Could the Lack of Fairness in the South Bruce `Willing Host’ Agreement Lead to a Legal Action in Court?

Protect Our Waterways - No Nuclear Waste       FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 05/27/24

Teeswater, Ontario: Protect Our Waterways - No Nuclear Waste (POW-NNW) hosted a webinar on Tuesday, May 21st titled “Where’s the Fairness in the NWMO’s `Willing Host’ Decision? to showcase two guest speakers, David Donnelly, a renowned Canadian environmental lawyer, and Ole Hendrickson (PhD) a veteran research scientist and current President of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

The speakers, in turn, identified ethically questionable practices - Mr. Donnelly, in regard to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) Willing Host Agreement recently signed by the Municipality of South Bruce, followed by Dr. Hendrickson’s examples which indicate the pro-nuclear pattern of bias by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

This host agreement pertains to NWMO’s proposed deep geological repository (DGR) for high level radioactive waste in the form of used fuel bundles from across Canada, for which a referendum is scheduled by the Municipality of South Bruce in late October. In the site selection process, the Township of Ignace in northern Ontario has its own voting process, while Saugeen Ojibway Nation in Midwestern Ontario and Wabigoon Ojibway Lake First Nation in Northwestern Ontario have separate and independent arrangements with NWMO on their own future votes, yes or no, to accepting the NWMO DGR on their respective territories.

As for South Bruce, Mr. Donnelly named the referendum rules blatantly as prejudicial to the concerns of residents, in naming a 50 per cent plus one threshold or, otherwise, if less than that, Council alone gets to decide upon the DGR’s acceptance. The lawyer elaborated on how the cards, therefore, are stacked against residents in a municipality where the electoral votes often do not even reach 50 per cent of the local electorate.

What I find most extraordinary is, why would you [in reference to South Bruce Council] even sign a `willing host’ agreement before you had the referendum? Why wouldn’t the community have a stake, a huge stake in shaping the referendum? What kind of relationship is this?”

In a repeated refrain through the evening, Mr. Donnelly called out the lack of fairness of the $418 million hosting agreement recently signed between South Bruce Council and the NWMO. The lawyer ultimately challenged the municipal council to show the evidence that this agreement is a genuine “Made in South Bruce” agreement by showing evidence to the public in “what we lawyers call `track changes,’ which shows you in red strike-outs and red additions how the contract was changed. Let’s see it. Don’t hide behind some agreement, or some secret in-camera meeting.”

Before that volley to South Bruce Council though, Donnelly minced no words about “a ridiculous 140-year binding agreement that would essentially silence opposition and shut down our democratic process.” Indeed, he referred to specific passages in the hosting agreement such as Section 3.2.2 where it reads: “the Municipality shall (a) not engage in any action that could frustrate, delay or interfere with, or stop NWMO from proceeding with the Project in accordance with the Regulatory Approvals, including the construction and operation of the Facility and/or the Centre of Expertise; (b) use best efforts to attend but only at NWMO’s reasonable request and expense, non-regulatory forums…and support the Base Project Scope at such forums;…”.

The language points squarely to full control by NWMO now and into the distant future. Meanwhile, South Bruce Council signed an Agreement in a community torn apart by this controversial project, while neither Council nor local citizens still have not been given scientific and technical information about safety until the site selection is completed, because NWMO is not obliged to carry out many important studies until the federal environmental assessment (EA) process begins.

But whether democracy would kick in, if and when a DGR site is selected, which requires an EA process, cannot be guaranteed – aside from the NWMO control – in accordance with Dr. Ole Hendrikson’s long experience with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

Tasked by POW-NNW to leave the webinar participants with the question: “Do the CNSC’s activities favour the nuclear industry or Canadian citizens?” Dr. Hendrikson provided a list of provocative examples of questionable decisions and lack of oversight to expose deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework. The examples thematically included health, transparency, conflicts of interest, and culminated in the most recent controversy about CNSC giving a licence to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) for its Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) in the Ottawa River region. Currently, the CNL NSDF is facing three judicial reviews from civil society groups and a group of Algonquin first nation communities whose multiple concerns include not being properly consulted.

Dr. Hendrikson cited the CNL NSDF as an example illustrating how much the EA process has deteriorated through a number of years, steadily diminishing public participation. As well, two photographs showed a long scroll created by him with fellow concerned citizens, which visually showed the extensive deletions of text between a 2016 CNSC Licence Conditions Handbook and the current 2018-2028 licensing handbook. These deletions included EAs for construction of new facilities and decommissioning of old facilities.

The factors pointing to CNSC’s international influence also are problematic, according to Dr. Hendrikson. Canada is unique among OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in giving a regulatory body (CNSC) sole authority to approve radioactive waste disposal projects. While former CEO/President Rumina Velshi had a dual (and conflictual) role, she also was on the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Safety Standards Committee. At the same time, the CNSC refused to comply with all of the IAEA’s safety principles as spelled out in a report based upon a 2019 mission by the IAEA’s Integrated Regulatory Review Service.

Following the completion of a list of examples as evidence, Dr. Hendrickson cautioned POW-NNW that the CNSC has done everything it can to downgrade both the EA or, now,

the Impact Assessment Act process. “It’ll be solely decided by the CNSC, and the CNSC has a reputation – and deserved in my view – as a `captured’ regulator.”

In the question period, one participant asked whether the consultation process could be opened province-wide, to which Mr. Donnelly acknowledged the situation for the “downstream potentially-impacted people…It does beg the question, `what are the rights of neighbouring municipalities?’…What about the people on Lake Huron? What about the people in Michigan? So, I do think there is a reckoning coming.”

Protect Our Waterways - No Nuclear Waste is a concerned group of South Bruce citizens united in a common cause to prevent the establishment of a high-level radioactive storage facility in our community known as a Deep Geological Repository (DGR).

Our mission is to counter the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and its surrogate supporters which in our opinion are not fully informing the citizens of South Bruce on the potential dangers, social stigma, and downside risks of hosting this DGR facility in our community.


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