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January 22, 2014

Eastpointe joins opposition to proposed Canadian nuclear waste site

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe City Council passed a resolution Jan. 7 to oppose a proposed long-term underground nuclear waste disposal site off Lake Huron in Canada.

In doing so, the city became the latest among roughly 30 governmental bodies — including the Michigan Senate and cities like Toledo, Windsor and Toronto — to publicly declare opposition to the project.

Councilwoman Wendy Richardson brought up the resolution, which was passed unanimously by all council members in attendance. She said it was part of an initiative by Michigan State Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, to get more local support opposing the disposal site at Kincardine, Ontario.

“She asked if I would do the resolution at the local level,” Richardson said. “She has successfully gotten several of them, I know, in St. Clair Shores and in a number of other communities.”

Roberts said that it could be hazardous for the environment and residents, particularly those downstream, as it is located a quarter mile from the Lake Huron shoreline.

“I first learned about this in 2007-2008, when I was a county commissioner, and when I served on Macomb water quality board, we heard that (Ontario Power Generation) was pursuing a plan where, miraculously, directly on the site of the Bruce nuclear power plant was this 450-million-year-old geologic rock formation made of shale and limestone,” Roberts said. “So what they want to do is dig this shaft 1,000 feet below the lake and store what they call low- and mid-level nuclear waste.”

Her concern stems from the rock formation including limestone, which is water-soluble. Roberts also said that the mere act of drilling into the rock formation could end up changing its integrity, creating a further risk.

“Why would we risk burying any kind of nuclear waste next to the Great Lakes?” she said. “(It) is our drinking water source, but on the U.S. and Canadian side, the lakes play such an important part of our economy. Why would we do anything to threaten that if there are alternatives? I don’t believe there is anywhere else in Canada where they could build a long-term nuclear storage.”

Additionally, Roberts said that if contamination reached the lakes, it could be detrimental to wildlife. She said fish already accumulate toxins in their fat, which gets passed up the food chain, so exposure to radioactive materials could have a similar effect.

Richardson said she has advocated for a number of environmental issues, even those outside of city limits, because of how interconnected the world is.

“I was dismayed when I found out our garbage was going into a Detroit incinerator, and this is another example of a resolution that’s not necessarily in our city, but because we’re all connected — we share the same air and the same water — I believe these things are important for us to take a stand on,” Richardson said.

According to information from the organization called Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, approximately 8.7 million people live in the communities opposing the waste dump site. It lists low-level radioactive waste as including contaminated mops and rags, but it adds that mid-level radioactive materials can include irradiated reactor components.

The organization’s website said OPG’s plan would see approximately 7.1 million cubic feet of nuclear waste spread among 53,000 containers buried over about 40 years. At the end, it would be sealed with a mixture of sand, clay and concrete, and radiation leak monitoring would cease after 10 years, with institutional control ending after potentially 300 years.

Multiple calls were left with OPG, but there was no response by press time.

Roberts said she and state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, went to Kinkardine to testify before a joint review panel in the fall, which held a month of hearings about the proposed waste disposal plan. The review panel has asked OPG for additional information, and Roberts said she is not sure how that has impacted its timetable for making its recommendation.

Once it has a recommendation, that will go to Ontario Minister for the Environment Jim Bradley, who will in turn make a recommendation to the federal Cabinet of Parliament, Roberts said.

Since Michigan has no real power or jurisdiction to demand the Canadian government deny the proposal, Roberts said she has gotten Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow involved, as well as Congressmen Gary Peters, Sander Levin, Dan Kildee and John Dingell.

The latter group sent letters of opposition to the joint review panel, Roberts said, and the senators have been asking Secretary of State John Kerry to look into the issue. She has also met with Gov. Rick Snyder’s staff on the issue, she said.

“I think that is a tremendous step to get our federal elected officials involved, because it would be the federal government that would have the most impactful conversations with the Canadian government on this,” Roberts said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.