TORONTO – A Canadian environmental assessment concludes burying hazardous nuclear material near the shore of Lake Huron in a deep underground bunker is the best way to deal with the waste.
The report on the proposed deep geological repository or DGR – released late Wednesday – finds little risk to the lake as multiple critics have argued.
The 430-page report concludes “the relative position of the proposed project within the spectrum of risks to the Great Lakes is a minor one, albeit one that demands strict attention and regulation.”
And it says the project “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”
The proposal by Ontario Power Generation calls for hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of so-called low and intermediate level nuclear waste to be buried 680 metres underground in the bedrock at the Bruce nuclear plant near Kincardine, Ont.
Proponents argue the rock is geologically stable and would provide a hermetic seal to prevent any radioactivity reaching the lake about 1.2 kilometres away for tens of thousands of years.
While more than 152 communities have condemned the plan – many in the United States – the panel rejected one big concern: that the repository could also become home to the most dangerous high-level waste: the spent nuclear fuel that powers the reactors.
“A used fuel repository would have distinctive design requirements different than the DGR and would require a separate environmental assessment and licence application,” the report states.
Critics, however, were not persuaded.
Beverly Fernandez, with the group Stop The Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, expressed deep disappointment with the panel’s recommendation that the project be approved.
“This is an inter-generational, non-partisan issue that affects millions of Canadians and Americans,” Fernandez said.
“It is a decision that will affect the Great Lakes for the next 100,000 years (and) the last place to bury and abandon radioactive nuclear waste is beside the largest supply of fresh water on the planet.”
Keith Hobbs, the mayor of Thunder Bay, Ont., on the north shore of Lake Superior, says he is “deeply dismayed” over what he calls a short-sighted decision.
“We owe future generations a safe water supply and have a responsibility to protect these assets. This decision cannot guarantee that, and that is a damn shame.”
The report concludes the “international consensus” is that burying the waste is preferable to storing it above-ground, as OPG has done for decades at the Bruce site, because the repository would be less vulnerable to natural and human-caused disasters.
It urges burying the waste as quickly as possible.
The panel’s recommendation has been given to the federal environment minister, who has four months to decide whether to approve the plan.
Also required will be consultations with area First Nations as well as further approvals before construction itself can begin – which OPG hopes will happen in 2018 – with operations slated for 2025.
The report emphasizes the importance of effective and honest communication with people to allay their fears.
“Resolution of public concerns and anxiety regarding the project will rely not only on science, but on true engagement with citizens,” the report states.