TORONTO — A Canadian environmental assessment of a proposal to bury nuclear waste deep underground near the shores of Lake Huron is expected this week amid fierce opposition to the idea from home and abroad.
Ontario Power Generation argues that storing the radioactive material in a huge underground bunker set in rock — the deep geological repository or DGR — is the safest way to deal with waste that is potentially dangerous for centuries.
For decades, the waste has been stored above ground at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont., and OPG says it could continue doing so safely but says a long-term solution is needed.
The proposed facility would be about 680 metres deep and close to the Bruce reactors and house hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of what is considered to be low- and intermediate-level waste from facilities across Ontario.
Stable bedrock and shale would essentially seal the facility, protecting both the surface and nearby lake for thousands of years, proponents say.
“Very favourable geologic features make the Bruce site in Kincardine one of the best possible locations,” OPG states.
“Experts agree, it’s the responsible choice and reflects international best practices.”
Opponents, however, argue no system is foolproof and any problems — especially with a facility about one kilometre from a major water source for millions of people — could be catastrophic.
While the municipality, where many jobs and the economy are closely tied to the power generator, is officially a “willing host community” for the repository, grassroots groups have sprung up in the area to give voice to those concerns.
One of them, Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, has collected almost 75,000 signatures on an online petition and is already pledging to keep fighting the plan if the review panel green-lights it.
Group spokeswoman, Bev Fernandez, argues the intermediate-level waste — components from within the reactors — is almost as dangerous as spent nuclear fuel for which authorities are also seeking a permanent storage solution.
“This Kincardine waste dump is really the Trojan horse,” Fernandez says.
“There is absolutely nothing stopping OPG from putting the high-level waste, the nuclear spent fuel, into this (repository); all it would take is a stroke of the pen.”
Opposition has also been heard much farther afield. More than 150 communities, many in Michigan and Illinois, have passed resolutions opposing such underground storage.
Earlier this month, for example, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate calling on the Canadian government to ban any nuclear waste repository within the Great Lakes basin.
“A spill of nuclear waste into the Great Lakes could have lasting and severely adverse environmental, health, and economic impacts,” the resolution states.
The report from the three-person review panel will go first to the federal minister of the environment before being made public, likely Wednesday or Thursday.
Still, a positive environmental assessment will hardly be the last word on the project.
The minister will have four months to study the report and recommendations before deciding whether to give Ottawa’s stamp of approval.
Also required will be consultations with area First Nations as well as further approvals before construction can begin — which OPG hopes will happen in 2018 — with operations slated for 2025 if all goes well.
“There have been numerous studies that have proven this repository will not put the lake at risk,” Jerry Keto, an OPG vice-president has said. “We’ve been examining this rock for a decade.”
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
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