As borders closed and lockdowns hit last spring, a group of entrepreneurs and lawyers had something else on their minds: setting up a facility in Labrador for international nuclear waste.
Plans they had for a meeting in April 2020 with partners in Japan were foiled by pandemic-related health restrictions.
The meeting was to bring together former U.S. government nuclear adviser Tim Frazier, Montreal business executive Albert Barbusci, as well as influential figures in Japan’s nuclear and public relations industries.
Emails drafted in 2019 and 2020, obtained by Radio-Canada’s Enquête investigative program, reveal they were going to discuss a secretive project to bury nuclear waste from foreign countries in Labrador.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien was a player in the initiative. Another backer of the plan highlighted Chrétien’s ties to the current Liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Chrétien has acted as counsel for the project’s promoters, who are clients of his law firm, Dentons.
In a letter Chrétien wrote in summer 2019 to an executive at a major Japanese public relations agency, Hisafumi Koga, he argues in favour of storing other countries’ nuclear waste in Canada and said he will help move the project forward.
“Canada has been the top supplier of nuclear fuel for many years, and I have always thought that it is only proper that Canada should ultimately become the steward and guarantor of the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel after its first duty cycle,” Chrétien wrote.
“I will arrange and participate in discussions in Canada, its provinces, and potential partner countries to move the concept of a deep repository in Northeastern Canada forward.”
Experts puzzled by secrecy
But some nuclear energy experts, who spoke to Enquête after reviewing the emails, question the safety of such a project and raise concerns around the lack of government involvement, and secrecy surrounding it.
“I must say I was really stunned that there is a small group of very high-profile representatives … that are coming together to form this conspiracy,” said Mycle Schneider, an international consultant on nuclear energy based in Paris.
Schneider, whose expertise is sought after around the world, said this type of project should be led by governments, not industrialists.
“We are not talking about building a garage somewhere,” he said.
“We’re talking about a highly complex project that no country in the world has so far successfully implemented and, you know, storing radioactive material.”
Schneider also takes issue with the group’s explicit wishes to keep their plans covert, considering “the dangers of the substances involved.”
The group wants to bury the imported nuclear waste in what is known as a “deep geological repository” or DGR.
The site is similar to a mine hundreds of metres deep to permanently isolate highly radioactive waste, according to Ian Clark, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Earth Sciences.
Clark, the University of Ottawa professor, agrees the region’s geology makes it possible to find “good candidate sites if somebody wanted to embark on an economic venture to store nuclear waste from Japan.”
The island of Japan, on the other hand, is more prone to earthquakes and fracturing, making it “not an ideal place to find a nuclear waste site.”
Months after Chrétien’s letter to the Japanese PR executive, Hisafumi Koga’s response in September 2019 illustrates the secretive nature of the discussions.
“As the success of the project hinges on the cooperation of all stakeholders, utmost care needs to be taken to keep the information from leaking,” Hisafumi Koga wrote, accepting Chrétien’s invitation for a meeting in Canada.
“I understand that I’m attending as a private person,” Koga said.
Takuya Hattori, who held senior positions at Tepco, the company involved in the Fukushima nuclear accident, was also to be part of the trip, according to the emails.
Koga and Hattori did not respond to Radio-Canada’s emails requesting comment.