The Washington Post updated an on-going environmental debate yesterday, highlighting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tight-lipped approach to discussing potential nuclear waste storage in the Great Lakes Basin.
The Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has proposed to bury hundreds of thousands of cubic metres in low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste about 680 metres underground about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron. The storage location site would be at the Bruce Power generating station in Kincardine, ON. The OPG identifies low-level waste as cleaning materials (mops, buckets, paper towels, etc) which have been incinerated which are expected to reach safe levels within 100 years. Intermediate-level waste would be parts of the reactor core, such as pumps and filters, which won’t return to safe levels for 10,000 years.
Early this year, the OPG was called on by government officials to research alternative sites for the repository. The company already owns the land upon which the proposed repository would be.
The Post framed their discussion on the topic with an anecdotal conversation between Trudeau and Debbie Dingell, a U.S. Democrat representative, during a visit the PM paid to Washington in March. According to The Post, when Dingell broached the topic and expressed unease with nuclear waste being stored in the Great Lakes Basin, Trudeau glossed over the question and did not provide a direct answer, stating that he cared deeply about the environment. Dingell told The Post she was frustrated and confused by the response.
Dingell was not the first to raise concerned comments over the issue.
In January 2016, the Toronto Star reported that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had been served with a petition of 90,000 signatures opposed to the plan. The Post states that “more than 180 county boards, city councils and other local elected bodies near the Great Lakes in both countries have passed proclamations urging a veto of the plan. Dingell was among 32 members of Congress who signed a bipartisan letter to Trudeau asking him and McKenna to reject it. The GOP-dominated Michigan Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on the White House and Congress to intervene under the Boundary Waters Treaty.”
However, scientists from a government-appointed independent review panel say it’s the safest method of disposal. The waste would be deposited into rock which has not moved in over 50 million years.
The Post consulted Derek Martin, a professor of geo-technical engineering at the University of Alberta and a key researcher in the development of the plan. Martin vouches for the safety of the proposal: “When you look at the geological history of the area, it’s been so benign in geological activity in the last tens of millions of years. I don’t know how you could find a safer place to put it.”
Environmental advocates question these assurances. Beverly Fernandez, of Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, and Kevin Kemp, of Beyond Nuclear, pointed out to The Post that there are three other repository sites in the world which handle nuclear waste – two in Germany and one in New Mexico, U.S. – and all of them have leaks or problems. Despite this ominous precedent, another is being built in Finland and other countries such as Sweden, Japan, and Britain are considering following suit.
“If it must be buried, bury it outside of the Great Lakes basin and far from people, far from water,” Fernandez told The Post. “One thing is for sure: We shouldn’t bury this lethal material beside the source of drinking water for 40 million people in two countries. We will never know if there has been a leak until it’s too late.”
The decision to approve or deny the proposal will ultimately be up to Minister McKenna. While she was to decide in early March, mid-February saw the government’s request from OPG for information on alternative sites. In April, the OPG stated they were “happy” to comply by the end of the year.