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Core samples dug in and around a nuclear waste site beside Lake Huron show the rock formation to be extremely stable with no signs of movement for millions of years. This will make it safe from any future geologic events such as earthquakes.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

First Nations in Northern Ontario say municipalities are opening their doors to the federal organization that is looking for a place to dump nuclear waste but most of the sites being proposed lie outside municipal boundaries on traditional treaty land.

Isadore Day, the Lake Huron Regional Grand Chief, has written to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to ask her government to talk directly with First Nations and to "come to a fair and acceptable resolution" about the location of the $24-billion Deep Geological Repository for the waste generated by nuclear reactors.

Environmental groups and some local residents reacted angrily earlier this month when a federal review panel agreed that a repository far below ground near Kincardine, Ont., could be used to store low-and intermediate radioactive nuclear waste including clothing and used parts.

But the hunt for a place to permanently store used fuel bundles, a far more contentious form of the hazardous material, continues. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has narrowed its search to nine municipalities – three in the southwestern part of Ontario and six in the North.

Those municipalities have all told the organization they are willing to explore the possibility of being a host site for the repository that will take decades to build and will store the spent nuclear fuel bundles for 400,000 years or more until they are safely non-toxic. Having the site nearby will mean increased jobs and improved infrastructure for a community.

All of the municipalities that finished the preliminary phase of the assessment received a $400,000 "sustainability and well-being" payment from the NWMO for showing leadership on a difficult national public policy issue.

But, even though it is the municipalities that are being consulted and compensated, most of the sites being considered for the dump lie well outside of their jurisdictions on traditional First Nations territory, said Mr. Day.

"The actual sites being looked at are on treaty lands and municipalities have no say about what happens on those lands," Mr. Day says in his letter to Ms. Wynne. "This matter is a discussion that must take place between treaty partners."

A spokeswoman for Ms. Wynne said the province is committed to working with its aboriginal partners, including Mr. Day, and will continue to monitor the work of the NWMO to make sure the interests of Ontarians are protected.

Mr. Day and other First Nations leaders say they will not negotiate with the organization even though it has created a division to reach out to aboriginal communities. The First Nations are not eligible for the "sustainability and well-being" paid to the municipalities, but they can tap into a fund to further their understanding about nuclear waste.

Bob Watts, the director of aboriginal community relations for the NWMO, said the reaction to date among First Nations has been mixed.

"Some have ignored us and some have said we're not interested in learning," said Mr. Watts. "Some have been very interested in learning and have gone on dry storage tours to see how nuclear fuel is being managed now."

The mandate of the organization demands that it reaches out to indigenous groups. And the changing legal landscape, including recent Supreme Court decisions, will require that rights holders be consulted, said Mr. Watts.

Municipalities that have invited the organization to discuss the possibility of having a nuclear dump site nearby can remove themselves from the process at any time. When asked whether a First Nation would have a similar right to refuse to have the waste site on its traditional territory, Mr. Watts said that position would be "taken into account in terms of the likelihood of being able to work with communities in that area."

Mr. Day said the site selection process has been "fraught with controversy" and will not result in the support that is being sought from First Nations. "The social contract is not with municipalities," he said. "It's with treaty nations."

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