'Go home!' N.W.T. residents tell Ontario nuclear power advocate

A Thursday evening forum in Yellowknife about bringing nuclear energy to Canada's North quickly turned hostile, with local Aboriginal people telling one presenter to "Go home!"

Presentation met with hostile responses Thursday night in Yellowknife

Muriel Betsina of Ndilo speaks during a presentation on nuclear power Thursday night in Yellowknife. (CBC)

A Thursday evening forum in Yellowknife about bringing nuclear energy to Canada's North quickly turned hostile, with local aboriginal people telling one presenter to "Go home!"

Robin Rickman of Oakville, Ont.-based Terrestrial Energy attempted to present a new design of a nuclear reactor to a packed room of N.W.T. residents interested in lowering the cost of energy, but he was repeatedly shouted down.

"Where are the chiefs?" yelled Dehcho region resident Roxanne Landry. "You are not welcome on Dene land!"

Yellowknife resident Daniel Gillis, a civil engineer and advocate for nuclear energy, organized the forum.

He called Landry's outburst a "hijacking".

Gillis regained control of the talk by telling Landry there was no immediate plan to bring nuclear power to Yellowknife, despite his desire for large scale change.

"This is an information session. We are trying to remove a terrible technology, burning fossil fuel," Gillis said. "We are trying to replace a very detrimental energy with a clean energy."

Terrestrial Energy's design is called a Molten Salt Reactor. Instead of cooling radioactive rods with water, it dissolves nuclear fuel in molten salt.

The company says the salt will act as a coolant and regulate the rate of the nuclear reaction, reducing the risk of a meltdown. The system, unlike current reactors, also does not produce excess plutonium, the material used to create nuclear bombs, according to the company.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly was at the presentation and says too many questions were left unanswered.

"There are still lots of issues of what do you do with the waste," he said. "It's nowhere near a feasibility stage. None of these facilities have been built anywhere. I don't know where the financing would come from. Lots of problems."

O'Reilly said he doubted whether the project could be safely regulated.

That concern was echoed by Landry. She pointed to the contaminated Giant Mine site, just outside of Yellowknife, as a hard lesson in putting too much trust in the industry or regulators.

N'dilo resident Muriel Betsina told Rickman to come back after the company has demonstrated its technology is safe.

"Maybe fifty years from now, when your plants are running good all over the county, if it is safe, then let us know," she said.

Rickam told the crowd Terrestrial has no interest in making Yellowknife its first testing ground. That location will probably be an existing nuclear power plant in Ontario.

Rickman said the company plans to build its first Molten Salt Reactor sometime in the 2020s.