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Ignace residents report on Finland trip

“The scope of what is underground was absolutely amazing,” Ignace councillor says.
An interior view of Finland's Onkalo deep geological repository for nuclear waste.

IGNACE — Ten Ignace residents have returned from visiting Finland’s deep geological repository (DGR) for nuclear waste and the “willingness process” continues.

Three members of the Finland trip delegation —Coun. Jodie Defeo, community development strategist Keith Riseborough and business owner Roger Dufault — spoke to news media Wednesday at the Ignace Township Hall.

Defeo was impressed by what she saw.

“The scope of what is underground was absolutely amazing,” she said. 

“It was tidy,” she said. “There were rooms for mechanics. The robotics, the functionality of what is down there, the sheer scope of machinery to talk with community members in that community, who were all very engaged and pleasant and talked about how putting information forward and talking about the project and making sure that everyone was well informed gave them a sense of inclusion in helping them make that decision (to host the DGR).”

The delegation arrived in Helsinki on Nov. 6 and travelled the next day northeast to the Satakunta region, which hosts a nuclear power plant and the Onkalo DGR for spent nuclear fuel. They visited the power plant and the repository on Nov. 8 and flew back to Canada on Nov. 10.

Besides the 10 Ignace residents, the delegation also included four members of Dryden’s city council, one person from Atikokan and two from Lac Seul First Nation.

Jake Pastore, a public relations professional contracted by the Township of Ignace, said in an email on Wednesday that the junket was a “very important fact-finding mission.” 

Delegates will present information and findings to Ignace council and the township’s Willingness Committee and the public, Pastore said, adding that information from the trip is among “many pieces of data points” in the willingness process.

They Willingness Committee is a team of citizens assembled by Ignace council to examine the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s proposed DGR and help decide whether Ignace is a willing host community. 

Ignace is one of two finalists in the NWMO’s site selection for the DGR; the other finalist is in southwestern Ontario. The NWMO, which is funded by nuclear power producers, has said it intends to choose a site in late 2024 for construction of the DGR to begin around 2034.

As part of the willingness process, the township has contracted a consulting firm based in Pembroke, Ont., to conduct a “willingness engagement study” and deliver a report next year.

The willingness process is not transparent and seems like a sham, Ignace resident Diana Schmidt said this week, days after the Ignace delgates returned from Finland.

“We need to have both sides of the story out,” she said. “We cannot have true willingness without representation from both sides.”

She said criticism or skepticism about the repository project is not welcome in the town of 1,200, and NWMO critics’ posts in Facebook’s Ignace Discussion Group are commonly met with “laughs, ridicule, name-calling and clown pictures.”

That’s no environment for open discussion, she said.

It seems the township and DGR proponents “are pushing everything under the carpet,” she said. “They don’t want any of the dangers to come out.”

The NWMO has purchased a $690,000 fire truck and a $54,000 pickup truck for the township. That’s “bribery,” Schmidt said. “I believe they’re trying to bribe their way in.”

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After working at newspapers across the Prairies, Mike found where he belongs when he moved to Northwestern Ontario.
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