Ontario energy company ends plans to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Canadian energy company Ontario Power Generation has announced that it will "develop an alternate solution" to a controversial plan to store nuclear waste underground near Lake Huron.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, called Friday's decision a "huge victory" seven years in the making on his Twitter page. He posted a letter he, the late U.S. Rep. John Dingell, former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, and Sen. Gary Peters wrote to Canadian authorities reviewing the project, in which the four expressed "significant concern" with having nuclear waste stored "less than a mile from Lake Huron."

In the end, it was the vote from the Ojibway Nation, not Canada's neighbor to the south, that halted the project. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township

Kildee wrote on Twitter: "I have great respect for the Saugeen Ojibway Nation and United Tribes of #Michigan, whose opposition to this proposed Canadian nuclear waste site made this day possible. I thank them for their unwavering support to protect our environment and shared #GreatLakes."

In Friday's vote, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation overwhelmingly disapproved the project. Of the 1,228 non-spoiled ballots that were cast, 1,058, or 86%, voted no.

"This vote marks a historic exercising of our aboriginal and treaty right and free, prior and informed consent in our territory," read a statement from the nation. "The communities have voted against the (project)."

"OPG respects the decision of SON members," said OPG CEO and president Ken Hartwick, in a statement Friday, after the nation's vote was announced. "We will now move forward to develop an alternate solution."

"SON will now begin working closely with OPG and others in the nuclear industry to find an acceptable solution for the waste," its statement concludes. "This process may take many years." 

The waste plan was opposed by Michigan lawmakers for years. In 2017, six Michigan U.S. House members joined representatives from other Great Lakes states in asking Donald Trump’s administration to try to stop a controversial Canadian plan for disposing nuclear waste near Lake Huron.

2017:Lawmakers ask Trump to stop Canadian disposal site

More than a dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers signed a letter that called on President Donald Trump to oppose a long-gestating proposal to build an underground storage facility for low- to mid-level nuclear wastes near the shore of Lake Huron. OPG had sought approval of the project since 2005, but in 2013 said it would not build the Deep Geologic Repository, as the project was called, at the site if it were opposed by the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.

Previously, OPG had argued that going in a different direction would be too costly.

“The studies show that relocating the (deep geologic repository) to an alternate location would result in increased environmental effects and significant incremental costs, with no assurance of increased safety to workers and the public, or protection of the environment,” OPG said in 2017.

More:Ontario study: Other sites too costly to store waste

Even as it announced it would not pursue the Deep Geologic Repository project, the energy company touted its virtues. The project would have been built (2,230 feet below ground) in strong, dry and impermeable rock that has been isolated from the lake or any groundwater for hundreds of millions of years." 

And both the tribe and the energy company acknowledge that the waste does have to be stored somewhere.