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Teeswater resident explains why she started "Willing to Listen"

January 24, 2021

Why did I start the “Willing to Listen” Facebook page?

It’s a question I am asked almost daily, whether it be from residents curious about the process, or friends and family worried about how much I’m taking on in my free time (which let’s be honest, as a full-time shift worker with two young children, free time is a rare commodity).

And it isn’t an easy question to answer. As I’ve written, edited, deleted and re-written this post several times, I have realized it comes down to three things: truth, faith and hope. That may sound cheesy, but hear me out.

Truth: I spent many months since land deals were announced watching inaccurate information, and in some cases, just plain lies, being told to my friends, family and neighbours about the proposed Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for used nuclear fuel and the nuclear industry, in general.

As a proud nuclear operator at Bruce Power, it ate away at me, watching and listening to the inaccurate things people were saying about the industry that’s provided so many things for so many people in our community. It was very hard not to take those comments personally - “nuclear workers don’t care about our safety,” “nuclear workers are being paid to say yes to this,” “the nuclear industry is lying to us about the project to pawn off their waste,” and the list goes on and on.

Add to that the misinformation about the project itself (waste being sprayed on farmers’ fields, the DGR being a weapons factory, the potential for the DGR to explode, etc), and eventually, I couldn’t just sit here, reading those horrible statements without doing something.

I felt, and still feel, very strongly that the “other side” of this discussion needed to be heard. Not the side of “build the DGR here now” but the side of “let’s hear them out and see where this goes.” And “Willing to Listen” was born.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours scouring the Internet for any and all articles, studies and reports about DGRs, both in Canada and abroad. I’ve purchased and read several books about stigma, the death of expertise, nuclear and waste storage (with countless more waiting in my “to read” pile). I’ve attended workshops virtually worldwide, had countless phone conversations, E-mail chains and Zoom chats with both experts and “normal” citizens, alike.

I am by no means an expert and I will never claim to be, but I am also NOT only getting information from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), as some people like to claim.

Faith: Over the time I’ve spent working on “Willing to Listen,” I’ve noticed a definite “death of expertise.” Individuals who believe that doing some research on Google, scouring Greenpeace, Gordon Edwards, and other anti-nuclear activists’ pages, made them more knowledgeable than the many experts who have dedicated their education and career to the fields involved with this project.

Belief that living in their anti-nuclear echo chamber (only reading and believing “like-minded” pieces of information) automatically made their opinions correct, and the experts wrong, usually simply because they, as citizens of South Bruce, didn’t “feel good” about the possibility of burying used nuclear fuel under our community.

I have faith in science and the experts. I work with nuclear experts every single day, and they are among some of the brightest minds I’ve ever met. Do experts get it wrong sometimes? Of course they do! They’re humans! But the experts have managed to get it right far more often than they’ve gotten it wrong.

Canada has an outstanding regulator in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and I have faith that it will oversee a repository with the same stringency as it does our reactors. I also have faith that the nuclear industry in Canada WILL NOT do anything that could harm a person or the environment.

Hope: I moved here in 2009, two years before my husband and I got married and started our family here. After being raised on a beef farm in Orillia, I was uneasy about moving "into town" but quickly learned to love our small community. I have heard stories of the “good old days” when the main street stores (in the Village of Teeswater) were full, the school had high enrollment and people chose to stay here, take over the farm/family business, and raise their families here. Those things just don’t happen as often anymore.

Our main street is almost a ghost town. Our school enrollment is low enough that closing schools has been a consideration on the table for the school board. Children move away to get their education and careers (as the options are limited here), and often only come home to visit on weekends, if even that often. Our population is aging; that’s not a statement against our elderly, it’s a fact of our demographics. Times have changed. South Bruce has changed. Like it or not, it’s not going in a great direction if it follows its current trajectory.

I have hope that this project COULD change that. There will be great careers available for local people who want to stay here and don’t have the option to take over the family farm. We can ask for guarantees that locals will be trained to perform the jobs required. The infrastructure improvements, community improvements, tax base and indirect jobs from this project could change the face of our municipality.

I have hope that residents will be able to have civil conversations with their neighbours, friends and family who may not share their opinion. Open dialogue is key to this decision. I have hope that residents will just listen; not make a decision today, not accuse our community leaders of being “bought out.” Just listen.

There is this overwhelming focus on “What if this fails?” and all the fear-mongering that goes along with manipulating people into believing that failure is the only option if this proceeds. Change and the unknown can be scary; I get it. I just wish we all could take a step back from our feelings and actually try to imagine how this could look if it goes right. What if this succeeds?!

Truth, faith and hope - they’re all more powerful than fear. Listen to the experts. Ask questions to learn about the project and how it can affect our community, both positively and negatively. Eventually make a decision based on facts, not feelings.

We are stronger together. We are in control of this situation and if we are open to discussion, the sky really is the limit here. Do we kill our community because we’re scared of change and risk? Or do we give our community a chance to revitalize, and just listen? The choice is yours.”

Sheila Whytock
Teeswater

The “Willing to Listen” Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/South-Bruce-DGR-Willing-to-Listen-106721511027408

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