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Indigenous community votes down proposed nuke waste bunker

No to nuclear waste site

An Indigenous community has overwhelmingly rejected a proposed underground storage facility for nuclear waste near Lake Huron, likely spelling the end for a multibillion-dollar, politically fraught project years in the making.

After a year of consultations and days of voting, the 4,500-member Saugeen Ojibway Nation announced late Friday that 85 per cent of those casting ballots had said no to accepting a deep geologic repository at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont.

"We were not consulted when the nuclear industry was established in our territory," SON said in a statement. "Over the past 40 years, nuclear power generation in Anishnaabekiing has had many impacts on our communities, and our land and waters."

The province's giant utility, Ontario Power Generation, had wanted to build the repository 680 metres underground about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron as permanent storage for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste. The project was tentatively approved in May 2015.

While Kincardine was a "willing host," the relative proximity of the proposed bunker to the lake sparked a backlash elsewhere in Canada and the United States. Politicians, environmentalists and scores of communities expressed opposition.

Successive federal governments have withheld final approval. In August 2017, then-environment minister Catherine McKenna paused the process — the last in a string of delays for the project — to ensure buy-in from Indigenous people in the area.

The generating company, which insisted the stable bedrock would safely contain the waste, items such as contaminated reactor components and mops, said it respected SON's decision.

"OPG will explore other options and will engage with key stakeholders to develop an alternate site-selection process," Ken Hartwick, head of OPG, said in a statement shortly after the vote was announced. "Any new process would include engagement with Indigenous peoples as well as interested municipalities."



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