Senator announces legislation to review proposed nuclear waste site

By: Kevin Bunch | C&G Newspapers | Published August 14, 2015


DETROIT — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, unveiled a bill in Detroit on Aug. 10 that would require an international review of a Canadian power company’s proposal to bury nuclear waste less than a mile from the Lake Huron shore.

If passed, the legislation would invoke the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 between the U.S. and Canada, which would require the International Joint Commission to study the risks to the Great Lakes watershed and the State Department to negotiate with Canada to wait for those study results before approving a waste site.

“There are lots of other places to put that waste,” Stabenow said. “To me, it’s about taking a risk with the Great Lakes.”

The deep geologic repository (DGR) was proposed by Ontario Power Generation as a place to store 200,000 cubic meters of low- to intermediate-level nuclear waste. The low-level waste largely consists of incinerated clothes, tools and cleaning materials that should be safe within 300 years, though the intermediate-level waste — power core parts and filters — should remain radioactive for upward of 100,000 years.

Stabenow said that even though the proposed DGR would be far underground — roughly 2,230 feet deep — Lake Huron’s water table extends far down as well.

Ontario Power Generation, the company proposing the DGR, did its own study and found that the groundwater from the lake extends to about 1,312 feet, or 400 meters.

The company’s geologist, Mark Jensen, said in a YouTube video that a limestone layer where the DGR would be located does not appear to have been impacted by surface events in hundreds of millions of years, including the creation and existence of the Great Lakes.

“What we have found with these sediments is that there is no groundwater flow,” Jensen said in the video. “It’s dry and stable, and, most importantly, groundwater sources and Lake Huron would be protected.”

Stabenow acknowledged the company’s study but feels that no chances should be taken with the Great Lakes in the near and long terms.

“I don’t know why we want to take any risks,” she said. “I don’t see why it has to be next to the Great Lakes.”

Part of the International Joint Commission’s mission includes making sure neither country is taking part in activities that could cause health or property problems in the other country, and Stabenow said that it should be used to resolve this issue reasonably.

In a statement, OPG Vice President Laurie Swami said the repository is designed to protect the Great Lakes’ environment and resources. The DGR is located at the company’s Bruce Nuclear Facility grounds off Lake Huron, and the company believes burying it from there is safer than relocating it elsewhere. Currently, the waste is being stored above ground there.

According to frequently asked questions on its website, OPG has not solicited any alternative sites since the local municipality, Kincardine, has approved this one and the geology is “suitable.”

Under OPG’s proposal, the company and its successors would maintain the DGR for 300 years after it has been filled and sealed with rock and cement. After that, the company said it should be structurally sound for more than 100,000 years before it begins to collapse.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of both parties have spoken out against the nuclear site recently, and U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, previously has requested that Secretary of State John Kerry get the International Joint Commission involved to find another location for the waste.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is taking public comments on constructing the DGR until Sept. 1, with a final decision by Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to come by Dec. 2. If she approves the decision to build, she can outline requirements and conditions that OPG must follow.

The company still would need additional approval to actually put nuclear waste inside the DGR, and the company previously has stated that it does not want to go forward with construction without the approval of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation. A statement released by the Saugeen Ojibway Nation in May said that the tribe has concerns about the nuclear industry’s operations within its territory, and the protection of their livelihood and rights.

Comments can be emailed to or mailed to National Programs, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 22nd Floor, 160 Elgin St., Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H3.