Nfld. & Labrador

'Zero possibility' of nuclear waste stored in Labrador, says Furey

There is no possibility of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador approving a secretive project that would see nuclear waste stored in Labrador, says Premier Andrew Furey, while the Nunatsiavut government said it is not aware of any proposed project.

Nunatsiavut government 'surprised' to learn about project through media

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says his government has not been involved in discussions on a project that would see nuclear waste stored in Labrador. (Radio-Canada)

There is no possibility of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador approving a secretive project that would see nuclear waste stored in Labrador, says Premier Andrew Furey, while the Nunatsiavut government said it is not aware of any proposed project.

"Zero possibility," Furey said Thursday, in reaction to the story from Radio-Canada's Enquête investigative program.

Emails drafted in 2019 and 2020, obtained by Radio-Canada's Enquête, reveal a group of business executives and former prime minister Jean Chrétien have been discussing a secretive project to bury nuclear waste from foreign countries in Labrador, with Chrétien saying that, as a supplier of uranium, Canada has a responsibility to safely dispose of it.

Furey said his government has never had any formal discussion about the proposal, which would see that waste stored in Labrador, nor has he seen any applications.

However, Furey said it was mentioned during a discussion with Chrétien in 2020, when Furey was running for leadership of the provincial Liberals. It was a 15-minute discussion, Furey said, in which Chrétien offered him advice on political life and public service, and mentioned the project.

That plan is not on for Newfoundland and Labrador.- Premier Andrew Furey

"It was very brief. It was a suggestion of economic opportunity through nuclear waste — in burying nuclear waste for the province. I said 'that's not on,'" Furey said.

Emails in June 2020 discussed a "smooth transition" following the resignation of then premier Dwight Ball, outlining plans to keep in touch with Ball and stay connected.

Furey said to his knowledge, no one in his government's administration has had any formal discussions on nuclear waste storage.

"I don't have any knowledge about what happened before me, but I can tell you this, and tell the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and frankly the people of the world: that plan is not on for Newfoundland and Labrador."

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Ball confirmed he had a "brief discussion" in which Chrétien asked for his opinion on the project.

"My response to him was swift to say, as the premier my government is not interested in entering into any discussions with your clients on this issue," reads Ball's statement. "I have had no further discussion on this matter."

Governments 'have a legal duty to consult'

News of the secretive plans also came as a surprise for the Nunatsiavut government.

"The Nunatsiavut government is not aware of any proposed plans to dispose nuclear waste in Labrador, and was surprised to learn of it through the media," reads a statement issued by Nunatsiavut on Thursday.

"The constitutionally protected Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement clearly defines Inuit rights and titles within Nunatsiavut. Under the agreement, the provincial and federal governments have a legal duty to consult with the Nunatsiavut government."

The statement added that Nunatsiavut is gathering more information and will be getting in touch with the provincial and federal governments before releasing anything further.

Ontario has been looking into creating nuclear waste storage sites, known as 'deep geological repositories' for years. (Sam Kingsley/Getty Images)

Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans said there have been previous discussions about nuclear storage in Labrador, but said the level of secrecy of this latest story isn't a total shock.

Four years ago, she noted, Ball's chief of staff, Greg Mercer, was found to have failed to report his previous lobbying activities on time. Some of his lobbying involved the company at the heart of the group's nuclear storage project, Terravault. 

"There's so much secrecy. Back in 2017, people couldn't find much detail, it was all very secretive, hush hush, with ties to the provincial Liberal party," Evans said.

"Now it's being revealed again and it's all very secretive. There's no consultation with the people of Labrador and it reminds us of the old colonialism type of government."

Evans said projects in Labrador can't be approved without consultation with the people who live there.

"What we're asking for is a voice. The Labrador people need to be consulted, and this level of secrecy and having it revealed again is really insulting to the Labrador people," she said.

"I don't think there's any support in Labrador to actually be a waste disposal site for radioactive material."

Lela Evans, the Progressive Conservative MHA for Torngat Mountains, says the secrecy of the project is not a surprise. (CBC)

Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper said this isn't the first time there's been interest expressed in storing nuclear waste in Labrador.

About eight years ago, he was approached by a company interested in a similar development.

"My position then, and still is now, is that if such a project were to ever proceed or advance in any way, it really would need the complete support of the Indigenous governments, and based on some of the locations they were looking at at that time, it was most relevant for the Nunatsiavut government," Trimper said, adding that he doesn't know if the same company that asked him about it years ago is the same group named in the story published Thursday.

"While there may be economic opportunities here, one really needs to think about ethically, and of course from an environmental perspective, if this is something you'd want to entertain."

Perry Trimper, Independent MHA for Lake Melville, says any project would need the support of Indigenous governments. (CBC)

In response to comments from Chrétien that Canada has a responsibility to store waste from the uranium it produces, Trimper argued that that onus should then be on whichever region produces the product to find a way to safely store or dispose of it.

"If a jurisdiction has had an opportunity to gain economically through the provision of uranium and/or nuclear energy, I feel that same jurisdiction … really should be responsible for handling the waste it produces at that location," he said.

"I think we really need to think going forward, because we certainly haven't in the past, about the consequences of industrial economic activity."

Regardless of possible economic benefits or fees that could be garnered from the project, it's not something that can move forward without support from the region's Indigenous peoples.

"That's the first step. You don't go any further until you have secured that," he said.

"They're looking for solid rock formations that you can go deep underground and take full advantage of the Canadian shield. Labrador has a variety of interesting geology to it so [that is] some of the attraction, but that said, I would suggest that the proponents not go too much further until they talk to the Nunatsiavut government and Innu Nation about what their plans are."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler and Matt McCann