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Plans to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron hit new roadblock

Feb 19, 2016

Credit Bruce Power / Ontario Power Generation

Plans for a nuclear waste dump site near Lake Huron in Ontario are on hold, at least for now.

The proposed Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) is the work of Canadian power company, Ontario Power Generation.

Canada's environment minister, Catherine McKenna, is now requesting additional information from OPG about the project including: alternate locations for the project; cumulative environmental effects of the project; and an updated list of mitigation commitment for each identified adverse effect, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.

"We had hoped that the environment minister would have outright rejected the proposal and just simply ended this insane scheme," said radioactive waste watchdog, Kevin Kamps. He is with the group, Beyond Nuclear, which has been fighting the proposal for over a decade.

OPG wants to bury approximately 200,000 cubic meters of low to medium level nuclear waste 680 meters – just under a half mile – below ground.

Credit Ontario Power Generation

The site is in the shadow of the Bruce Power complex, the world's largest operating nuclear plant.

It's also less than a mile from the shore of Lake Huron, a body of water that supplies drinking water to more than 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.

"We've seen what happened in Flint with lead poisoning of the drinking water – a population of  100,000; well this is a population 400 times larger than that," Kamps said. "Including, ironically enough, the city of Flint which now gets its drinking water, again, from Lake Huron."

OPG insists the limestone formation in the area is geologically stable. Kamps says the shaft OPG drills would pierce that geology and create a new water flow pathway, forming an escape path for radioactive waste.

He says a leak would spell disaster for all points downstream.

"We're talking tens of millions of people in a total of eight states and two provinces, and a large number of Native American first nations, who's water could become poisoned," Kamps said.

The proposed nuclear waste storage facility has been controversial on both sides of the border. Environmental groups have protested it; and dozens of local Michigan governments have passed resolutions opposing it.

Ontario Power Generation said in a statement:

...OPG understands the sensitivity of decisions around nuclear waste and respects the Minister's request for further information to inform a science-based decision...OPG maintains that a deep geologic repository is the right answer for Ontario's low and intermediate level waste from more than 40 years operating Ontario's reliable, GHG-free nuclear stations.

OPG must provide McKenna with a timeline for fulfilling her request by April 18.

Kamps says Beyond Nuclear remains committed to trying to stop the plans.

"We can't risk the drinking supply of 40 million people being poisoned," he said.