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Legislators voice concerns about Ontario proposal to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron

by Lisa Janairo ~ November 2013 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Nuclear power is the source of 19 percent of the electricity generated in the United States and 15 percent in Canada, making up a significant percentage of each country’s share of energy derived from non-fossil-fuel sources.
Producing this electricity generates waste in the form of highly radioactive spent fuel and other nuclear waste that, while less radioactive, still requires isolation from the biosphere.
The challenges of finding a site for permanent disposal of spent fuel are well known. But disposing of waste that is less radioactive can be difficult as well, as Ontario Power Generation, or OPG, is finding out with its plans for a deep geologic repository less than a mile from Lake Huron. The repository, if licensed, could open by 2018. It would be the first permanent disposal facility for radioactive waste to operate in the Great Lakes basin.
This fall, four weeks of hearings were held on the proposal before a three-member joint review panel of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Among those testifying were two Michigan state legislators: Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood and Rep. Sarah Roberts, both of whom are members of CSG Midwest’s Great Lakes Legislative Caucus.
“It’s our responsibility to look out for and protect the Great Lakes,” Hopgood says, adding that the people of Michigan — who have a huge stake in Great Lakes protection — have not been adequately informed of OPG’s plans.
“There has been no general public outreach, no general public participation process.”
Earlier this year, Hopgood served as the primary sponsor of a resolution (SR 58, passed unanimously by the Michigan Senate) that urged “careful review” of the repository but stopped short of opposing the project.
In September, Roberts introduced HCR 7, a resolution that asks the U.S. Congress to oppose the repository and to urge Canada to find alternatives to nuclear waste disposal within the Great Lakes basin.
Michigan’s federal legislators have also joined in opposition.
In October, The Detroit News reports, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry seeking involvement from the binational International Joint Commission.
The proposed repository would hold low- and intermediate-level waste from the eight reactors operating at the Bruce Nuclear Generation Station, as well as from two other nuclear power plants in Ontario. The Bruce site is the location of an existing facility at which OPG has stored the same types of waste, most of it above ground, for more than 40 years.
The repository would store the waste 2,230 feet underground in a 450-million-year-old limestone formation. It would receive an estimated 200,000 cubic meters of waste (90 percent of it low-level) over its projected operating lifetime, 2018 to 2052.
OPG estimates that after 100,000 years, the radioactivity of the stored waste would be less than the natural activity of the overlying rock layer. According to its assessment, the project is not likely to result in “any significant adverse environmental effects” or health or safety problems.
For opponents of the project, one principal concern is the proposed repository’s proximity to Lake Huron, part of a Great Lakes system that provides drinking water for 35 million people in the U.S. and Canada.
Some citizens and stakeholder groups have suggested that OPG consider sites farther from the lake. Opponents worry, too, that the site will one day be expanded to accept spent fuel. Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization has had requests from 21 communities that want to learn more about hosting the nation’s repository for spent nuclear fuel. Sixteen of these are within the Great Lakes basin, including six near OPG’s proposed repository.


Article written by Lisa Janairo, lead CSG Midwest staff person for the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus. Minnesota Sen. Ann Rest serves as caucus chair and Michigan Sen. Darwin Booher as vice chair.