Column: No nuclear waste near Great Lakes

Debbie Dingell and Fred Upton

In Michigan, we know the value of our precious and finite natural resources. The Great Lakes account for more than 20 percent of the word’s freshwater supply — providing drinking water for millions of people and supporting our economy, jobs and our way of life. It is our responsibility to be good stewards of this vital resource for our children and grandchildren, which is why the Great Lakes delegation has been consistent in our strong opposition to efforts to store nuclear waste in or near the Great Lakes.

This should never be a consideration. Yet, a Canadian utility company, Ontario Power Generation, continues to seek approval to construct a deep geologic repository for nuclear waste less than one mile from Lake Huron in Kincardine, Ontario. This misguided proposal would mean radioactive waste would be buried less than a mile from the water source that 40 million people — Americans and Canadians — depend upon.

This is unacceptable. That’s why we worked closely with our colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to include an amendment to protect the Great Lakes in legislation being considered by the House of Representatives this week on nuclear waste policy.

Our amendment sends a strong, powerful, bipartisan message to our friends and neighbors in Canada that the U.S. Congress is united against storing nuclear waste in or near the Great Lakes.

By expressing the sense of the Congress that the governments of the United States and Canada should not allow storage of nuclear waste in or around the Great Lakes, we are sending a strong signal that we will not sit idly by and allow spent nuclear fuel or other radioactive waste near this precious water source.

While this amendment is critical to Michigan and the Great Lakes, the broader bill we will consider, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018, is also important because we in the United States need to find a place to dispose of our commercial spent nuclear fuel.

Today, nuclear power reactors generate almost 20 percent of the nation’s electricity while producing an average of 2,200 metric tons of nuclear fuel every year. The total amount of spent nuclear fuel generated from the entire history of nuclear power can fit on a football field and stacked less than 10 yards high.

While this may not be a lot of material, most spent fuel is stored on-site where it is generated in wet pools or dry casks, and storage capacity is being exhausted.

This bipartisan legislation would help solve this long-standing issue once and for all by providing for the construction of a permanent nuclear waste storage facility far from the Great Lakes. It also maintains interim storage facilities to hold nuclear waste in the meantime.

This legislation is good for Michigan because we are keeping nuclear waste out of the Great Lakes, and it is good for the United States because it finally provides a pathway to dispose of this nuclear waste.

We remain committed to working with our colleagues in the Michigan delegation to ensure we never see nuclear waste in the Great Lakes. Storing spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive material in the Great Lakes basin bears a great risk. All of our lakes are connected, and the potential of an accident contaminating this precious resource is too great.

Protecting the Great Lakes and the drinking water of 40 million people should be the No. 1 priority. We’re glad that today, we can take a bipartisan step forward to preserve these waters for future generations.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional district. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton represents its 6th Congressional district.