Northern Saskatchewan community divided over nuclear waste question (June 2012)

By Richard McGuire, Meadow Lake Progress

Posted 22 June 2012

The Northern Village of Pinehouse is located in an idyllic setting on the shores of Pinehouse Lake, amid the boreal forest of northern Saskatchewan. Behind its apparent tranquility however, the issue of nuclear waste is dividing the community.


Pinehouse, along with English River First Nation and Creighton, is one of three Saskatchewan communities currently being considered for the site of a centralized deep geological repository for all of Canada’s nuclear waste.

The aboriginal and Métis community of more than 1,000 people is located roughly halfway between Meadow Lake, about 250 km to the south, and Key Lake, the site of the world’s largest high-grade uranium mine, about 225 km to the north.

The village first came to the attention of Canadians in the late 1970s when the CBC program The Fifth Estate profiled it in a scathing documentary about its alcoholism problem, calling Pinehouse “the drinking capital of northern Saskatchewan.”

Since then, the community has worked hard to overcome that image, and despite continued poverty, there are also signs of more recent prosperity.

Big changes came to Pinehouse with the opening of the Key Lake mine in the early 1980s, and later other uranium mines in places like McArthur River. The mining was controversial at the time, and some residents still oppose it, but uranium mining has already made Pinehouse part of the nuclear economy.

“People are very used to that,” says Vince Natomagan, one of the community leaders now urging the village to take a close look at nuclear waste. “If it wasn’t for Cameco, or the mining in general, we’d be absolutely impoverished.”

Cameco Corporation, the main owner of Key Lake, brings millions of dollars annually into Pinehouse, says Natomagan, executive director of Kineepik Métis Local.

But Natomagan’s views aren’t universally shared in the community, with some opposing the mining, and many wanting no part of Pinehouse becoming the site of a nuclear waste repository.

Throughout the village, many houses are plastered with hand-made signs reading: “Say no to nuclear waste.”

Village resident Fred Pederson, 70, says he’s the one who made the signs and stirred up opposition to the nuclear waste proposal.

“I’m maybe 500 per cent against it,” says Pederson. “I’ve been fighting since day one.”

Pederson says he and other members of the Committee for Future Generations have collected names on a petition opposing the plan from about 60 per cent of the community.

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