The emails show former Prime Minister Jean Chretien is part of a secret Labrador nuclear waste storage project

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With the border closures and closures last spring, there was something else on the minds of a group of businessmen and lawyers: setting up a Labrador facility for international nuclear waste.

Plans they had for a meeting in April 2020 with partners in Japan were thwarted by health restrictions related to the pandemic.

The meeting was to bring together former US government nuclear adviser Tim Fraser, Montreal’s chief business officer, Albert Barbouchi, as well as influential figures in the public and nuclear relations industries in Japan.

Emails drafted in 2019 and 2020, obtained by Radio Canada Enquête Investigative program, revealed that they are discussing a secret project to bury nuclear waste from foreign countries in Labrador.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was a player in the initiative. Another supporter of the plan highlighted Chretien’s ties to the current liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Chretien has worked as an advisor to the promoters of the project, who are clients of his law firm, Denton.

In a letter Chretien wrote in the summer of 2019 to an executive at a major Japanese public relations agency, Hisafumi Koga, he said he supported the storage of nuclear waste for other countries in Canada, and said it would help advance the project.

Watch | Chretien says Canada has a responsibility to clean up nuclear waste:

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Canada had a responsibility to help clean up nuclear waste because it made money selling uranium used in nuclear power production. “We have some responsibility, I think, and if we can help, then we should,” he said in an interview with the investigative radio Canada program Enquête. 2:25

“Canada has been the largest supplier of nuclear fuel for many years, and I have always thought it appropriate for Canada to ultimately become the agent and guarantor for the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel after its first business cycle,” Chretien wrote. .

“I will arrange and participate in discussions in Canada, its provinces and potential partner countries to advance the concept of a deep warehouse in northeastern Canada.”

Experts at a loss for secrecy

But some nuclear energy experts who spoke to them Enquête After reviewing the emails, she questions the safety of such a project and raises concerns about the lack of government involvement, and the secrecy surrounding it.

“I must say I was really shocked at having a small group of very prominent actors … coming together to form this plot,” said Michael Schneider, an international nuclear energy consultant based in Paris.

Schneider, whose expertise is sought after worldwide, said this type of project should be led by governments, not industrialists.

“We’re not talking about building a garage somewhere,” he said.

Michael Schneider, a nuclear energy consultant in Paris, says he was stunned by the secretive nature of the project. (Matteo Hagneri / CBC)

“We are talking about a very complex project that no country in the world has successfully implemented so far, as you know, that stores radioactive materials.”

Schneider also deals with the group’s explicit desires to keep their plans secret, keeping in mind the “risks of the materials involved”.

The group wants to bury imported nuclear waste in what is known as a “deep geological repository,” or DGR.

The site is similar to a mine hundreds of meters deep to permanently isolate highly radioactive waste, according to Ian Clark, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Ottawa.

“A really deep geological repository is like a mine with a shaft or pit maybe 500 meters deep, maybe 1,000 meters with galleries or drifts that provide an actual space for storing nuclear waste,” Clark explained.

Similar sites exist in Finland and Sweden, and scientists generally agree that it is a safe way to dispose of used nuclear fuel.

Plans have been suspended

The Labrador waste facility’s plan has been put on hold due to the pandemic and it is not clear what will happen next. Barbusci, one of the promoters of the project, said there was nothing to talk about.

In response to the Radio Canada report on Thursday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Fury said Chretien mentioned the idea of ​​storing nuclear waste in Labrador when he was running for the leader of regional liberals last year.

“It was very brief. It was a suggestion of an economic opportunity through nuclear waste – in burying nuclear waste for the province. I said, ‘It wasn’t done,’” said Fury.

Al-Foori said, to his knowledge, that no one in his government administration had any formal discussions about storing nuclear waste and that his view on this was that there was “no possibility” of this happening.

For years, the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization has attempted to build a DGR to bury waste from Canadian nuclear power plants, including in Ontario.

But the emails show that this project is different, focusing instead on working with other countries to store their waste – starting with Japan – something that has not been done before, according to Schneider.

“There are good reasons,” he said. “This is a very radioactive substance. From a meter away, if the spent fuel is not protected, it will deliver a lethal dose to humans within a minute.”

In his 2019 letter Chretien said that “Labrador dry granite rocks would be ideal” for building a DGR.

Clark, a professor at the University of Ottawa, agrees that the geology of the area makes it possible to find “good candidate sites if someone wants to embark on an economic project to store nuclear waste from Japan.”

