Environment and safety

Water has a story to tell, and it is important for the NWMO to listen

Elder Donna Augustine

Elder Donna Augustine, Chair of the Council of Elders and Youth, an independent advisory body for the NWMO, talks about the importance of water.

March 22, 2021

Toronto, Ont.

By the NWMO

Elder Donna Augustine

Elder Donna Augustine, Chair of the Council of Elders and Youth, an independent advisory body for the NWMO, talks about the importance of water.

Water is the most life sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings. Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us. Water comes in many forms and is the well-being of all Creation. Water shapes the land and gives us the great gifts of the rivers, lakes, oceans, and the life water of women that we all come from,” said Elder Donna Augustine, Chair of the Council of Knowledge Holders, independent advisory body for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). “It is important that the NWMO understands and considers these teachings as it implements a project that may have an impact on that water that we all rely on for life

World Water Day serves as a reminder of how significant it is for the NWMO to understand those essential voices to protect our waterways – something we all share and will continue to do so for many generations.

At the NWMO, we are committed to working with communities, including Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, to provide long-term safety and protection of the environment, including precious water resources. In fact, this is at the very heart of Canada’s plan to construct a deep geological repository – a network of underground tunnels and placement rooms designed to safely contain and isolate Canada’s used nuclear fuel for the long term.

So how does water work, and what is it telling us?

The water we interact with day-to-day – the water that we drink, the water that rains down on us – is governed by the water cycle. Water evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, and rains back down, renewing the cycle. Most of this takes place above, on, and just below the surface.

The NWMO is doing extensive work to better understand water deep underground at potential repository sites.

We are studying the water and rock deep underground at potential sites to confirm that water at this depth is old and has remained isolated from the surface for long periods of time. We need to listen and learn from the water within the rock to better understand this story of the rock and its ability to safely store used nuclear fuel.

“We are fortunate because now we have a deeper understanding of the special spiritual relationship that Indigenous communities have with the land,” said Mahrez Ben Belfadhel, Vice-President of Site Selection at the NWMO, who is retiring in April. “We also understand that this rock is not just a piece of rock like we used to think, like I used to think. This rock represents the Grandfathers. The Grandfathers have a story to tell. It is our responsibility to listen carefully, respectfully, to understand that story.”

Access to and preservation of this natural resource is particularly top-of-mind to Indigenous peoples who have travelled by and been sustained by these waters since time immemorial.

“It is also vital that the NWMO understands the special relationship that women have with water as life givers and the need for women to be involved in any work the NWMO is doing in relation to water,” said Elder Augustine.

Learning together

Drawing on this knowledge and wisdom, combined with knowledge from environmental geoscientists, international and scientific communities, and local community members in potential siting areas, is enhancing the NWMO’s understanding on how the deep geological repository project will impact water.

It is imperative that we learn from each other and work together to ensure the NWMO’s work is guided by the responsibility to protect people and the environment for future generations. The NWMO continues to work closely with all those impacted by the project and will not proceed without an informed and willing host area for our deep geological repository.

In the coming weeks, we will share more information about the specific approaches we are taking in northwestern and southern Ontario concerning water.

Happy World Water Day, everyone!

About the NWMO

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization tasked with the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository, in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

Founded in 2002, the NWMO has been guided for more than 20 years by a dedicated team of world-class scientists, engineers and Indigenous Knowledge Holders that are developing innovative and collaborative solutions for nuclear waste management. Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2024, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.

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the NWMO

The NWMO is a not-for profit organization established in 2002 by Canada's nuclear electricity producers in accordance with the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA).

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