London

OPG's plans for a nuclear dump near Lake Huron are dead, now everyone wonders what's next

Ontario Power Generation says it's going back to the drawing board after an Indigenous community overwhelmingly rejected a proposed underground storage facility for nuclear waste near Lake Huron last week.

The proposal was killed after an Indigenous community overwhelmingly rejected it earlier this month

Ontario Power Generation says it will go back to the drawing board in trying to find a permanent solution to storing nuclear waste created by activity at the Bruce Power nuclear generating station near Kincardine. (John Flesher/The Associated Press)

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) says it's going back to the drawing board after an Indigenous community overwhelmingly rejected a proposed underground storage facility for nuclear waste near Lake Huron last week. 

After a year of consultations and a number of days of voting, Saugeen Ojibway Nation announced Feb. 1 that the 4,500 member community voted "no" to the project by an 85 per cent margin.

The provincially-owned corporation said it must now abandon its 15-year campaign to store radioactive materials near the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in a deep geologic repository, a subterranean vault that would have been located more than half a kilometre underground. 

It means the radioactive waste, which is considered low to intermediate and includes everything from protective clothing worn by staff at Bruce Nuclear to the filters used to safeguard containment systems, will remain at the Western Waste Management facility near the power plant and within the Municipality of Kincardine's township boundary. 

"Now we are going to start a process to find an alternate solution," said Fred Kuntz, the OPG's senior manager of projects for the Bruce County area. 

Plans delayed 'for another generation'

Rows of chambers holding intermediate level radioactive waste, seen here in 2013, sit in shallow pits at the Bruce Power nuclear complex near Kincardine, Ontario. (John Flesher/AP)

"It means we delay implementation for another generation, but it's necessary to get to permanent disposal."

Kuntz said OPG will likely review its 2016 study looking at alternate locations for the nuclear waste bunker if the site near the Bruce Power nuclear generating station didn't go ahead.

The report didn't list any communities by name, but it estimated that if OPG were to move all of the radioactive material stored at its temporary site in Kincardine to a more permanent location, it would take 22,000 to 24,000 shipments, resulting in over a million kilometres of travel on public roadways. 

Now that the waste will likely stay put for another 20 years, the Municipality of Kincardine is keen to know what OPG's next steps are and deputy mayor Marie Wilson has requested the publicly-owned company address local council on the matter before the spring.

Hundreds of communities looking for answers

A map shows the proposed location of OPG's deep geologic repository at the Bruce Power nuclear generating station near Kincardine. (Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump)

"The waste has now been here for 40 years," Wilson said. "We need to have Ontario Power Generation come to our council meeting and explain the ramifications of this decision.

"We have a number of questions, which on behalf of the public need to be answered and Ontario Power Generation is in the best position to answer it."

Kincardine isn't the only community looking for answers. So too are hundreds of communities on the Ontario and Michigan sides of Lake Huron who are opposed to having nuclear waste buried anywhere near one of the world's largest sources of fresh water. 

"Our organization is going to remain vigilant," said Beverly Fernandez, the spokeswoman for the advocacy group Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump. 

Fernandez said over the course of OPG's 15-year campaign her group has managed to rally 232 communities on both sides of Lake Huron. Her group has also presented letters on behalf of 104 mayors and a 100,000 signature petition opposed to the project.

Drinking water for 40 million people at issue

The majority of west Saint John customers could be removed from the current groundwater system as early as February 12th. (CBC)

"We are hoping OPG, when considering their next potential site that they will keep that very strong opposition in mind because what we are concerned with is the precious waters of the Great Lakes and the fact that they provide drinking water to 40 million people in two countries." 

While those opposed to the dump may have dodged a bullet with OPG, there is still the potential for a separate proposal of a deep geologic repository in the nearby Municipality of South Bruce. 

South Bruce and Ignace, Ont., about three hours northwest of Thunder Bay, are being considered as potential sites for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

The federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization announced agreements signed in late January with local South Bruce landowners to start probing for a potential location for the vault by drilling core samples hundreds of metres below the earth in an area that is less than 30 kilometres from the proposed site of the OPG's deep geologic repository. 

"There is starting to be some concern expressed by the people in South Bruce," said Fernandez. "Putting a nuclear waste dump near the Great Lakes is more than risky, it's knowing disregard for the health of drinking water for millions of people." 

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this article mistated that Ontario Power Generation is a Crown Corporation, when in fact it is a public company established in 1999 through the Business Corporations Act and is wholly owned by the province of Ontario.
    Feb 11, 2020 12:12 PM ET

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.