In Canada, just across Lake Huron from
Michigan, a small town is offering to be the home of
Canada’s first permanent dump site for radioactive
material. The proposed site is a mile from Lake
Huron. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann
Colihan reports on the town’s work to
get the site and the concerns about putting it close
to one of the Great Lakes:
In Canada, just across Lake Huron from Michigan, a small town is offering to be the home of Canada’s first permanent dump site for radioactive material. The proposed site is a mile from Lake Huron. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann Colihan reports on the town’s work to get the site and the concerns about putting it close to one of the Great Lakes:
Right now, Canada has nowhere to permanently store its low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste. This waste is not spent nuclear fuel from power plants. It’s contaminated material that’s been exposed to radioactive substances. It could be anything from the protective clothing workers wear at nuclear power plants to parts from reactors, anything that’s been exposed to radioactivity.
The Ontario town of Kincardine – located about 250 miles north of Detroit – has proposed that it be the site of a nuclear waste dump.
So why would a beach town want a nuclear dump?
Kincardine is also a company town. It’s home to the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant. Eighty-percent of the folks who live there work in the nuclear industry. Larry Kraemer is the former mayor. He explains why the permanent dump is essential for the local economy.
“The Bruce nuclear power plant, which is the biggest nuclear power development in North America as well as the largest local employer and one of the largest Canadian investment in any industry that there is.”
Because Kincardine knows the nuclear industry, the residents aren’t afraid to take on these jobs.
But no one ever asked the question if burying nuclear waste a mile from Lake Huron was the best location in Ontario to put the waste site. Frank King is the Director of Nuclear Waste Management and Engineering Technology for Ontario Power Generation, also known as OPG. He says Kincardine does not have to be the best site for the dump.
“It’s not an issue of whether it’s the best. Nobody has to say it’s best. It just has to be shown that it’s safe; that it’s a good site. There is no requirement to show that it’s the best site.”
OPG already stores low and intermediate-level waste from all twenty Ontario reactors at the Bruce Power plant in Kincardine. But above ground storage is getting tight. OPG began looking at its options and with Kincardine’s “bring it on” attitude it seemed like a good place to start.
OPG paid for members of the Kincardine city council to visit nuclear waste storage sites around the world. Councillors came back especially impressed with how the Swedes do it. They bury their nuclear waste in solid granite.
But the stone below Kincardine is not granite. It’s limestone – and no place in the world uses limestone to contain nuclear waste. William Fyfe is Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of Western Ontario. He has spent decades studying geology and nuclear waste around the globe.
“Limestone can be much more porous than granite. It has no ability to absorb nasty elements, like you get with some clay minerals and things, to absorb all the dirty chemical species like uranium, for example.”
He does not like the idea of a man-made cavern full of nuclear waste near the Great Lakes.
“Just because you made the waste doesn’t mean you should put it in your backyard. There may be a better place.”
Local environmentalists agree. Given OPG’s record, they don’t trust that the waste dump will be safe. Jennifer Heisz is a founder of the public interest group, Woman’s Legacy, which is focused on the impact of the Bruce nuclear plant on Lake Huron. She says when she requested environmental records from Ontario, she found evidence that the regulators haven’t done a good job of stopping pollution at the plant.
“I received approximately 10 or 15 reports regarding leaking waste sites and the levels coming from the plant were very high – sometimes at 45 times the provincial level for chromium. Vanadium was also one of the chemicals that was contaminating the groundwater and it’s found to be mutagenic to animals.”
Heisz says if OPG is polluting at its existing dump sites, what’s to keep the agency from doing a poor job of storing nuclear waste underground? Ontario regulators say they plan to conduct an environmental assessment. Heisz and her environmental group are raising money for an independent review of deep nuclear storage. The geologist, Professor Fyfe, thinks Kincardine should hold an open house to get the opinions of experts.
“Before we start putting stuff away, let’s invite the bosses of the Swedish group to come and take a look. They are using hundreds of scientists, technicians, and engineers which we are not doing in Canada.”
Few outside the Kincardine area are aware of their nuclear waste dump plans… and fewer still know the site is planned for so close to Lake Huron.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Ann Colihan.