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Decision postponed on nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron

Jun 11, 2015

The decision on a nuclear waste storage site near Lake Huron has been kicked down the road a bit.

Aerial photo of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, the site where Ontario Power Generation wants to bury its low and intermediate level nuclear waste, near Kincardine, Ontario.
Credit Chuck Szmurlo / Wikimedia Commons

Ontario Power Generation wants to bury some of its nuclear waste almost a half mile underground. It would be a little more than half a mile away from the shore of Lake Huron. All of the company’s low and intermediate level waste would be buried in the repository.

Canada’s Environment Minister was supposed to decide by September whether the company could get a construction license. But Canada’s environmental agency delayed that decision until December in order to allow for public comment.

Beverly Fernandez is the spokesperson for Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump. She says the timing of the delay is interesting.

“Because we do in Canada have a federal election that is happening in October. So it would seem that the present Canadian government does not want this to become an election issue,” she says.

Concerns about safety

Last month, in addition to Fernandez, I spoke with Jerry Keto, vice president of nuclear decommissioning at Ontario Power Generation and Vernon Roote, chief of the Saugeen First Nation. Hear what they had to say here.

Fernandez says it’s too risky to bury nuclear waste near the Great Lakes.

“There are only three deep geological repositories on our entire planet that have actually held nuclear waste, and all three of these have failed,” she says.

She’s referring to the WIPP facility in New Mexico and Asse II and Morsleben in Germany that have had major problems.

The proposed repository in Ontario is the first time this kind of facility would be built in limestone.

Neal Kelly is a spokesman for Ontario Power Generation. He says their facility is designed to last more than 100,000 years.

“It has been reviewed and peer-reviewed nationally and internationally by scientists and geologists. The data has been looked at independently and they’ve all come to the same conclusion we came to, that you can safely store this material at a depth of 680 meters deep into the ground, in rock that’s 450 million years old," he says.

What options does the United States have?

There’s a lot of opposition to the project on both sides of the border.

So far, cities and towns in both Canada and the United States have passed 155 resolutions against the deep geologic repository in Kincardine. The city of Detroit just passed a resolution last month.

Noah Hall is a professor at Wayne State University Law School. He says the resolutions do not carry legal weight. The decision, he says, is the Canadian government’s to make.

Still, state lawmakers and members of Congress are asking President Obama to step in. Hall says the United States does has an avenue to pursue.  

The United States and Canada could potentially approach the project together, under the Boundary Waters Treaty, he says. It’s a treaty between the United States and Canada that’s been around for more than 100 years.

“It’s meant to address concerns about Great Lakes and Great Lakes water protection, especially when one country is moving forward with a project and the other country has concerns or questions about it,” he says.

“The idea of the treaty is that the countries should jointly study, seek public participation and input, and ultimately explore multiple options in these controversial projects, really to keep a peaceful arrangement between the two countries and ensure we’re using the water properly.”

The International Joint Commission is the body that administers the Boundary Waters Treaty. Hall says neither country has made a formal request for the IJC to step in.