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“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal

Nuclear power supporters like to say, “Nuclear waste disposal is a political, not a scientific problem.” Scientists refute this slogan every day.

A case in point is the Canadian Environment Minister’s second “do over” order issued to Ontario Power Generation regarding the company’s waste dump idea. The 15-page order, issued April 5, rejected the company’s sophomoric answers to a previous “not good enough” finding by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.

OPG wants to bury 7 million cubic feet of radioactive waste in a deep hole less than a mile from Lake Huron, on its own property on the Bruce Peninsula, northwest of Toronto. It’s there that OPG runs the world’s biggest rad’ waste production complex — the Bruce Nuclear Station — eight old power reactors in varying states of repair and disrepair.

The company proposes digging 2,231 feet down into part of its 2,300-acre compound on Lake Huron, and burying all sorts of radioactive material (everything except waste fuel rods), including a “significant amount” of carbon-14, a cancer agent with a deadly radioactive “life” of 57,300 years — i.e. ten 5,730-year radioactive half-lives. After two years of public hearings into the question of placing long-lasting poisons next to a major source of drinking water, a federal Joint Review Panel in 2015 recommended approval of the project to Minister McKenna.

McKenna was to make a decision by March 1, 2016, but instead demanded better work from OPG. On Feb. 18, 2016, the Minister ordered the company to produce details about alternate dump sites. OPG submitted shockingly shabby generalizations Dec. 28, 2016, and McKenna’s April 5 reply is an understated denunciation of OPG’s obfuscations and evasions. Beverly Fernandez, founder of Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, told Clinton, Michigan’s The Voice, “OPG has been given a failing grade on its most recent report regarding burying its radioactive nuclear waste less than a mile from the Great Lakes. OPG has now been issued a strong set of new challenges to answer.”

For example, the company has the nerve to that, “All underground facilities (office, tunnel, emplacement room) will be constructed in accordance with the seismic requirements of the latest edition of the National Building Code at the time of the construction.” In fact, as the Minister’s rejection of OPG’s attempted snow-job pointed out, “There are no specific seismic requirements in the National Building Code for underground facilities…. Provide a revised version…”

A public servant doing her job

In requiring a study of alternate potential sites for deep disposal, Minister McKenna ordered OPG to make “specific reference to actual locations.” Instead, OPG tried to get away with citing two enormous geological regions that it said might be suitable. As Jennifer Wells and Matthew Cole reported in the Toronto Star, OPG’s “actual locations” covered an area of 726,052-square-kilometres — about 75% of the Province of Ontario. This blatant attempt at scamming the government didn’t fool McKenna, a public servant who is actually doing her job.

In one of OPG’s more garish displays of environmental racism, the company’s Dec. 2016 report failed to analyze or even acknowledge the land use Treaty Rights of Indigenous or First Nation peoples. Minister McKenna’s April 5 rebuke rightly demands that OPG provide “a description of the land and resource uses for the alternative locations that highlight the unique characteristics of these locations from the perspective of Indigenous peoples.

McKenna’s lengthy critique amounts to “strike two” against OPG, and the Minister’s refutation was praised by community leaders and watchdogs around the Great Lakes. So far, 187 cities, townships, counties, states and provinces in the Great Lakes Basin have passed resolutions opposing the dump. Columnist Jim Bloch in The Voice asked, “How many swings will the Canadian government give Ontario Power Generation before the firm strikes out in its request to build a nuclear waste dump on the shores of Lake Huron?” The answer may be “no more.”

As befits questions of persistent cancer agents and how to package and keep them out of drinking water for thousands of years, McKenna’s April 5 rebuke lists 23 complex and technically dumbfounding dilemmas that could doom the Lake Huron dump plan. Professor Erika Simpson at the University of Western Ontario reviewed McKenna’s critique and wrote April 7, “It will take OPG perhaps a decade to come up with all the information that is now required … given all the overwhelming problems identified.”

Beverly Fernandez summed up the opposition as well as anyone. “Given the overwhelming opposition to this plan and the potential for massive consequences to the Great Lakes, no responsible government would approve a plan that endangers the drinking water of 40 million people, and a $6 trillion Great Lakes economy.”

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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