Levesque Larry

An opinion letter on the issues raised at the July 18th and 19th NWMO meetings. Some issues raised in the workshops were omitted by facilitators in their summations and other comments were para-phrased to blunt the participant’s message. For instance, I made reference to the all nuclear nature of NWMO and the subsequent impact on the process which I described as having an industry bias. Liz Dowdeswell , NWMO President, in defence said that, the government established the narrow NWMO mandate through the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA), so it’s not NWMO’s fault. I then suggested that the issue be sent back to parliament for further discussion and evaluation so the frame work of NWMO process would include energy policy issues and public involvement in decision making. That comment was written up on the flip chart as, “process evaluation - who and how “. This is just one example of how the meaning of a specific comment becomes obscured and lost in the generalized jargon of para-phrasing facilitators.

I concluded that the latest spin by NWMO is to bury the waste first then discuss Canadian energy policy. I suppose it is hoped that prospect of nuclear industry expansion will be more palatable to the public if a solution to the nuclear waste problem is being implemented.

I came to this conclusion from a quote on page 237 of the draft study report regarding the Advisory Council’s approach which states, “The Advisory Council would be critical of an NWMO recommendation of any management approach that makes provision for more nuclear fuel waste than the present generating plants are expected to create, unless it were linked to a clear statement about the need for a broad public discussion of Canadian energy policy prior to a decision about future nuclear energy development. The potential role of nuclear energy in addressing Canada’s future energy requirements needs to be planned within a much larger policy framework that examines the costs, benefits and hazards of all available forms of electrical energy supply, and that the framework needs to make provision for comprehensive, informed public participation.”

I asked Liz why the Advisory Council made a distinction between the 70,000 tons of waste expected to be produced by existing generating plants and any nuclear waste exceeding the 70,000 tons. I mean, nuclear waste is nuclear waste and all of it should be given the same consideration. She claimed to have no control over what the Advisory Council says and could therefore not qualify their statement. Regardless, I asked, shouldn’t the need for a broad public discussion of Canadian energy policy also apply to the handling of the first 70,000 tons produced ? Shouldn’t energy planning within a large framework that examines the costs, benefits and hazards, of all available electrical energy supplies, consider the first 70,000 tons of nuclear waste produced ? And, shouldn’t a framework exist to make provision for comprehensive, informed public participation and decision making in regards to the first 70,000 Tons of nuclear waste produced ?

The quotation from page 237 of the draft reveals that the Advisory Council’s approach has a distinct nuclear industry bias, which is not surprising considering that council members were appointed by the all nuclear NWMO executive. The Advisory Council purports to provide the public with a critique of the NWMO process regarding comprehensiveness, fairness, balance and transparency. But, this supposed watchdog of the public interests is showing signs of actually being a lapdog of the NWMO . The quoted statement from the Advisory Council appears to champion public opinion but on closer inspection actually supports the latest NWMO spin of , “no energy policy discussion or public involvement in decision making until the plan to bury 70,000 tons of nuclear waste is in place”. No discussion about issues such as alternate electricity supply, conservation of energy usage and future industry expansion until a nuclear waste plan is implemented.

Let’s think this through. The conclusion of the Seaborn Panel stated that the Atomic Energy Canada Limited plan of deep geological disposal was unacceptable from a social perspective. In other words the public does not trust that the government can pull it off.. And, without public approval and trust, there can be no waste plan. And, without a waste plan Canadians are not in favour of the nuclear expansion.

But, Government and industry need and want more nuclear energy. So, disregarding the requirement of public trust, the Government is forging ahead with plans to bury nuclear waste even if it means doing so without public approval and plans to bury the waste before discussing the future of the nuclear industry in Canada. I suppose, in that way, it’s hoped that critics will be unable to fault the government and nuclear industry with irresponsibility for launching into nuclear power production without having an acceptable solution to the nuclear waste problem.

