Canadian proposal for waste storage worries Great Lakes activists
Written by CBC News   
Saturday, 21 October 2006 16:07

A Canadian energy company's proposal to bury waste from nuclear power plants near the Lake Huron shore in Ontario is drawing protests from a member of the U.S. Congress and environmental activists on both sides of the border. Ontario Power Generation Inc. wants to develop an underground storage facility at the Bruce Nuclear site in Kincardine, about 225 kilometres northwest of Toronto and about 80 kilometres east of the tip of Michigan's Thumb area.

The waste wouldn't be the most potent, or "high-level" variety - spent nuclear fuel.

Instead, it would consist of "low-level" waste - slightly tainted rags, mops, clothing and bits of trash swept from floors - and "intermediate-level" waste, which typically means used reactor parts and resins and filters that purify reactor water systems.

The waste would come from the company's three nuclear power plants, including the Bruce station.

Ontario Power Generation, owned by the provincial government, says the waste would be housed in sedimentary rock 500 to 640 metres below the surface. The company says it's a safer long-term option than above-ground storage, the temporary method now used by Ontario's nuclear stations.

"Deep geological repositories have been operating safely internationally for many years," a company statement said.

But critics say the location - less than two kilometres from Lake Huron - is a poor choice for waste that will stay radioactive for thousands of years.

U.S. Representative Bart Stupak, (D-Mich.), said his staff was asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Joint Commission, a binational agency that deals with Great Lakes issues, to investigate the plan.

"You don't put any kind of dump, let alone a radioactive dump, less than a mile (1.6 kilometres) from the Great Lakes," Stupak said Friday.

Michael Keegan, chairman of the Coalition for a Nuclear Free Great Lakes, said he feared the facility wouldn't always be limited to low-or intermediate-level waste.

"I think this is the camel's nose under the tent," said Keegan, of Monroe. "Once they get this deed done, look for the high-level waste."

Company spokesman John Earl said the project is still in the planning stages and the public will have ample opportunity to voice concerns. It won't be approved unless Ontario Power Generation can convince the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission it will be safe, he said. The commission is a federal agency that oversees Canada's nuclear industry.

"We need to show there will be no effect, or negligible effect (on the environment), to the satisfaction of the regulator," Earl said.

Dave Martin, energy co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada, said many environmentalists consider the commission too cozy with the nuclear industry.

His group is among a coalition of activists pushing for Ontario's environment minister to appoint an independent panel to analyze the project. The other option is for the commission and its staff to conduct the environmental assessment.

The commission has scheduled a public hearing for Monday to discuss which alternative to recommend to the environment minister.

If the assessment concluded the project wasn't likely to do significant harm, the nuclear commission would begin the licensing process, which would take several years. The company hopes to start building the underground storage facility in 2012 and begin filling it with waste around 2017.

In a letter to the commission, more than a dozen environmentalist groups said there were unanswered questions about waste transportation, economic costs and Canada's lack of federal policy on long-term nuclear waste management.
 
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