Over the last few years, the United States has not had the best track record with Deep Geologic Repositories (DGR) for nuclear waste. In February of 2014, the U.S.’ DGR, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), had two separate incidents that compromised the integrity of the project by releasing airborne radioactive contamination. While most U.S. citizens were relatively unaffected by the events, our Canadian neighbors have proposed a plan to construct a DGR 0.6 miles from America’s largest source of fresh water, the Great Lakes — and the U.S. State Department is remaining relatively uninvolved.
In 2004, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) signed an agreement with the mayor of the Municipality of Kincardine that detailed the million-dollar payments OPG would make to Kincardine and four other shoreline municipalities for their support in the construction of a DRG. On December 2nd, 2005, OPG submitted a proposal to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to construct a long-term DGR for low and intermediate level nuclear waste on the Bruce Nuclear site within Kincardine. Bruce Nuclear is situated on the banks of Lake Huron — the same Lake Huron that borders the state of Michigan.
The 157-page document the OPG submitted to the CNSC outlined their plan to bury low and intermediate level nuclear waste — radioactive contaminated mops, rags, and industrial items as well as, resins, filters, and irradiated components from the nuclear reactors.
The OPG’s 2005 plan included thirty-one limestone burial caverns carved 680 meters below ground, extending approximately 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from Lake Huron. In the initial report, the OPG published a favorable community reaction:
“The results of Public Attitude Research indicate that…a large number of local residents feel a long-term waste management facility would have no effect on their level of satisfaction with the community,” it said.
Fast forward ten years, and some important public attitudes outside of the Municipality of Kincardine have vehemently voiced their opposition towards a nuclear waste dump less than a mile from one of the world’s largest fresh water sources. There are 41 million people living in the Great Lake region, and the OPG’s plan for a DGR is rightfully rubbing them the wrong way — so much so that groups like Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, the Canadian Environmental Law Agency (CELA), and the Sierra Club Canada are actively and vocally calling attention to the invalidity of the OPG’s plan, which includes a $35.7 million payment to fund construction.
In a statement to VICE, the Sierra Club’s program director, John Bennet, questioned the integrity of the OPG’s review panel, as it is full of “ex-nuclear industry officials.” He stated, “…[the panel has] never not approved a [nuclear] project.” If you are wondering why a site so close to such an important body of fresh water was chosen to store radioactive nuclear material, you’re not alone. In CELA’s assessment of OPG’s research and plans, they stated:
“OPG has not described how the alternatives to the proposed DGR and the alternative means of carrying out the project were evaluated and compared in light of risk avoidance, adaptive management capacity, and preparation for surprise…The DGR project cannot be identified as the preferred option until this has been done.”
The aforementioned environmental groups are not the only constituents fighting against the DGR. In the United States and Canada, 169 resolutions have been passed against the DGR. Further, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters have co-introduced the Stop Nuclear Waste by Our Lakes Act. The act calls for the State Department to invoke the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, mandating a study of OPG’s plan by the International Joint Commission.
Given the United States’ failure to build its own secure DGR, you would think the State Department would be concerned about its largest fresh water source’s close proximity to one. But, according to a VICE source,
“…[a representative from the State Department] said they have no plans to call for the binational review the senators are demanding.”
Above all, given the risk inherent to the generation, disposal, and storage of nuclear power and waste, it is essential we use cases like this to support the aggressive promulgation of sustainable, clean energy. Beyond the threat imposed to those living in Kincardine and the Great Lakes region, everyone along the three hour drive between the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations and the Bruce Nuclear site will be at risk while the waste is transported to the dump. Our current system is literally toxic and until citizens step up and stop millions of dollars from swaying government municipalities’ support of nuclear power companies, we will have few solutions to this poisonous problem.