Manitoulin groups attend Kincardine hearing, oppose nuclear waste disposal site

KINCARDINE—The battle between the Municipality of Kincardine town council and proponents of a proposed deep geologic repository (DGR) for the storage of low level radioactive waste within 100 kilometres of the shores of Lake Huron and opponents of the plan entered the local consultive stage this past October, with literally hundreds of groups and individuals lining up to present their cases for and against the concept before a review panel headed by chair Dr. Stella Swanson and consisting of fellow panelists Dr. James F. Archibald and Dr. Gunter Muecke. The panel has conducted 22 days of hearings on an environmental impact statement consisting of more than 10,000 pages whose summary alone runs to 60 pages.

Among the opponents of the proposed Kincardine DGR were a number of environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists, First Nations elders and other concerned citizens from Manitoulin who fervently believe the proposed project threatens the waters of the Great Lakes and the communities who depend upon its waters for both their subsistence and even their very existence.

Kincardine council passed a resolution on April 21, 2004 (Kincardine Council #2004-232) to: “endorse the opinion of the Nuclear Waste Steering Committee and select the “Deep Rock Vault” option as the preferred course of study in regards to the management of low and intermediate level radioactive waste” because it had the highest margin of safety and is consistent with best international practice.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, one of the proponents of the DGR, notes on its website that: “The surrounding municipalities of Saugeen Shores, Brockton, Arran-Elderslie, and Huron-Kinloss also expressed support for the DGR proposal. The Kincardine council indicated they preferred the Deep Geologic Repository because it provides the highest level of safety of any option; there will be a rigorous environmental assessment and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulatory process that includes opportunities for public input before construction is approved; the DGR will permanently isolate the low and intermediate level waste stream, much of which is already stored on site; it provides significant economic benefit to the residents of the municipality; no high level waste or used nuclear fuel would be allowed in the facility.”

The facility is intended to store waste such as contaminated clothing, gloves and suits and tools that need to be secured, but which proponents argue can be safely contained within the non-porous layers separating the storage units from the water table.

Many of those presenting on behalf of the Island disagreed with that perspective and challenged the assertions and science behind the foundation report’s findings.

“Women are guardians of the water,” noted Governor General’s Persons Award recipient Jeanette Corbiere Lavell, who spoke to the panel on behalf of the Ontario Native Women’s Association. Ms. Corbiere Lavell, who has spent much of her life working on women’s rights issues, said that she will be dedicating much of her remaining time on Mother Earth working towards the protection of the water. Water, she noted, is a requirement of all living things and without it we cannot survive.

That is a sentiment closely followed by Ed Burt of Kagawong, who spoke on behalf of Algoma Manitoulin Nuclear Awareness, a group that has been actively opposing nuclear power in the region for decades. Mr. Burt was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes, a limitation he admits was “a bit of a challenge” given the long history which lies behind his group’s activities and their list of concerns centred on the Kincardine DGR.

“I am definitely not in favour of any expansion of nuclear technology in any form,” said Mr. Burt, who noted that he has been “reading books on the subject since the 1950s.”

In the 1960s, Mr. Burt recalled, a proposal was made to build a small nuclear power plant at Swift Current. “It was about the same size as Douglas Point,” said Mr. Burt.

Mr. Burt noted that the plans for material slated to be secured in the over 800-metre deep nuclear vault include the Ontario Power Generation corporation’s strategy to “not do anything with it (the contaminated material) for 70 years. That leaves future generations to pay the bill,” he said.

Mr. Burt noted that his organization does not “fly off the handle” when it approaches issues surrounding nuclear power and the Kincardine DGR in particular. “We compiled the numbers we need (to make a sound case),” he said.

The evidence comes from a Great Lakes system that is already reported to be under severe stress. “We simply don’t know scientifically how to live beside a lake,” noted Mr. Burt. The very idea that we could “experiment” on the fly with something as challenging as a DGR so close to the Great Lakes chills him to his soul.

He noted that the proposed facility is already slated for expansion. “And it isn’t even built yet,” he said.

Mr. Burt challenged the concept of hiding dangerous nuclear waste out of sight and out of mind. “If I was living in a village with a mad dog, I’d want it chained in the middle of the town square,” he said. Better to keep an eye on it and ensure that it could not harm anyone. If we insist on playing with nuclear fire, and are so certain of its safety, then it should be stored along the sides of the nation’s highways and byways “where we can keep an eye on it.”

“The nuclear industry needs to stop living in a state of denial,” he said. “They need to stop lying to us.”

