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ECCC decision on proposed deep geological repository expected this summer

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has proposed to construct and operate a deep geological repository (DGR) near the Bruce Energy facility in Kincardine, Ontario to store low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated by three nuclear power generating facilities in Ontario. The low-level waste includes such things as mops, brooms and clothing, and the intermediate-level waste includes pumps, filters and other machinery. Since the 1970s, all of the waste generated by Ontario’s nuclear power stations have been stored in aboveground bunkers and vaults at the Kincardine facility.

OPG’s plan is not without controversy. The Washington Post has reported that “the plan is supported by dozens of scientists, including those who participated in a government-appointed independent review panel that approved of the plan.” The DGR would be constructed in rock formations 2,231 feet below ground surface, far below the water table. Scientists believe it is the safest way to store the waste, which will take thousands of years to decay to levels that are not unsafe for humans.

Others disagree. More than 200 county boards, city councils, and other elected bodies near the Great Lakes have urged the Canadian government to veto the plan. Thirty-two members of Congress signed letters of opposition in November 2015 and June 2017. Members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation reaffirmed their opposition in a February 2017 letter to the Trump Administration and the Canadian government, and by introducing resolutions in opposition in the U.S. House and Senate in March. Opponents assert that the repository would be too close to Lake Huron (approximately 1.2 km/0.75 miles) and therefore creates a risk to the Great Lakes if the DGR were to leak.

The Canadian government was expected to approve or deny the plan in September 2015, but deferred the decision until March 2016. In February 2016, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna requested OPG to provide more information and additional environmental assessments by the end of 2016. Among other things, Ms. McKenna requested OPG to study alternative locations for the DGR. Materials that OPG provided on December 28 in response to Ms. McKenna’s request confirmed that the Kincardine site is the best place for the DGR because the alternative sites would cost more but would not mitigate risk or provide additional security.

On December 12, 2016, the Canadian cabinet issued an order that allows the Environment Minister an additional 243 days to decide on the project, which means that a decision is expected this summer. More information about the project is available at www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca.