The debate over a Canadian firm’s proposal to bury radioactive waste from the company’s nuclear plants 2,230 feet underground less than a mile from Lake Huron has gone ... nuclear.
By comparison, a decision in the late 1990s to store highly radioactive fuel rods from a former nuclear plant right on the Lake Michigan shore near a tourism hot spot caused hardly a ripple — and doesn’t to this day.
According to an Associated Press story, the Canadian disposal site would be near the Bruce Power complex, the world’s largest nuclear power station, outside Kincardine, Ontario. The complex produces one-fourth of Ontario’s electricity.
Some of the strongest support for the Canadian burial project is coming from Kincardine and other nearby communities, where many residents have industry jobs. The loudest objections are coming from elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. — particularly Michigan, just across Lake Huron.
Critics openly doubt assurances that the Bruce Power waste would be safe resting far beneath the lake’s greatest depths and be encased in rock formations that have been stable for 450 million years.
“Neither the U.S. nor Canada can afford the risk of polluting the Great Lakes with toxic nuclear waste,” U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, Sander Levin, John Dingell and Gary Peters of Michigan said in a letter. Michigan’s U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, have asked the State Department to intervene. Business and environmental groups have submitted letters. An online petition has collected nearly 42,000 signatures.
All this is a far cry from the relative silence — except for a handful of local activists — from Congress or elsewhere when Consumers Power Co. decommissioned its Big Rock Point nuclear plant just outside Charlevoix in the late 1990s.
Big Rock was Michigan’s first nuclear power plant and the fifth in the nation. Construction began in 1960 and the reactor first went critical Sept. 27, 1962; the first electricity was generated later that year. In 1997 Consumers decided to decommission the plant and the reactor was shut down in August. The last fuel was removed in September; decontamination was completed in 1999.
Today, only the eight spent fuel casks remain. Plans to move them from the site were put on hold when the federal government backed off the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada. Critics also said it was too dangerous to move nuclear waste from around the country by road and rail to any central site.
And yet here we are 15 or so years later with radioactive material perched mere yards from one of the great repositories of fresh water on the planet, and no one seems to think that’s a big deal. Let’s hope they never have reason to.