Michigan protests plan to store millions of gallons of nuclear waste next to the Great Lakes
A Canadian proposal that calls for a nuclear waste storage facility less than a mile away from the Great Lakes is coming under heavy fire from Michigan lawmakers and environmental groups, who are now attempting to stop the project.
Under a plan crafted by energy supplier Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the company would construct a “deep geologic repository” (DGR), which would feature waste storage sites more than 2,200 feet underground to store nearly 53 million gallons of both low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. The location of the proposed site, however – in Kincardine, Ontario, just three-quarters of a mile away from Lake Huron – has drawn criticism from numerous groups who fear potential contamination.
The fact that Lake Huron is connected to all the other Great Lakes via waterways has also drawn concern, since the five bodies of water make up the largest collection of freshwater lakes on the Earth and provide drinking supplies to tens of millions of Americans and Canadians.
According to the Detroit News, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have continued criticizing the plan, and are now proposing legislation that calls on the federal government to get involved. In addition to requesting that President Obama stake out a position on the issue, state Senate and House members are asking Secretary of State John Kerry to officially ask the International Joint Commission – established to mediate disputes over the Great Lakes – to rule on the matter.
The legislation would also “stop the importation of radioactive waste into Michigan from Canada.”
“Building a nuclear waste dump less than a mile from one of the largest freshwater sources in the world is a reckless act that should be universally opposed," Michigan Rep. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway Township) said in a statement Monday, as quoted by the Huffington Post.
While lawmakers continue to get involved in the situation – Michigan’s Senators in Washington have also urged the State Department to bring the IJC into the debate – environmental groups have come out against the plan.
“Burying nuclear waste a quarter-mile from the Great Lakes is a shockingly bad idea — it poses a serious threat to people, fish, wildlife, and the lakes themselves,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, in a statement to the Detroit News.
Notably, the proposed plan has garnered the support of the most Kincardine residents and other neighboring communities, many of whom have jobs within the nuclear industry.
For its part, OPG has maintained that its facility would be a safe place to store radioactive material such as rags, mop heads, paper towels, clothing, and more. According to the Associated Press, the low-level material the company plans to bury beneath the earth would decay in 300 years, while the intermediate-level material – described as “resins, filters, and used reactor components” – would take more than 100,000 years to decay.
Despite the company’s confidence, however, one former OPG scientist recently looked at the plan and came away unconvinced, saying the radioactivity of the materials that would be buried has been “seriously underestimated.” Dr. Frank Greening wrote to the Canadian panel charged with reviewing the proposal, arguing the material is sometimes 100 times more radioactive than estimated. In some cases, the material is 600 times more radioactive.
"My first feeling was, look, you messed up the most basic first step in establishing the safety of this facility, namely, how much radioactive waste they're going to be putting in the ground, you admit you got that wrong, but now you're telling me that everything else is okay," Greening told Michigan Radio, according to Huffington Post. "You can't just fluff off this error as one error. It raises too many questions about all your other numbers. And I'm sorry, I now have lost faith in what you're doing."
Asked about Greening’s findings, OPG spokesman Neal Kelly told the Toronto Star the facility would still be safe even if the evidence bears out.
“Some of his points are valid, and were already under review within OPG for future revisions to the waste inventory,” he said, adding the DGR’s design is “very, very conservative...The safety case would still be strong, even if these factors were to bear out.”