On the other hand, the island of Japan is more prone to earthquakes and fissures, making it “not an ideal place to find a nuclear waste site.”

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

Clark said what Ontario learned in its search for DGR sites, though, is that if you don’t include local governments and residents early in the process, “you’re bound to fail.”

Months after Chretien’s letter to the Japanese PR CEO, Hisafumi Koga’s response in September 2019 illustrates the secretive nature of the discussions.

“Since the success of the project depends on the cooperation of all stakeholders, utmost care must be taken to prevent information leakage,” Hisafumi Koga wrote, before accepting Chrétien’s invitation to a meeting in Canada.

“I understand that I will be attending as a private person,” said Koga.

According to the emails, Takuya Hattori, who held a senior position at TEPCO, the company involved in the Fukushima nuclear accident, was also scheduled to take part in the flight.

Koga and Hattori did not respond to Radio Canada emails requesting comment.

The emails reveal that the project may take years to prepare

When Radio Canada reached out to Albert Barbuchi, the Montreal businessman promoting the project, and Chretien, they both seemed to downplay its importance, as well as their involvement.

Barbuchi cut short the Radio Canada questioning, saying that Chretien’s participation was limited to a 20-minute conversation and that the DGR discussions had yet to form a project. Correspondence obtained Enquête Draw a different picture.

Chretien says Labrador’s dry granite rocks and the lack of seismic activity make it a safe place to store nuclear waste. (Radio Canada)

An email from Barbusci in June 2020 indicates a “smooth transition” following the resignation of former Prime Minister of Newfoundland and Labrador Dwight Ball, which took effect in August.

“As you already know, Premier Ball has announced that it will step down and a new captain will be appointed on August 3. However, we plan to keep in touch with Premier Ball so the transition is expected to be smooth,” Barbusci wrote.

Four years ago, it was revealed that Paul’s chief of staff, Greg Mercer, had failed to report on his past lobbying activities on time. Some of his pressures included the company at the heart of the group’s nuclear storage project, Terravault.

Fraser, a former US nuclear advisor and another major player in the project, is a major shareholder of Terravault. He refused to speak to Radio Canada.

Mercer was found at the time to be more than a year late in announcing lobbying activities with Terravault before working with Ball.

Paul also said on Thursday Chretien mentioned the idea of ​​a DGR in his Labrador.

“My response was swiftly because the prime minister, my government, is not interested in entering into any discussions with your clients about this issue,” a statement said.

Barbushi said he was not aware of the stress incident and was prior to his participation in the DGR project. He also said that the location of the site has not been decided yet.

Chretien reduces his role

As for the former prime minister, Chretien said in February, when Radio Canada first reached out about the group’s plans, it all seemed so mysterious and distant.

Chretien said, “I was consulted but I don’t know where they are. I didn’t even know there were Japanese involved in it.”

This was before Radio Canada was called last week, to inform him that he had obtained the letter he wrote to Koga in 2019. He then agreed to be interviewed by In Enquête Mary Maud Denise at his home in Ottawa.

Watch | Chretien says he does not have exclusive access to Prime Minister Trudeau:

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien says he is not interested in being a member of a lobbying group and does not have exclusive access to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as some have claimed. I am a former party leader, but Mr. Trudeau is the head of government. I’m not his trusted advisor, he told Radio Canada’s investigative program Enquête. 0:51

In the interview, Chretien defended the project, reiterating his belief that Canada is responsible for storing used nuclear materials. Chretien maintains that he is simply doing his duty as a lawyer and has agreed to sign a 2019 letter when asked by colleagues at his firm.

“We have made money selling uranium, so we must help solve the problem faced by the countries that bought our uranium,” he said, adding that he believed that atomic energy was one of the solutions to combat climate change.

Chretien maintains that he has no influence over Trudeau’s decisions, despite an email sent to the stakeholder group from Denton’s attorney, Terry Didos, who described him as a “trusted advisor”.

Good news: The liberals are back! The email, sent shortly after Trudeau’s 2019 reelection, said.

Better news: Jan [Chrétien] Now he has been “appointed” by Justin Trudeau as a “trusted advisor”. … in substance, Jin will be informed of all major policy decisions in the future. ”

In an interview with Radio Canada, Chretien looked frustrated by emailing Didos and insisted that he had not pushed for the project.

“I am not his trusted advisor,” he said, adding that he had only met Petrodu several times. “I don’t want to be a lobbyist. I told you that.”

When Dennis asked if his influence could open the doors to the project, Chretien said, “No, I can open the door for you. He can get you out.”

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