flow map courtesy of Charles Faust).
The question is, at a time when we are desperately trying to protect the land, especially the headwaters of northern Ontario, why are we threatening it with underground nuclear dumps? Since it’s election time, demand that our politicians return to the Crown the lands taken away for the nuclear industry and protect the public interest.
Greg Rickford, Ontario Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs – I hope you are listening!
Thunder Bay, Ontario