It was an atmosphere of stark contrast Sept. 17 as the Nuclear Waste Management Organization met with local leaders to discuss Saskatchewan as a possible site for nuclear waste storage.
As groups met quietly inside the Delta Bessborough, enthusiastic protestors performed street theatre for the media outside.
Actors with the group Clean Green Saskatchewan carried fake spent-fuel rods, light-heartedly spilling them onto the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Finally, they swept the mock nuclear waste under a large green rug shaped like Saskatchewan. David Geary, a member of Clean Green Saskatchewan, created the street theatre piece for the group. He says street theatre is a way to get across a serious message without seeming like you’re lecturing.
“Satire is a palatable way of making comment on things,” he said. “You can have fun with it and make a point.”
Geary says Clean Green Saskatchewan was not trying to disrupt the meeting in any way, just make their voices heard.
“They made their point and they made it very well,” said Michael Krizanc, spokesman for NWMO.
Krizanc admits it is their duty to enter the debate on nuclear waste disposal.
“All citizens have an expectation and a right to express their views on important policy issues.”
In spite of this, Krizanc says they were not welcome in the meeting. The Sept. 17 gathering was closed to the public. The meeting was composed primarily of “people who have participated in our process in the past,” he said.
These included representatives of the uranium industry, members of the chamber of commerce, local faith groups and representatives from Saskatchewan’s rural and urban municipalities.
“What we look for are people with varying perspectives,” said Krizanc.
He said NWMO uses a range of techniques to gauge how the public views its work, from these closed-door meetings to public information sessions and invite-only focus groups meant to gather opinions from a sample group that is representative of Saskatchewan’s demographics in terms of age, ethnicity and income.
“Obviously we couldn’t form our views based purely on public information sessions,” said Krizanc. He says those events typically only attract people who already have strong feelings about the issue.
NWMO received their mandate from the federal government. In 2002 the government passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act to set an independent not-for-profit corporation (NWMO) to study options and make recommendations for the development of a nuclear waste disposal site. The organization is financed by a trust fund paid into by the uranium industry.
Krizanc said his group is necessary because “the public doesn’t trust industry to do this on their own.”
The group is specifically targeting provinces that have financially benefitted from the uranium industry. These include Ontario, which has most of the country’s nuclear reactors, Quebec and New Brunswick, which have one each, and Saskatchewan, which benefits via its uranium mining operations.
NWMO is focusing on these provinces as possible disposal sites but they are open to invitations from other provinces or territories that may be willing, says Krizanc.
The whole process should take about eight to 10 years to find a site. Once a site is found it could be operational by 2035.
The material from the Sept. 17 multi-party meeting will be compiled and released on the group’s website, as well as discussed in a public information session scheduled for November.
Members of Clean Green Saskatchewan have a few more tricks up their sleeve in the meantime. They plan to put on more street theatre next month but mum’s the word on exactly where and when it’s planned for.
Geary admits the group may need to start refining its position, given the governing Saskatchewan Party’s recent backtracking away from earlier commitments to see nuclear power developed in the province, primarily because of the high price tag — currently pegged at about $26 billion for two reactors.
Geary feels his group played a part in turning the public sentiment against nuclear energy.
“We really helped do that”¦ I think we’ve really done our job,” he said. “Now it’s kind of a hot potato for politicians. It’s a very divisive and polarizing issue. Who would want to touch it?”
photo Robby Davis