A resolution was put to the floor by chiefs Duncan Michano (Biigtigong Nishnaabeg) and Wilfred King (Gull Bay) concerning the retirement of small modular nuclear reactors. The chiefs of Ontario conversely seek the governments of Ontario and Canada to fund First Nations energy initiatives instead. This move comes amid Ontario Premier Doug Ford's decision to seek further collaboration with Saskatchewan and Manitoba “to work collaboratively in support of the development and deployment” of small modular reactors.
The resolution ultimately was not approved, as the chiefs fell short of quorum required for the vote to pass.
"We have to resist any type of nuclear processes. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t create nuclear waste,” said Michano. “They still do. They still create radioactive waste and there’s an issue getting rid of it. So what are we going to do? Have nuclear radioactive waste on all those small communities? We need to get them to abandon that and we need to get the federal government to stop supporting the nuclear industry. This is just in the planning stage and that’s where we want to stop it.”
King conversely called the industry “ugly” and vowed that SMRs would not go into any community on First Nations’ traditional land. “Even if (nuclear waste) is buried in the Canadian Shield there’s no guarantee this won’t leak into our water systems,” he added.
No First Nation to date has SMR technology presently operating in their community.
Guy Lonechild, head of the First Nations Power Authority (FNPA), is of a different mindset altogether. It is one of six indigenous organizations that supports Canada's Small Modular Reactor Action Plan.
“FNPA is careful not to become a cheerleader for the nuclear industry, but to bring First Nations to the table so that they can make informed decisions. That’s central to our role,” said Lonechild. “What we are committed to as an organization is to bring those conversations together so we can increase knowledge in terms of what nuclear technology, specifically small modular reactor technology, has in terms of benefits.”
Lonechild has said that SMRs, which are “much smaller than conventional nuclear plants (five to ten megawatts to scale)," are a much needed option in remote communities to replace diesel-powered electricity generation, which is both expensive and pollution-heavy.
Lonechild also states that SMRs have various other applications, such as replacing diesel-powered generation for mining operations. Although he concedes that nuclear energy "certainly comes with certain risks, environmental risks and cumulative effects," Lonechild avows that safety measures will be followed in line with a protocol enforced by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, a body overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
Lonechild says he is eager to meet with the Chiefs of Ontario to come to an agreement and “put together a forum and help provide some of the answers they have questions to.”