A proposal to bury tonnes of radioactive waste in a bunker near Lake Huron has moved a step toward a decision on whether the multibillion-dollar project can proceed.
Federal authorities say they are satisfied Ontario Power Generation has provided additional information they had asked for about the project.
In a notice to interested parties this week, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said it would now begin drafting a report to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who will have final say over the deep geologic repository. The agency will also update any conditions it thinks should be imposed if the plan gets the go-ahead.
The agency said the public will get a chance to comment on both the draft and any conditions before McKenna makes her decision, now expected by the end of the year. It also said it plans to have its draft report available sometime this summer.
The contentious proposal, years in development, has drawn the ire of scores of communities that argue it is irresponsible to bury the low– and mid-level nuclear waste at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont. They worry about the danger the material – hazardous for thousands of years – could pose to Great Lakes drinking water.
In 2015, an independent joint review panel concluded the Bruce site was appropriate, putting the ball in the federal government's court. However, Ottawa has repeatedly delayed making any decisions.
Last year, the agency requested information on other possible sites to bury the waste but was dissatisfied with OPG's initial response and requested further information. The utility provided the additional data last month.
OPG, which insists the proposal is safe and the best long-term storage option, said Tuesday the new information shows that building a storage facility elsewhere in Ontario would be more damaging to the environment, drive costs significantly higher, and cause years of delay – without offering any safety benefits.
Critics, however, are far from persuaded the utility has provided meaningful information to the government.
In a letter to the agency, the group SOS Great Lakes says the OPG report contains information that is wrong, vague and dismissive of the risks. The group also repeats its opposition to what it calls a "dangerous and deeply flawed" project, and criticizes the "political process" involved in getting Kincardine in midwestern Ontario to act as a "willing host."
"We find that OPG has in no way strengthened their case," the letter states. "The fundamental flaws are still there in the additional information."
Currently projected to cost about $2.4-billion, the proposal calls for burying hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste 680 metres below ground in a rock bunker located about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron.
OPG argues the rock is geologically stable and would provide a hermetic seal to prevent any radioactivity reaching the lake for tens of thousands of years.
However, communities and environmental groups on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border argue such a facility could threaten drinking water for millions of people. Several American politicians have called on both the Canadian and American governments to intervene to stop the project.