Bury Nuclear Waste Beside the Great Lakes? Bad Idea!

by fraserberry on Septembre 25, 2015 - 11:57pm





Bury Nuclear Waste Beside the Great Lakes? Bad Idea!

Written by: Fraser Berry




“The Deep” is a fascinating report written by Charles Wilkins that was published Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business. The report summarizes Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) sly plan to free themselves of their toxic nuclear waste storage problem. This plan involves burying waste 680 meters underground in a Deep Geologic Repository (DGR), which is located within a cozy one kilometer from the Lake Huron. OPG claims the waste will remain safely undisturbed for the next 400,000 years (the time it takes for nuclear waste to become nontoxic) in limestone that has not shifted in 450 million years. As promising as this sounds, Wilkins highlights the important fact of uncertainty as there is no 100 per cent guarantee the DGR will remain intact over the 400,000 year cool-down period. Despite the inherent risk of destroying the largest source of clean drinking water, it appears likely OPG will win their battle against the naysayers simply because there appears to be no other viable option on the table. 



Nuclear power is one of the most economical ways to generate virtually emissions free sustainable energy without polluting the environment! Or is it? Unfortunately, the nuclear process does have a significant drawback in the form of the byproduct produced - radioactive toxic waste. It is important to note that nuclear power accounts for 15% of total energy consumption across Canada; and Ontario’s 18 reactors alone supply close to 60% of the provinces electricity.  These statistics enforce the fact that Canada, and particularly Ontario, is dependent on nuclear power. Therefore, if we are going to continue to utilize nuclear power, we must have a clear path forward on how to safely manage and store these unique hazards in a socially responsible and environmentally friendly way.

It is clear that Wilkins is not on board with OPG’s DGR project based on the evidence he has found, and neither am I. I would argue the DGR project presents a high level of uncertainty, given the potential for contaminating the great lakes. The cool down period of toxic waste spans thousands of years. It is impossible to guarantee the protection of the great lakes over such long periods of time. Indeterminacy also exists due to the complexity of atomic energy coupled with an extremely long half-life, which makes it unrealistic to believe we fully understand what will happen in the DGR over the next 400,000 years.

In my opinion, OPG’s DGR project is just the first step in finding a suitable home for Ontario’s toxic waste. Why does the DGR have to be placed so closely to the worlds largest supply of fresh drinking water? I believe the storage of waste would be better suited somewhere a way from such a valuable natural resource.

The project appears to be moving ahead through all the federal regulatory processes, but thankfully there are several hurdles that have slowed the inevitable decision.  One major hurdle that has slowed the decision is consideration for aboriginal interests. When the British North America Act became the Canada Act, existing Aboriginal and treaty rights were formally recognized. This has forced OPG to negotiate with Aboriginal leaders in reaching decisions related to resource management. The readers might find it interesting to know that my father is currently employed by OPG and his job is to manage community stakeholder and aboriginal relations on OPG’s waste management plans. I was in favor of the project based on the “insider knowledge” I have gained over the years, but after reading articles like Wilkin’s report, it has opened my eyes to the potential disastrous consequences.

In conclusion, it is obvious that nuclear waste is a real issue and something needs to be done about it. I also believe that solutions need to be found now and not passed along for future generations to solve. The current plan poses real risks with potential consequences that could plague the world for thousands of years. If Ontario’s DGR was placed in the right location then I might be persuaded.





About the author

University of Guelph 4th year student. Environmental Governance Major. I also like Hockey, specifically the Toronto Maple Leafs.