Anishinabe Women Oppose Nuclear Shipment Through Great Lakes

Gale Courey Toensing
3/23/11

A group of Anishinabe women with expertise in halting unwanted projects that threaten the environment are determined to stop a proposed shipment of steam generators contaminated with nuclear waste travelling through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.

Anishinabe Kweag: Protecting Our Future Generations is a group of indigenous women and children based on Christian Island, Ontario, whose traditional role is to care for the sacred element of water and ensure its usable continuation for the next Seven Generations. The group formed in May 2009 to oppose the development of a landfill on a pristine aquifer known as Site 41 in Tiny Township, Ontario. They were successful in that endeavor and now have turned their efforts toward the controversial plan by Bruce Power to ship 16 decommissioned steam generators weighing a total of 1,600 tons and containing nuclear waste through the largest body of fresh water in the world—the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Anishinabe Kweag is calling on Bruce Power to halt its plans.

“The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River have been the source of life for over 30,000 years for the Anishinabe People, as well as the Algonquin, Mohawk, Cree and other Indigenous Nations. We will, by any and all means, protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River from this potential hazard,” said Vicki Monague, spokesperson for Anishinabe Kweag, in a statement. “We have respectfully called upon Bruce Power to stop its plans to transport the decommissioned nuclear steam generators. Their own original plan (when the generators were built) would have allowed the steam generators with radioactive waste to be safely stored on site, of which Bruce Power would assume full responsibility for what they have created without needlessly exposing our waterways to potential hazards.”

The plan is to ship the contaminated generators to Sweden to be recycled at Studsvik, a private commercial facility that provides advanced technical services to the international nuclear power in industry in such areas as waste treatment, decommissioning, engineering and services, and operating efficiency. Each generator weights 100 tons and contains around four grams of radioactive contaminants, including five different isotopes of plutonium that together make up around 90–95 per cent of the total of the contaminants, according to a report in the Montreal Mirror.

Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), a Montreal-based organization that opposes the transportation of the generators, said that the acceptable level of plutonium allowed inside the body of an atomic worker is 0.7 micrograms—that’s seven millionths of a gram. He said the cargo’s 64 grams of plutonium is enough to reach 0.7 micrograms in 52 million atomic workers.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced on February 4, 2011, that it had approved the transportation application from Bruce Power, Canada’s first privately owned nuclear generating company and the source of more than 20 percent of Ontario’s electricity. Studsvik signed a $34 million contract with Bruce Power in 2009 and was to start treating 16 generators last year before the shipment was delayed, according to a report in The Epoch Times. In approving Bruce Power’s plan to ship the generators overseas, the CNSC gave the power company a special dispensation over existing regulations covering the amount of radioactive materials allowed on inland Canadian waterways, according to the commission’s Recording of Proceedings, Including Reasons for Decision.

Mohawks peoples on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border have joined to fight the plan, as Indian Country Today Media Network reported here and here.

Monague said the commission’s approval of Bruce Power’s transportation application “directly contradicts” Canada’s endorsement last November of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"(The Declaration) states full and effective participation in all matters that concern our people, lands and waters. No treaty exists in North America where Indigenous people have given up their Rights to Water. Even before this endorsement, Canada has always had the fiduciary obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations people, (but) that clearly has not been exercised in this case,” Monague said.

There is widespread opposition to the transportation plan. The Canadian Environmental Law Association and Sierra Club Canada jointly filed applications March 4 for a judicial review of the nuclear commission’s approval. A binational coalition of more than 70 mayors from Quebec, Ontario and the eight Great Lake States and more than 50 nongovernmental organizations are against the plan. And coalitions of Native nations on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border have joined forces to stop the project.

Monague commended the solidarity among the plan’s opponents. “It is the role of Indigenous People to unify and solidify with our non-Native brothers and sisters who now share in this great land against the abuses of our great Mother Earth. We must stand together in solidarity to oppose the shipment of nuclear waste by Bruce Power to Sweden, which will set an evil precedent, opening our shared water ways for future transport of nuclear waste from this and other nuclear plants in Ontario,” she said. "We, as Anishinabe Kweag, cannot allow this shipment to occur." 

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