On a clear day, Marti McFadzean can see the Bruce nuclear plant from her home in this cottage town on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, where she had summered since childhood and has now retired.
Ms. McFadzean was never too concerned about the proximity of a nuclear plant to her family’s tranquil summer retreat, where five generations have gathered since 1928. But this summer, the former school administrator interrupted her retirement to become a full-time NIMBY activist.
She and many of her neighbours along Lake Huron’s eastern shore are campaigning against a $1-billion plan by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in a deep geologic repository (DGR) at the Bruce site, a facility that would be built just two kilometres from her home and only a kilometre from the lake itself.
For nuclear power producers, the Bruce DGR represents part of a long-term answer to a thorny problem that has dogged the industry since its postwar inception: what to do with the radioactive waste that will remain dangerous long after the reactors are gone, in some cases for hundreds of thousands of years. In fact, OPG is currently storing low- and intermediate-level waste at ground level at the site, but it wants a permanent solution.
The utility’s disposal plan and a parallel proposal to build a high-level nuclear waste repository are fuelling fears across the region known as “Ontario’s West Coast.” In cottage-friendly towns like Inverhuron, Kincardine, Tiverton and Saugeen Shores, neighbours have taken opposing sides. Lawn signs proclaiming, “No Nuclear Waste Dump” and “Save Our Shores” sprouted like weeds this summer, and at public meetings prominent speakers have declaimed against the risk of contaminating the Great Lakes, which provide drinking water for 40 million people.
“We’re not anti-nuclear,” Ms. McFadzean said in interview over coffee at Inverhuron’s Cottage Groceries & Restaurant. “We’re just saying: Do it right. If you bury the waste, it is going to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ but remain there for generations.”
Opposition has also sprung up on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. Towns in Ohio have passed resolutions against the plan, while Michigan’s State Senate unanimously endorsed a motion opposing a nuclear waste repository on the shores of the lake it shares with Canada. State Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood, who spearheaded the opposition there, plans to speak against it at hearings in Ontario.
Critics like Ms. McFadzean are gearing up for the hearings, which begin Monday in Kincardine, after which a federal review panel will make its recommendation. The panel will assess whether it is safe to bury as much as 200,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste some 680 metres under ground, in limestone that OPG scientists say is highly impermeable and has not moved in a million years. For the intermediate-level waste – a small fraction of the total – it will take 100,000 years for the radioactivity to break down to safe levels.
As the provincially owned OPG pursues its site for low- and intermediate-level waste, a federally appointed body is slowly proceeding with plans to build a permanent underground storage site for high-level waste – mainly the spent fuel rods that are now stored in pools at each reactor site. Bruce County municipalities such as Saugeen Shores, as well as others around the country, are vying for the right to host that site – to the anger of some residents.
Saugeen Shores resident Beverly Fernandez leads a protest group called Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, which paid for a billboard this summer on Toronto’s busy Queen Elizabeth Way, decrying the plan to bury nuclear waste near the Great Lakes as a “bad idea.”
She has worked tirelessly against the DGR – devoting, in her own words, “seven days a week, every waking hour and many sleepless nights.” At a recent town hall at Wayne State University in Detroit, she described the OPG proposal in apocalyptic terms. “To permit the burial of radioactive nuclear waste right beside the Great Lakes is a crime against humanity, a crime against the Earth and a crime against future generations,” she said to a standing ovation.
In an interview, she complained that OPG never looked for an alternative site and short-circuited the process by focusing only on the Bruce site. She also noted that some international sites have had water problems.
OPG insists the repository will be secure and will be monitored for up to 300 years. “We’ve been extremely conservative in our approach,” spokesman Scott Berry said during a visit to the Bruce site. “We have to assure ourselves, the public and the regulator of the safe handling and storage of the waste.”