Monday, June 16, 2008

Nuclear foes seek voice

Nuclear foes seek voice

Canadian plans would place nuclear plant waste a mile from Lake Huron

SPEAKING OUT: Howard Heideman, a St. Clair County commissioner, voices his concerns with the St. Clair County Water Quality Board about the dangers of a proposed nuclear dump less than a mile from Lake Huron near Kincardine, Ontario.

SPEAKING OUT: Howard Heideman, a St. Clair County commissioner, voices his concerns with the St. Clair County Water Quality Board about the dangers of a proposed nuclear dump less than a mile from Lake Huron near Kincardine, Ontario. (By WENDY TORELLO, Times Herald)

Times Herald

• June 16, 2008

In 1989, fierce local opposition killed a proposal to build a 16,000-acre landfill for radioactive waste in western St. Clair County.

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Now, with a proposal to build a massive radioactive waste "repository" on the Canadian shore of Lake Huron, Lynn Township resident Kay Cumbow is attempting to re-stoke that opposition.

"It's just insanity to put a huge amount of waste -- waste that will last for millennia -- right next to the Great Lakes," Cumbow said. "This is just a giant experiment. It's unprecedented."

Cumbow, chairwoman for the Michigan chapter of Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, was referring to the Deep Geological Repository, a structure planned by Ontario nuclear officials. If built, the repository would be beneath the Bruce Nuclear Site in Kincardine, Ontario. Buried in shale and limestone less than a mile from the lake, the 2,150-foot deep landfill will hold the low- and medium-level waste generated by all of Ontario's 20 nuclear power plants.

Though the plan is in its early stages, Cumbow said if local action isn't taken soon, residents in the Blue Water Area won't get another shot to voice their concerns.

Friday is the last day for the public to comment on the project's draft Environmental Impact Statement and the draft Joint Review Panel agreement.

"People in Port Huron and downstream should care about this because most of us get our
drinking water from the lakes," she said. Kincardine is 120 miles from Port Huron and is across the lake from the tip of the thumb. Almost 40 million people rely on drinking water from the lakes downstream of the proposed dump, from Port Huron to Buffalo, New York.

Comments made before the deadline will be considered by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Final guidelines for the project will be determined after the close of the comment period.

Also, a panel will be named to oversee and review the project. Cumbow fears that if people don't speak up now, members of Canada's "nuclear establishment" will guide the project to completion.

Marie Wilson, spokeswoman for Ontario Power Generation, said there is little to worry about because the project is in an investigative stage and far from a final decision.

OPG, Ontario's public power company, owns all of the province's nuclear power plants and is leading the repository project.

"It's a proposed project and we are going through a very lengthy proposal," Wilson said. "There is a series of multi-step, multi-phased scene investigations at the site for this project."

The total project is estimated to cost $850 million, with $67 million reserved for the work leading up to the final public hearing, which Wilson said would take place in 2012.

So far, she said, the site looks promising.

"We had some excellent, excellent indications that the expectations for the rock properties are what we expected," she said. "There's a growing consensus among the geoscientific community that the repository site is very suitable."

Leading OPG's study are nuclear experts from around the world. Among them, F. Joseph Pearson, a groundwater geochemist from North Carolina; Andreas Gautschi from Nagra, the Swiss National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste; and Jacques Delay, from the French Nuclear Waste Management Geoscience Research program.

"Ontario Power Generation is not going to build this unless it's absolutely safe to do so," Wilson said, adding that she lives within two miles of the site.

She would not speculate about what scientists could discover to derail the project.

The power company's reassurances haven't quelled local dissent.

In May, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution requesting more time in the project's initial stages for study and input.

"You don't put this kind of thing in the Great Lakes basin. Who in their right mind would come up with an idea like this?" Doug Martz said last month. Martz is chairman of the Macomb County Water Quality Board, which recommended the resolution to the county commissioners.

Last Thursday, the St. Clair County Water Quality Board unanimously approved a similar resolution and intend to send it along to the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners for review.

"(Members of the water quality board) said they feel that (OPG) never reached out to Michigan or any other communities outside of the immediately affected area," Geoff Donaldson said. Donaldson, a senior planner at the county's Metropolitan Planning Commission, provides administrative support for the board.

"A lot of the communities haven't had a lot of time to think about this and see if they want to comment on it," he added.

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