Poisoning the Well?

Poisoning the Well?

OPG moves closer to burying nuclear waste in Bruce County

Throwing the term “nuclear” into a conversation is an easy way to polarize a dinner party. Toss in “radioactive waste” and the breadth of reactions can range from horror to support for safe disposal methods.

That is exactly the type of emotional rollercoaster that has resulted from Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) project to house nuclear waste. The company plans to construct and operate a deep geological repository (DGR) in Kincardine near its existing nuclear plant to house low and intermediate-level waste for the next 100,000 years. Based on this placement, the DGR would be located about one kilometer away from the Great Lakes. Unsurprisingly, the project has received mixed reviews from local communities, though the Mayor of Kincardine, Larry Kraemer, supports the DGR.

Beverly Fernandez, a spokesperson for Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, represents part of the opposition. Just one of the issues that people have with the DGR, says Fernandez, is OPG’s lack of consideration for other sites that are farther away from a drinking source for 40 million people.

“If a municipality is wanting to place a garbage dump in Canada, they are required to look at several sites, and to choose the best site for that garbage dump. This is something extraordinarily more harmful than a garbage dump,” said Fernandez. “And OPG only looked at one site.”

The group also believes that OPG’s environmental studies are not sound, and the fear of contamination is pervasive among the surrounding communities. Academics have likewise added their voices to the debate. Most notably, Dr. David Suzuki has signed the petition to stop the building of the DGR, stating in a press release, “I am shocked that we still operate under a long discarded idea that we can solve our planetary pollution problem by adopting the practice of out-of-sight-out-of- mind.”

The efforts of OPG to bury nuclear waste are not the first of their kind. Peter Ottensmeyer, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto, explained that OPG is “part of a world-wide effort to sequester current nuclear waste in rock strata that are indigenous to various countries.”

OPG maintains that the DGR is a safe option for nuclear waste, as the site’s rock formations are geologically stable, which is crucial in limiting the movement of radioactivity. The waste will also be buried 680 metres below ground.

Neal Kelly, the Director of Media, Issues, and Information Management for the company, states that the project has been in the works for over a decade, and the process of evaluation has been meticulous. “OPG has undertaken a very rigorous Federal Environmental Assessment Process that resulted in over 12,500 pages of supporting documents,” explained Kelly. “All of our studies have been internationally peer reviewed.”

The back-and-forth between the two sides is largely based on debates over the merits of the science behind the DGR. Ottensmeyer says that this gap of knowledge exists because of the “lack of ability of people in nuclear to explain the reality of nuclear science,” and “the natural tendency of people just to turn off and stop listening when physics enters a conversation, and even more quickly when ‘nuclear’ is added.” The academic himself believes that nuclear materials “can be very usefully reused, reduced and recycled with tremendous benefits,” making a DGR unnecessary.

Fernandez echoes the need for other options, and hopes that the over 34,000 signatures on the petition so far will alert OPG that others also want a different solution. Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump recently presented their findings to the Federal Joint Review Panel, and will continue working against the DGR as it nears finalization.

“What we are saying is that this solution defies common sense,” said Fernandez. “There are other options.”