U.S. officials still trying to stop Canada’s plan to bury nuclear waste under Lake Huron
Michigan legislators are not giving up.
The Canadian federal government has all but approved plans by Ontario Power Generation to build an underground nuclear waste dump on the shores of Lake Huron but U.S. officials are still making their objections known.
On Thursday, the House passed Rep. Paul Mitchell’s amendment that prohibits American money for the International Joint Commission from being used to attend an annual Canadian water resources conference demonstrating the U.S. Congress’ opposition to the plan.
“As I have long said, building a nuclear waste repository along the shore of Lake Huron is nothing short of irresponsible,” said Mitchell in a press release following the decision to pass the amendment. “A failure at this site would have devastating impacts on Michigan and Canada, who both rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, tourism, and commerce.”
Since taking office, Mitchell has raised objections to a fiercely debated plan to build what is called a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) under the Lake Huron basin.
But the fight to stop it has been going on for 14 years. So long many of the Michigan lawmakers who came out in opposition of it have completed their terms and passed the baton of opposition on to their successors including Mitchell, who won the U.S. House of Representatives 10th District seat after Candice Miller stepped down.
“Our state’s greatest natural treasure is its water,” Hertel said, in an editorial he penned for The Macomb Daily. “While many states in the western half of the country face frequent droughts and must constantly work to keep necessary vegetation alive, Michigan is surrounded by the world’s largest source of fresh water. There is pride in this: we rely on our water for tourism as well as agriculture purposes. Yet a proposal by OPG would store nuclear waste less than a mile from the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. My predecessor, state Rep. Sarah Roberts, and state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) both testified in Canada against the proposal (2013) and I am asking the people of this state to continue to prevent this potential catastrophe from happening.”
In addition to Michigan lawmakers, more than 150,000 people have signed petitions and 187 communities representing 22 million people have passed resolutions opposing the plan.
What has been debated for decades is the construction of an underground permanent burial facility for all of Ontario’s low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine, Ont.
That’s less than a mile inland from the shores of Lake Huron and about 440 yards below the lake level. Kincardine, a small community about 114 miles upstream from Port Huron, agreed to have the facility in their town but will be financially compensated. Many of the residents in the area are also likely to benefit from the employment created by its construction.
Once the DGR is in place, an estimated 52 million tons of nuclear waste will be shipped to the site from other nuclear plants around Canada. Some of those discarded materials will remain toxic for more than 100,000 years as they are stored in limestone caverns. Once full, the shafts are to be sealed with sand, clay and concrete.
OPG has assured the residents and the public that “Years of scientific research have shown that the geology under the Bruce nuclear site is ideal for a DGR; it is some of the tightest rock in the world, impermeable limestone that has remained intact through 450 million years, multiple ice ages and glaciers.”
The three sites Fernandez is referring to are the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico and two German sites, Asse II and Morslenben, both former salt mines.
The WIPP nuclear waste dump was supposed to contain its deadly waste for 10,000 years. Despite scientific assurance to the contrary, a mere 15 years into WIPP’s operational phase, a container exploded, spewing its deadly contents up to the surface, contaminating 22 workers and traveling into the biosphere and down to the next town.
“That means DGRs have a 100 percent failure rate,” Fernandez said. “Even if this new location appears safe, why risk the largest source of fresh water on the planet?”
As a result, OPG spokesperson Kevin Powers said the agency will now present a draft report with recommendations for public comment to be followed eventually by a final recommendation to Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
“We expect the minister’s decision before the end of 2017,” Powers said, in the Free Press report.
Among the Canadian officials upset by the latest development and whose city borders Lake Huron and the St. Clair River is Sarnia’s Mayor Mike Bradley.
“He said the approval agencies are going through what he calls the ‘bureaucratic shuffle,’ which he describes as a ‘well-known dance where the die is cast for approval, but by putting conditions on an approval’ what actually being sought is political cover,” according to the Free Press report. “At the end, the (Justin) Trudeau government will have to make the decision. If it is for approval for the (repository), then they will have to live with the consequences of the decision,’ he said.”
The latest decision was reached after an independent joint review panel, sent the OPG a series of questions to answer about emissions, construction, gas pressure, greenhouses gases and seismic factors, as well as alternate locations. The panel was satisfied with the response by OPG but critics of the plan, including SOS Great Lakes, which sent a letter to the agency saying the OPG response to the questions were vague and contained a lot of information that was wrong and dismissive of the risks. OPG alternate sites also seemed to be randomly chosen for the sake of being chosen, as they included at least one area that was highly populated.
Though limited in scope, the passage of Mitchell’s amendment demonstrates that Michigan legislators are willing to escalate their efforts to stop the plan.