Mike Wilton of Providence Bay, who presented to the public hearings on behalf of Algonquin Eco Watch, had submitted questions to the panel which he said remained unanswered as of his presentation, so he encapsulated his concerns within in presentation.

“Called a Deep Geological Repository, the burial caverns (below Bruce Nuclear) would be 680 metres (2,230 feet) below the earth’s surface, approximately 650 metres (2,130 feet) inshore from Lake Huron. The wastes would be placed in caverns carved out of the limestone rock.” he quoted from the report. “This would place the caverns well below the surface of Lake Huron.

Limestone is always created in layers, which then fracture as the earth’s crust shifts. Granite is subject to pressure cracks and shifts as well. Therefore, since water always seeks its own level, there will be a tendency for groundwater to seep or flow into the caverns. It will be virtually impossible to permanently (1,000 years?) waterproof the caverns against the downward pressure exerted by the extreme depth below the watertable.”

Mr. Wilton noted that the need to pump inflowing water from the caverns is inevitable. “Deep mining, for example the Adams Mine near Kirkland Lake and the Helen Mine at Wawa, are proof of this fact,” he said. “What provisions have been made to deal with inflowing groundwater at the Bruce Nuclear site?”

Mr. Wilton used the example of the Providence Bay landfill located near his home to illustrate the issue. “Situated over fractured limestone on the Manitoulin Island, which is also part of the Niagara Escarpment, (it) provides an excellent example of the need to fully understand groundwater, as follows: The groundwater plume passes through and beneath the Providence Bay dumpsite in a westerly direction at the rate of between 0.8 metres per year and 8.2 metres per year directed towards Lake Huron, which is less than 0.5 kilometres to the west, according to a report in ‘Waters Environmental Geosciences Ltd. 2009.’ That plume carries (and will continue to carry for an indeterminate period), dissolved chemicals, metals and solids into the waters of Providence Bay, Lake Huron.”

Mr. Wilton concluded his remarks with the assertion that: “the only safe solution (which carries its own set of problems) is to store the wastes at Bruce Nuclear above ground, thus reducing exterior pressure, where leakage can be adequately monitored and subsequently dealt with. The task facing OPG will then be to ensure that no leakage from the above-ground containment facility takes place—but at least it will be possible to identify and swiftly act upon problems if and as they occur.”

Environmentalist and former Manitoulin Green Party candidate Sarah Hutchinson made a 10 minute presentation to the panel. Ms. Hutchinson prefaced her remarks that despite being against nuclear energy “since I first heard of it when I was 12-years-old” she went on to say that she hoped that Canada would become “a world leader in the safe handling of nuclear waste” but went on to say, “it is my firm belief that the proposed project in question is far from fulfilling this goal.”

“This project has serious deficiencies in the areas of goals, process, scientific forecasting and, ultimately, safety,” she said. “ On a macro scale, I believe the project goals themselves are wrong-headed. Unlike DGRs in Europe, the goal of this project is decommissioning—to create a dump. I feel it behooves us to create a facility that allows for management of the waste for as long as possible (as long as human society capable of maintaining the waste inhabit the area). Why? As my deposition will show, there are far too many unknowns to assume the waste will never require maintenance, perhaps removal. We must create a facility where the waste and its environment can be continually monitored, refurbished as necessary, and removed if required.”

Ms. Hutchinson went on to challenge the proposal on the basis of numerous caveats within its scientific analysis that she asserts do not stand up to the test of certainty needed for such a facility; the ambiguity of the proposed management regime for the site; the lack of sufficient data upon which the proposals is based; and what on the face of what has been presented an entirely inadequate regime for mitigating or recovering the material in the case of a catastrophic failure in the proposals predictions.

“Clearly, we are not ready to bury this waste in a DGR wherein the waste will not be retrievable,” she said. “Should our forecasts be so conservative as to be incorrect, or should today’s uncertainties evolve into dangerous certainties, we must be able to retrieve this waste and create a safer way of storing it over the long term. This is the fundamental difference between the current project with its final phase of ‘decommissioning’, versus a long-term ‘management facility’.”

“I believe this project is fundamentally flawed, as ‘decommissioning’ has been the premise since the project’s conception,” concluded Ms. Hutchinson. “Several ‘what if’ scenarios have been overlooked, and the Construction Management Plan must be an integral part of the Joint Review Panel process.”

The review process is now complete and the next step in the process will be the government in council’s response to the report and whether the project can proceed. Should that consent to proceed be forthcoming, the Joint Review Panel will issue a licence to begin site preparation and begin construction.

Michael Erskine