OPG withdraws its application to build low-level nuclear waste repository near Lake Huron

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KINCARDINE – News last week that Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has withdrawn its application for a construction licence filed with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to build a deep geological repository (DGR) in Kincardine on the shores of Lake Huron was welcome news to local and area residents.

“What wonderful news,” stated Mike Wilton of Dominion Bay, responding to the news last Friday. “Brennain, I credit you most of all. You were the glue that held us all together. Every once in a (long) while, something goes right!”

“This is totally great news,” stated Brennain Lloyd of North Watch. “The good news is now official! (OPG) has withdrawn their application for the proposed DGR for low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes that they had intended to construct beneath the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine, and today (June 26) the ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced that they had ‘terminated the environmental assessment process of the designated project at the request of the proponent.’” 

“The minister of Environment and Climate Change has terminated the environmental assessment of the (DGR) for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste project (the Project) pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. OPG notified the minister that it also wishes to terminate the federal environmental assessment for the project,” a release notes.

With that, OPG’s more than 16-year pursuit of a deep underground repository to store almost a half-mile underground radioactive waste from its 20 nuclear reactors comes to an end—at least at the controversial location by Lake Huron, reported the Detroit Free Press in its June 24 edition. 

Despite OPG’s repeated assurances that the repository would be a completely safe, long-term waste storage solution, there was a great deal of opposition to the project—nearly unanimous in Michigan. Most cited the potential, however small, of the Great Lakes—the drinking water source for more than 40 million people on both the US and Canadian side—becoming contaminated with radiation.

On January 31, Saugeen Ojibway Nation, close to the proposed site, overwhelmingly voted against the DGR in a community referendum. OPG had pledged since 2013 that it would not continue to pursue the project if it didn’t have SON’s support.

“That vote really decided the matter,” Fred Kuntz, OPG’s senior manager of corporate relations and projects told the Free Press. The scrapped repository plan means OPG must still find a long-term solution for the nearly 3.2 million cubic feet of low- to intermediate-level radioactive waste it has stored above ground at its Bruce generating plant. Mr. Kuntz told the Free Press alternatives are under consideration, including perhaps pursuing another underground repository in another location. But a repository would not be forced on an unwilling host, he said. 

“This all comes about because of the vote taken January 31, when SON said no to the plan,” Ms. Lloyd told the Recorder. “As far back as 2013 at hearings, OPG said it would not move forward without the support of SON. OPG has been flooding them with information since the end of January, trying to make the decision difficult.”

Ms. Lloyd said she doesn’t understand why it took OPG months to make this final decision. “I don’t know why it took them five months to write a letter to the ministry, withdrawing its application. But it is very good news.” 

The Detroit Free Press reported that the Great Lakes region could still be a long-term disposal site for Canada’s radioactive waste, and in this case, its most radioactive waste—used fuel from its nuclear reactors. The CNWMO is pursuing a deep underground repository to hold all highly radioactive used fuel from Canada’s nuclear energy industry, essentially permanently.