POLITICS

Challenge to nuclear waste bunker near Lake Huron on hold until new year

07/22/2015 04:53 EDT | Updated 07/22/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A court challenge to the preliminary approval of a plan to bury dangerous nuclear waste near Lake Huron has been put on hold now until next year — well after the next federal election.

The delay means that Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq will have made her decision on whether to green light the proposed storage before the case is heard.

Initially, Aglukkaq was to render her decision by Sept. 2, but she instead moved that back to December — ostensibly to allow for public input on any conditions that should be imposed.

"The minister decided to in effect give herself more time, which took the time period until after the federal election," Rod McLeod, with Save our Saugeen Shores, said from Southampton, Ont., on Wednesday.

"We were put in a position of being required to comply with rather stringent procedural rules of Federal Court ... when the minister in fact had unilaterally delayed the whole thing to suit her convenience."

Save the Saugeen Shores had turned to Federal Court to overturn a review panel's approval of the Ontario Power Generation proposal on the grounds that its recommendation to Aglukkaq was illegal and unreasonable. The group argues the panel was biased, failed to consider Canada's international obligations, and violated Canadian environmental rules.

Approval of the billion-dollar deep geological repository near Kincardine, Ont., along with any conditions rests with Aglukkaq.

All the parties involved agreed to put the judicial review in abeyance, and Federal Court Prothonotary Roger Lafreniere issued the relevant order. Doing so also makes sense in terms of efficiency, McLeod said.

"If (Aglukkaq) decides in favour, then the judicial review in effect becomes a judicial review not just of the (panel) decision (but) of her decision."

The citizens' group now has until Jan. 16, 2016 to file its materials.

The waste proposal calls for permanently storing hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of so-called low and intermediate level nuclear waste in bedrock 680 metres underground at the site at the Bruce nuclear plant. Storage would be about one kilometre from Lake Huron.

While the company argues the rock is stable and would provide a hermetic seal to prevent any radioactivity reaching the lake for tens of thousands of years, opponents decry the plan as too risky.

More than 150 communities — many in the United States — have passed resolutions against any storage of nuclear waste near the Great Lakes.