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Premier accused of subverting nuclear hearings Add to ...

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is being accused of undermining public hearings on nuclear-power development in the province with his recent proposal that a research reactor be built within three years.

Mr. Wall told the Globe and Mail on Friday the reactor would produce medical isotopes, topping up shortfalls created by the closing of Ontario's Chalk River facility.

But the statement comes as the provincial government is holding public hearings to gauge public sentiment on reactor construction.

Many people involved in those hearings said yesterday that Mr. Wall's comments suggest the public consultations are token efforts.

"What's the purpose of having public hearings when the Premier himself is declaring his plans before the hearings are complete," said prominent political activist David Orchard, who spoke at a hearing last month. "The people of Saskatchewan are being steamrolled right now by a government that doesn't seem prepared to listen to the hearings that it itself set up."

The environment critic for the NDP said that nuclear development in the province is beginning to feel like a foregone conclusion. "The whole consultation process is a sham," Sandra Morin said. "It truly feels like the decision has already been made."

At the same time, the NDP finds itself in a bind. It's freshly minted leader, Dwain Lingenfelter, has been a long-time supporter of nuclear development, while the party's rank-and-file recently passed a resolution opposed to reactor construction.

Mr. Wall reiterated yesterday that all future plans for uranium enrichment in the province would depend on the consultation process, but that a looming federal government deadline for proposals to solve Canada's isotope crisis will hit before the hearing process finishes.

"We may be in the position of submitting [an isotope proposal]and then withdrawing it if it doesn't reflect the will of Saskatchewan people," he said. "I don't think that will be the case. My sense is ... that people want to see us add value to this prolific supply of uranium that we have."

The contentious tone of the public hearings, which have been touring the province for nearly a month, suggests otherwise.

In the smallest of towns, hundreds of people have shown up to voice their objections to uranium enrichment in the province.

"I haven't seen more grassroots involvement on an issue since the great debates over Medicare," said Jim Harding, a retired university professor and the author of Canada's Deadly Secret: Saskatchewan and the Global Nuclear System . "At the meetings I've attended, people are generally 70 to 80 per cent opposed to any kind of nuclear development. It's quite astonishing."

Some 450 people reportedly attended one recent meeting in Paradise Hill, population 500.

"Populism can swing from right to left very quickly in this province," said Dr. Harding.

"We have an election in two years and if this government tries to ram this through, people won't forget it when they go to the polls."

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