Down in the dumps: Canadian plan to store plants' waste near Huron provokes outrage

Macomb Daily: Chad Selweski - June 8 2008

Macomb County officials are leading the charge in opposition to a proposed nuclear waste dump near Ontario's Lake Huron shoreline, upstream from the county's drinking water plants.

The Canadian plan calls for an underground repository to store waste from 20 nuclear power plants. The waste dump would be located less than a mile from Lake Huron, adjacent to a large, waterfront nuclear power site with two electricity-generating plants.

Downstream from the proposed half-mile-deep site is an estimated 35 million to 40 million people who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, in cities ranging from Port Huron, Mount Clemens and Detroit, to Toledo, Cleveland and Toronto.

"They've got to store this stuff for thousands of years without it ever leaking. If there's a leak, how do they fix it?" said Doug Martz, chairman of the Macomb County Water Quality Board. "You don't put this kind of thing in the Great Lakes basin. Who in their right mind would come up with an idea like this?"

The Water Quality Board and the county Board of Commissioners have passed resolutions opposing the waste site and county officials hope to convince dozens of downstream communities to join the fight. Martz said he seeks a united front from the Michigan congressional delegation and the Granholm administration.

The state Department of Environmental Quality has already expressed concern about the safety of the drinking water plants on Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. DEQ spokesman Robert McCann said a similar underground site, if proposed in Michigan, probably could not meet state standards.

"Obviously, any time you're talking about storing nuclear waste near the Great Lakes, we want to take a pretty close look at it and get more detail," McCann said.

Canadian officials say the site would store only waste with "low" and "intermediate" radioactivity, but authorities and environmentalists want a commitment that high-level waste, such as spent fuel rods, will never be stored there.

The "deep geological repository" would be located outside the Ontario town of Kincardine, which is about 50 miles directly east of Tawas City, Mich.

Nicholas Girard, a spokesman for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said the CEAA "welcomes public comments" from the United States about the project. He said the Canadian government is working with a Michigan-based environmental group, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, to keep connected to American concerns.

But the citizen group's director, Kay Cumbow, said federal and provincial Canadian officials haven't adequately addressed fears of a nuclear accident that could contaminate the Great Lakes waters.

"The Canadian government really hasn't done a very good job of outreach because they feel the only impact would be to the local fisheries and the local communities, such as Kincardine," said Cumbow, a St. Clair County resident. "We need full representation of the areas downstream and downwind - elected officials and citizens. We need a voice."

A lengthy review process is under way, but a recent public meeting scheduled in Kincardine was twice cancelled by the government and, when it was finally held two weeks ago, only seven citizens attended.

The project carries great importance for the province of Ontario, which generates half of its electrical power from nuclear plants and is expected to move further in that direction.

Claudia Lemieux, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Nuclear Association, an industry group, said that Ontario's 20 nuclear plants are run by a private company, Bruce Power, and the removal and disposal of used fuel is overseen by a provincial agency, Ontario Power Generation.

Under the approval process, the proposed waste site at Kincardine will undergo a lengthy environmental impact study. When that's completed, a 3-member government panel will review the material and issue a report with recommendations.

Final approval will be a federal decision by the Canadian Cabinet. The approval or rejection may not come until 2013.

To receive more information or periodic updates about the proposal, send an e-mail to Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination will hold a public workshop about the proposal on Monday, June 16, at 7 p.m. at the offices of Clean Water Action, 38875 Harper, Clinton Township.

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