Turnout for Ignace event was 'exceptional', NWMO insists

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization ought to be embarrassed by the low turnout for the recent two-day Northwest Nuclear Exploration Event in Ignace, anti-nuclear activists say.

Photos on social media “told me that they didn’t get very many people in,” Wendy O’Connor of We the Nuclear Free North said Monday. “They had many exhibitors but the best photos they could get in had just two or three people.”

The NWMO has a different spin on the event, saying more than 200 people came to the town rec centre on Friday and Saturday from Ignace, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation and other communities.

“For a town of about 1,000 people, that turnout is pretty exceptional,” NWMO spokesperson Vince Ponka said.

The number includes high school students who came in after school on Friday, he said. Also, Ponka said many young children — sometimes more than 10 at a time — used an interactive play and learning area.

The event was one more step in building a willing and informed partnership for a deep geological repository, he said.

“People may not have a full understanding of what the project is,” he said, and the event gave those residents a chance to ask questions of people in the know.

From the event they could learn that there are regulators looking out for the public interest and independent scientists who say the storage process is safe, he said.

“Dialogue like this is critical to the site selection process, and it was fantastic to see so many people take the opportunity to learn more about the project and other aspects of the nuclear industry,” NWMO site selection vice-president Lise Morton said in a news release.

The NWMO is looking for a place to eventually build a deep geological repository for waste from the province’s nuclear reactors. Ignace and South Bruce — in southwestern Ontario — are being considered.

The repository, regardless of which site is selected next year, would be similar to the Onkalo repository that is near completion in Finland. Spent nuclear fuel would be placed more than 500 metres below ground.

The Township of Ignace has established a Willingness Committee of residents and township staff to consider the proposal.

Charles Faust of We the Nuclear Free North noted that his organization is in a David-and-Goliath battle as a grassroots group against a nuclear industry with lots of money to spend.

“It’s unfortunate in this process that we can’t have intervenor funding,” said Faust.

“We’re basically offered tokenism rather than true intervenor status.”

Ignace interim mayor Kim Baigrie said an “informed decision” by residents is paramount.

“I want the community to learn, I want the community to make the decision,” Baigrie said Friday.

“That is my goal, to make sure that they learn what they need to learn to make an informed decision on this.”

Asked if she has ever been opposed to Ignace hosting the repository, Baigrie said “No, I haven't.”

Ponka said the NWMO is grateful for the township’s continued engagement and looks forward to more relationship building with Ignace and nearby communities.

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source