1,500 acres in South Bruce set aside for a potential nuclear waste site

·5 min read

SOUTH BRUCE — The institution that handles Canada’s long term nuclear waste disposal announced last week it has secured just over 1,500 acres of land needed to build an underground nuclear waste storage facility.

The location of the potential facility, called a deep geological repository, is approximately 30 km from Lake Huron and just northwest of Teeswater, a small town in South Bruce. The land has been secured through a combination of purchase and option arrangements with landowners. Community consensus on hosting the project has not been established.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization was formed to create and carry out a permanent solution for Canada’s nuclear waste in 2002.

Since 2010, the organization has narrowed the search for a location of the repository from 22 communities to two: Ignace in Northwestern Ontario, or Teeswater in Southern Bruce County near Lake Huron. The organization plans to decide between the two sites by 2023 and is actively studying both locations. Construction is expected to begin in 2033.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization states on its website it will only build the repository in a community willing to host:

“The end point of the technical method is the centralized containment and isolation of Canada’s used fuel in a deep geological repository in an area with suitable geology and an informed and willing host.”

Michelle Stein is the chair person for Protect Our Waterways — No Nuclear Waste, an organization of community members against the project. She says the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has not clearly communicated the risks of a deep geological repository to the community and has not provided a clear method of how the community’s willingness to be a host will be determined.

“There’s been no commitment to let the community have a voice,” says Stein. “Why won’t they give us a benchmark?”

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization says it is up to the community to decide how and when a consensus on the issue is reached.

“We haven’t prescribed how they decide,” says Becky Smith, a spokesperson for the organization. “The community will have to determine what makes sense. The communities will make a decision on whether they are a willing host. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has to make a choice by 2023, and what the community decides will factor into that decision.”

In February 2020, volunteers with Protect Our Waterways — No Nuclear Waste collected roughly 1,500 signatures for a petition indicating they are not willing to host the deep geological repository.

Lawn signs provided by the group can also be seen throughout the county indicating disagreement with the project, and past community events with multiple community members attending have also been held.

Stein feels the community’s concern and disagreement with hosting the repository has been ignored by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and the municipality.

One of the main demands of Protect Our Waterways — No Nuclear Waste is for the municipality of South Bruce to hold a yes or no referendum on the issue.

Stein feels the municipality is not clear on the method it will use to determine community willingness. Mayor Robert Buckle encourages citizens to stay tuned for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s ongoing studies that will show potential economic, environmental and agricultural impacts of hosting the project.

South Bruce council first indicated interest in the project to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization in 2012, according to the municipality’s latest update on the possibility of hosting the project.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization plans to begin drilling test boreholes in 2021.

A deep geological repository is an underground storage facility hundreds of meters under ground where nuclear waste is intended to be stored in perpetuity. Building it requires a stable and dry rock formation where any potential radiation leak will be contained and unable to migrate far.

According to Smith there is no surface level risk to the community from the deep geological repository.

The project’s opponents are worried a potential leak could impact the Teeswater river that flows through the site. The Teeswater River empties into the Saugeen River which flows into Lake Huron, and therefore opponents believe a leak could impact the rest of the Great Lakes and potentially tens of thousands of people who depend on them.

Protect our Waterways — No Nuclear Waste suggests the Nuclear Waste Management Organization adopt a rolling stewardship model. In this scenario, the waste continues to be kept above ground until technology is invented to provide a better final solution to nuclear waste than burying it.

Leaving unmonitored nuclear waste in the ground is irresponsible to future generations, says Stein.

The stance taken by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is that now is the time to resolve the problem of Canada’s nuclear waste and leaving it above ground is irresponsible, according to Smith.

“We have been the generation that has benefitted from nuclear energy,” says Smith. “We can’t kick it down to future generations.”

According to Smith, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization plans to actively maintain the site for 150 years. After this it will be closed and considered inherently safe as a passive system.

Leah Gerber's reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record