Nuclear Waste Burial in Canada? The Political Controversy over the Proposal to Construct a Deep Geologic Repository
Canada’s newly minted federal minister of the environment, Catherine McKenna, decided on February 18, 2016 to delay the federal government’s decision on a proposal to construct a permanent repository for nuclear waste beneath the Bruce nuclear site, little more than a kilometre from Lake Huron. Officially called a ‘deep geologic repository’, or DGR, the facility is the brainchild of Ontario Power Generation. While it would not store fuel rods from nuclear plants, it would take in all other types of low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes including concrete, equipment and protective gear from the continued operation and planned refurbishment of all Ontario’s 20 nuclear power reactors. While most of the studies and consultations were done when the Conservative government was in power, Minister McKenna has now delayed the decision pending more information and will seek a further extension for the review from cabinet at a later date. A federal panel appointed by then minister of the environment, Peter Kent, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission gave its overall seal of approval to the controversial proposal in May 2015. The panel’s favourable view overcame a major regulatory hurdle in the construction of the DGR however since the panel released its decision after public hearings, political opposition to this plan has only grown and spread. Critics argue that low-level and intermediate-level waste from all Ontario’s nuclear reactors should not be stored so close to the source of 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water. The proposal’s scientific and technical merits and demerits are already well documented in various reports and hearings, but more controversy is expected now that the federal minister of the environment has announced another setback to the proposal. We can probably expect more political debate and long delays.