POLITICS

Delay in nuclear waste decision sign burial plan politically fraught: critics

06/10/2015 02:52 EDT | Updated 06/10/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A delay in deciding whether to approve plans to bury hazardous nuclear waste near Lake Huron until after the federal election is a sign of just how politically fraught the project is, opponents say.

In a statement this week, U.S. congressman Dan Kildee said he would use the additional time to keep pressing for an alternative to the proposed site.

"This delay until after Canada's next election clearly demonstrates that this project is controversial, both in Canada and the U.S.," Kildee said.

"I hope that Canada considers a different location for a site."

A Canadian environmental assessment concluded last month that burying hazardous nuclear material near the shore of Lake Huron in a deep underground bunker is the best way to deal with the waste. The 430-page report on the deep geological repository or DGR found little risk to the lake as multiple critics have argued.

Under the legislation, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq had until Sept. 3 — around the time Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to call the next federal election — to decide whether to approve the plan and, if so, under what conditions.

Instead, Aglukkaq announced she was moving the decision back by 90 days, until Dec. 2 — well after the vote.

Beverly Fernandez, with the group Stop The Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, said Canadians deserve to know where members of Parliament stand on this "intergenerational non-partisan" issue.

"What better time than during our federal election?" Fernandez said Wednesday.

For her part, Aglukkaq said the delay is simply to provide more time for interested parties to comment on a list of conditions the government might impose should she green-light the project.

"We believe that the public should be given adequate opportunity to comment, and comments received will be taken into account for the final decision," Aglukkaq spokesman Ted Laking said in an email Wednesday.

Among possible conditions: Ontario Power Generation would have to ensure its actions to mitigate environmental damage are informed by the "best available information and knowledge." It might also have to report annually on any corrective action should its "predictions of environmental effects prove to be inaccurate or the mitigation measures prove not to be effective."

The proposal from the OPG calls for permanently storing hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of so-called low and intermediate level nuclear waste in bedrock 680 metres underground near Kincardine, Ont. The site at the Bruce nuclear plant would be about one kilometre from Lake Huron, and close to where the radioactive waste is now stored above ground.

OPG, which is currently in talks with area aboriginals to win their support, 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.

Unconvinced, more than 150 communities, many in the U.S., have passed resolutions opposing the plan. They include cities such as Chicago and Toronto.

"Surely in the vast land mass that comprises Canada, there must be a better place to permanently store nuclear waste than on the shores of Lake Huron," Kildee said.

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, co-chairman of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force, recently urged President Barack Obama to press Ottawa to delay approval of the project and let the independent International Joint Commission that oversees the lakes look at the proposal.