I suppose that makes sense from the big corporation point of view, but, what about public trust? Is force-feeding 70,000 Tons of nuclear waste into the ground of Ontario while disallowing any discussion on energy policy a good way to get people to buy into the expansion of the nuclear industry ? I suppose it all depends on how Canadians react. And, that depends on the nature of Canadian character. So, what does it mean to be Canadian?

One participant at the meeting, related an interesting scenario in which he had asked a group what it meant to be Canadian. He said that some responses made reference to hockey and some to the cold winters. The entry that caught his interest stated that to be Canadian was to be “as Canadian as possible under the circumstances”. I took the comment to mean that Canadians do not stay the course when the going gets rough. And that Canadians lack resolve. In a sense, I can see where this participant is coming from. After all, fifteen years ago at the inception of the Federal Environmental Assessment Review Panel, Chairman Seaborn had ministers commit the government to a study on energy policy. Canadians are still patiently waiting for the government to carry out that study. Not exactly pushy types, are we ? Perhaps, Canadians are too comfortable with their democratic rights and take them for granted.

However, allow me to point out that, along with the lay back, hockey- loving nature is another facet of Canadian character. In both world wars Canadians were distinguished by dogged determination under the most dire of circumstances. Battles at Vimy Ridge and Monte Casino are just a couple of examples that Canadians can stand with or against the best troops in the world. Not exactly the types that lack resolve.

I would suggest that what is being perceived is some sort of quiet Canadian discretion not to be mistaken for a lack of resolve. This discretion also surfaces in the manner in which Canadians are seen to be overly polite. I liken it to the extensive social rituals seen in wolf packs. With all those teeth, wolves also have to be excessively polite or face extinction through aggression within their own species.

Perhaps, only when a Canadian’s freedom is threatened, either from within or outside of Canada, does his strength of character become apparent. Perhaps, “ only when faced with horror, do we find our noblest selves.” So, what if the participant is wrong about the character of Canadians. What if the Government’s loses this gamble and Canadians decide to protest their Government’s unilateral plan to bury nuclear waste?

Perhaps the Government should reconsider active participation by the public in the discussion and decision making process in the early stages of nuclear waste handling plans. Is it prudent for the Government to push the waste burial plan ahead then wait and see how Canadians react, in some sort of grand social experiment? Unfortunately, mixed results can be expected with social experimentation. And there may be only one roll of the dice.If the government gets it wrong and Canadians feel that they are being manipulated, the chances of getting this generation to trust in the government’s ability to handle the nuclear waste problem will be remote.

It’s with this consideration that I hope that the NWMO will open up the framework of discussion to include energy policy discussion and also allow public involvement in decision making in the early stages of nuclear waste handling planning. Canadian Parliament did a shabby job with the NFWA.. The tag team of government bureaucracy and the nuclear industry is now pitted against the public in a narrow framework of discussion that can’t possibly produce an acceptable resolution.

To help resolve the stand off as it now exists, I suggest that the method for selecting members for the Advisory Council should be reviewed. It is unlikely that an Advisory Council appointed by the NWMO executive will give an unbiased evaluation of the NWMO process. And, I suggest that the Advisory Council be made up of appointees that represent a cross section of society, along the lines suggested by the Seaborn Panel in regards to the NWMO executive. I also suggest that the Advisory Council should have direct and real decision making powers equal to the NWMO executive.

Canadians will be heard on this issue, sooner or later, in one way or another. The point is that everyone is affected by this problem and the public will want an input. This is not just another exercise of having the appearance of public input as seen in environmental assessments for mining operations or municipal dumps. This issue is unique in terms of the irreversibility of accidents and in terms of the time frame which must be considered. Nuclear waste requires special consideration. The public will not accept the usual “smoke and mirror” approach. Real and meaningful engagement in discussions and decisions by the public is required. The Canadian Government should recognize this and allow public input into decisions upfront. By not doing so the Government fosters distrust. I foresee, judging what happened in other countries, that should the unilateral thrust to force a waste handling plan on Canadians continue without public input and approval, the result may be civil unrest at some stage of the NWMO plan.

Larry Levesque

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