OPINION PIECE | It’s easy to say “no” when someone wants to bury nuclear waste in your backyard.
Who, after all, would leap at the prospect of living close to high volumes of radioactive material if they thought there was any chance it could hurt them?
So it is as understandable as it is predictable that thousands of Canadians and Americans object to the plan by Ontario Power Generation to store hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste in an underground bunker at the Bruce Nuclear power plant outside Kincardine.
Topping their fears is the concern, however remote, that this waste could leak into and contaminate nearby Lake Huron — a great source of drinking water as well as a vacation playground.
But it is also true that for nearly 50 years a steadily growing stockpile of nuclear waste has been stored in what was only meant to be a temporary facility at this nuclear power plant.
For reasons of health, safety and security, a permanent solution must be found. And the only way for this to happen is for someone, somewhere, to say, however reluctantly, “yes.”
Ontario Power Generation proposes burying this waste in a bunker in bedrock 680 metres deep and about 1.2 kilometres from the lake. In May 2015, an environmental review panel approved the project.
But last February, well aware of the vocal opposition, the federal government asked Ontario Power Generation to provide information on locating the nuclear waste repository somewhere else.
That report is now in and — no surprise here — it found no perfect solution.
There are other 900-hectare sites across Ontario that are geologically suitable for housing a nuclear waste bunker. But trying to pick one would open the door to a host of new problems.
The biggest risk that a new site would pose would come from the need to truck up to 24,000 shipments of the hazardous waste hundreds, possibly thousands of kilometres to it from Kincardine.
Given the high number of shipments, there is a distinct possibility of one or more road collisions, which would increase the risk of radioactive exposure to the workers and the public.
Finding a community ready to embrace such a project would be challenging, too. In contrast, the municipality of Kincardine, which has benefited economically from the local nuclear power plant, will welcome the radioactive waste bunker.
In addition, moving to a new location would add up to $3.5 billion to the project’s cost because of the need to buy and prepare new land as well as to safely package and ship the waste.
And while the storage bunker at the Bruce Nuclear power plant would be ready by 2026, an alternative site might not be ready for use before 2055.
This is a tough issue. Ontarians benefit greatly from nuclear power, which generates more than half of the province’s electricity and without contributing to climate change. But it would be irresponsible for them to leave this nuclear waste above ground indefinitely.
Perhaps it’s time to trust the scientific experts — as hard as that might be.
And perhaps, when no solution to a problem is perfect, it’s best to choose the least-bad option.
OPINION, Waterloo Record, January 6 2017, as posted at http://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/7051956-nuclear-waste-needs-a-home/