Growing opposition to proposed nuclear waste dump in Canada

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) relied too much on the support of Kincardine town council when the company decided to bury nuclear waste near the town, First Nations representatives have told a federal Joint Review Panel.

OPG proposes to bury 200,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in 31 caverns at a depth of 680 metres near Lake Huron despite growing opposition in nearby areas of Canada and the US.

"To this point I must be absolutely clear," Chief Randall Kahgee of the Saugeen Ojibway Nations (SON) told the panel. "Kincardine cannot speak for us or our territory in these matters. We must speak for ourselves, and this must be recognized not only by OPG, but by governments as well."[1]

While the town of Kincardine invited the nuclear waste site to the area, SON was left out, Kahgee said. "We played no role. Largely, these processes operated under a policy of exclusion where we've been left on the outside looking in at our own territory."[2]

Kahgee said: "Our people are being asked to accept this project in the heart of our territory, and to accept the risk of the project forever. If we do not proceed thoughtfully and with care and caution, we will only shift our burden to future generations and subject them to permanent risk."

Kahgee said the SON is working to re-establish a fishery, and is highly dependent on tourism. Both those enterprises could be stigmatised if the public isn't persuaded that the nuclear waste site is safe, he said.

OPG has now promised that it won't proceed with the nuclear waste project without SON's support. Kahgee said SON is willing to work toward a solution to the waste storage issue, but the formal brief submitted with his presentation to the federal panel underlines that the process may not be speedy. The brief states: "SON and OPG must now build on the commitment to work together on a new model for decision-making in SON territory. This will not be a quick or easy process. ... SON communities do not currently have confidence in OPG's assessment of the potential impacts and risks of the [Deep Geological Repository] project."[3]

Growing opposition

In additional to local citizen opposition, numerous NGOs have been actively working to stop the dump plan including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) in New Mexico, Northwatch, Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Nukewatch (Wisconsin), the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Durham Nuclear Awareness, US Beyond Nuclear, Save Our Shores, and the Toledo Coalition for Safe Energy.

In his testimony to the federal panel, Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear focused on the inadequacy of OPG's environmental assessment of cumulative impacts, as well as synergistic effects, of radiological and toxic chemical hazards in the Great Lakes bio-region caused by nuclear power facilities, as well as other dirty, dangerous and expensive energy industries, such as fossil fuel burning power plants.[4]

Gordon Edwards from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility questioned OPG's assurance that a repository would be secure for a million years. "The great lakes were not even here 10,000 years ago and the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years," Edwards told Kincardine News. "We have become a bit arrogant in thinking we can predict the future over such time scales."[5]

The dump proposal is expanding even before it has been approved. OPG recently said it plans to dispose of reactor decommissioning waste in the dump even though that waste is not considered in its application documents. The Canadian Environmental Law Association wants the federal panel to adjourn indefinitely until OPG can come up with a new plan that takes into account its long-term decommissioning plans.[6] Then there is the potential for new reactors, generating still more radioactive waste − and eventually still greater amounts of decommissioning waste. OPG acknowledges that waste from future reactors could also be disposed of at the planned site.

Last but not least, there is high-level nuclear fuel waste − a separate, less advanced process is in train to secure a disposal site for high-level waste. Thirty-one Canadian and US environmental and public interest groups have lodged a 'Request for Ruling' with the Joint Review Panel asking for clarification on whether or not high-level nuclear waste could be dumped in the planned repository near Lake Huron.[10]

A consultant hired by the federal panel criticised the way in which OPG had calculated the dump's environmental impact. Peter Duinker didn't comment on the merits of burying nuclear waste next to the Great Lakes. But he said OPG's analysis of why it should be allowed to do so was neither credible nor reliable.[6]

In towns along Ontario's West Coast, lawn signs proclaiming, "No Nuclear Waste Dump" and "Save Our Shores" have sprouted like weeds according to the Globe and Mail. On the US side of the Great Lakes, towns in Ohio have passed resolutions against the plan, while Michigan's State Senate unanimously endorsed a motion opposing a nuclear waste repository on the shores of the lake it shares with Canada.[7]

The role of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has also come under question. CNSC president Michael Binder met in 2009 with pro-development mayors in the region. Notes taken of the meeting by a municipal employee, later obtained under the Access to Information Act, describe Binder as telling the mayors that he next hopes to see them at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the waste dump. "The CNSC seemed to think its role was to promote the project and make people feel good and safe about it," said Pat Gibbons, a retiree in Saugeen Shores.[7]

Police intimidation

Ahead of federal panel hearings into the OPG nuclear dump plan, Ontario Provincial Police phoned and visited people who planned to testify. One of those visited was Beverly Fernandez, an organiser with Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump. Police asked if a protest was planned and told her that numerous undercover police would be attending the hearing. Fernandez said: "I wasn't intimidated because I'm not easily intimidated … but others were." Even the Nuclear Safety Commission says it was dismayed by the police tactics. Director general Patsy Thompson said: "The CNSC considered that such actions by the [police] would be perceived as harassment and intimidation."[8]

US witnesses were also contacted. Ohio resident Michael Leonardi says police phoned wanting to know if any protests were planned. Leonardi said: "[The police officer] said there was some possibility that organizations like Greenpeace might demonstrate and that police didn't want any fatalities."[9] No matter that no Greenpeace protest has ever resulted in a fatality.

"I couldn't help but think the call was meant to deter me from testifying," Leonardi said.

[1] John Spears, 25 Sept 2013, 'First Nations must speak for themselves, nuclear hearing told',
[2] John Spears, 20 Sept 2013, 'Nuclear waste: Hearings raising lots of new questions'
[3] John Spears, 16 Sept 2013, 'Securing approval for nuclear waste site won't be 'quick or easy process': First Nations',
[4] Beyond Nuclear, 26 Sept 2013, 'Momentum building of international opposition against OPG DUD',
[5] Steven Goetz, 23 Sept 2013, 'Radioactive waste will need attention, low-level Kincardine DGR panel told', Kincardine News,
[6] Thomas Walkom, 19 Sept 2013, 'Planned Ontario nuclear waste dump hits heavy weather',
[7] Shawn McCarthy, 12 Sept 2013, 'How Ontario plans to deal with tonnes of nuclear waste: Bury the problem', The Globe and Mail,
[8] Colin Perkel, 24 Sept 2013, 'OPP should stay out of homes of nuclear waste opponents: Editorial',
[9] Thomas Walkom, 22 Sept 2013, 'OPP quizzing U.S. witnesses too at Lake Huron nuclear waste hearing',
[10] Beyond Nuclear, 3 Oct 2013, 'Resolutions, legislators, and petition signatures against Canadian Great Lakes radioactive waste dump!',

More information:

Sign the petition opposing the Lake Huron nuclear waste dump:

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)


Areva targeting Canadian Arctic
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In conjunction with Makita, an Inuit NGO active against Areva, Sortir de Nucleaire has launched a petition against the Areva project, which can be signed at: (English) (French)

More information:

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club has alleged that Cameco is releasing toxic substances well in excess of permitted limits at the Key Lake, McArthur River and Rabbit Lake uranium mines in northern Saskatchewan. Cameco has applied for renewed mining and milling licences at the mines. Cameco denies the charges and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is assessing the applications.

'Cameco, Sierra Club face off over uranium licences for Saskatchewan mines', 30 Sept 2013, The Canadian Press,