London Free Press – May 14, 2015: Great Lakes mayors have “serious concerns” about a federal review panel’s report green-lighting a proposal by Ontario’s power producer to bury nuclear waste deep below the province’s Bruce Peninsula.
And one mayor, Sarnia’s Mike Bradley, said Thursday he questions whether the federal government has the “moral authority” to decide the issue so late in the game, with a federal election due by October.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, in a written statement, suggested the federal review panel “has more work to do, especially with regard to considering other possible locations.”
The review panel last week recommended the federal environment minister issue a construction permit to Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to store low- and medium-level nuclear waste underground, in a storage vault more than half a km underground near Kincardine, in the shadow of the Bruce nuclear plant.
On both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, the proposal has come under sharp criticism by cities and environmentalists fearful it could menace the drinking water supply in the Great Lakes basin.
“The big issue is whether it makes sense to put it so close to one of the largest bodies of surface fresh water in the world that is the source of drinking water to over 40 million Canadians and Americans without considering other possible locations,” said the coalition of 142 Great Lakes municipalities.
The group stressed “caution and patience” before the government makes a decision, adding “an accident would cause irreparable, if not life-changing damage to fresh water that serves 40 million people.”
The coalition, including Chicago and Toronto, has been vocal in opposing OPG’s proposal to bury 200,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste from Ontario’s Pickering, Darlington and Bruce nuclear plants.
The environment minister has until September to decide whether to issue OPG a construction permit.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley, whose community is part of the coalition, said Thursday he’d like to see the deadline extended past the federal election due by October.
He said opposition has been growing since the report was released and “I expect leading up to the election it’s going to be a significant issue.”
The issue is also becoming a political hot potato in the U.S. where Great Lakes communities are asking Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama to talk to the Canadian government.
Sarnia will hold a meeting of the coalition for the first time next month. While the nuclear issue isn’t on the agenda, “it would be impossible for it not to be discussed,” Bradley said.
The group has been effective in the past helping Bradley on issues including stopping the American Coast Guard from firing machine guns on the lakes and in pollution-spills issues.
“We’re an effective organization, but our only mission is to protect the Great Lakes,” he said. “This is like a thumb in the eye,” he said of the environmental review panel’s recommendation.
It was Bradley who took the nuclear issue to the group.
The only opposition was from Kincardine and the nearby area, “but the rest of the Great Lakes communities were appalled we were moving in this direction,” he said.
The radioactive waste that would be buried in the so-called deep geologic repository would not include spent nuclear fuel bundles, which are stored in pools of water at Ontario’s nuclear plants.
Last week’s report, more than 400 pages long, followed hundreds of hours of hearings into the proposal by the review panel, which also sifted through tens of thousands of pages of documents.
Bradley said scientific arguments raised against the proposal during the hearings didn’t seem to matter.
“It was like a mosquito hitting a windshield at 70 miles per hour. It didn’t seem to matter. It was brushed off,” he said.
OPG needs not just federal approval to build the burial site, but approvals to fill and operate it.
The utility has said it would not proceed without the permission of the area First Nation. The Saugeen Ojibway First Nation has already indicated it’s not in support of the plan.