Lawmakers ask State to fight nuclear disposal plan

Melissa Nann Burke

Washington — A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Great Lakes states wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, urging him to stop the Canadian plan to build a nuclear waste repository less than a mile from Lake Huron in Ontario.

The letter – led by Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Dave Trott, R-Birmingham – follows a report last week by Ontario Power Generation supporting its plan for an underground storage facility for low- to mid-level nuclear waste near Kincardine, Ontario. The company has sought approval for the project for more than a decade.

Thirty-two members of Congress, including 13 from Michigan, signed the letter, saying they want the power utility to choose another location outside the Great Lakes Basin, noting that 35 million people (24 million of them Americans) rely on the freshwater lakes for drinking water.

Citing the company’s new report, the lawmakers say OPG has “doubled down” on its proposal for the site near the lake’s shore, as the company believes alternative sites would be more expensive and take longer to build.

“We cannot let cost be the sole driving factor in this critical decision, as storing nuclear waste in the Great Lakes Basin bears far too great a risk that would be fundamentally devastating to an entire region,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Any contamination whatsoever would pose disastrous repercussions as all of the lakes are connected to one another, and no barrier, man-made or natural, would be able to stop a potential catastrophe of epic proportions.”

They asked Tillerson to do “everything in your power – through both diplomatic and legal channels –” to convince the Canadian government to require Ontario Power Generation to go with an alternative site.

“Inaction is too high a price to pay,” Trott said in a statement.

“As I told Prime Minister Trudeau last year, we never want to see nuclear waste in the Great Lakes,” Dingell said in a statement. “Protecting this precious resource at any cost should be a top priority.”

In addition to Dingell and Trott, Michigan lawmakers who signed the letter include Republican Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, Tim Walberg of Tipton, John Moolenaar of Midland, Mike Bishop of Rochester, Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, as well as Democratic Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, Sander Levin of Royal Oak, Dan Kildee of Flint Township and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, did not join.

In March, members of Michigan’s delegation led the introduction of resolutions in the U.S. House and Senate in opposition to the OPG plan.

The utility’s deep geologic repository would sit 2,230 feet below the surface, where the stable makeup of the rock would be good for safely storing wastes for hundreds of years, the utility says.

The administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had asked OPG to review the possibility of relocating the project. It did, finding that alternate sites, while technically feasible, would increase environmental impacts and costs, delay the project up to 40 years and offer no added safety benefits.

Selecting an alternate site would mean as much as $2.6 billion in additional costs and delays of 15 to 40 years, considering the time and expense of constructing and licensing a new nuclear facility, and repackaging and transporting the waste there, OPG spokesman Kevin Powers said.

The company’s preferred location is at an existing nuclear facility where the waste is currently stored above ground in warehouses 100 yards from the site, Powers said.

“While price and time are factors, there’s also additional risks in any of the other proposed alternate projects around all the repackaging and transportation. All of that would add risk to the project,” Powers said.

In early April, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency requested more information from OPG regarding its comparison of three possible sites for the repository. Last week’s 145-page technical report from OPG was in response to the agency’s request.

Canada’s minister of environment and climate change is expected to decide this year whether to approve the project’s environmental assessment. OPG then has a other steps to take before proceeding, including securing a construction license and approval from the utility’s board.

OPG has also committed to not move forward with the project without the consent of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, an aboriginal group on whose territory the site is located. “We are in active talks with them right now,” Powers said.

The U.S. lawmakers noted that 186 local, county and state governments representing more than 23 million people in the U.S. and Canada have approved resolutions opposing OPG’s proposed site near Lake Huron, citing concerns about water contamination.

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