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Bruce County council defers motion on waste dumping support

Residents from South Bruce gathered in front of the Bruce County administration building on Feb. 20, protesting a proposal from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to bury waste in the community. (Andrew Smith Photo)

No thanks, residents say to proposed nuclear waste

WALKERTON – A decision to support burying nuclear waste in Bruce County has been delayed following a grassroots protest from residents and a lack of information cited by councillors.

Around 50 residents gathered at the county administration building on Feb. 20, protesting a notice of motion from County Coun. Luke Charbonneau in support of Deep Geological Repositories (DGRs) as the preferred storage for nuclear waste in the county. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) describes a DGR as a network of underground tunnels and placement rooms for used nuclear fuel containers, buried about 500 metres below the surface. Charbonneau, who sits as the mayor of Saugeen Shores, recommended the motion to show support for the practice, and to encourage the Canadian government to facilitate the location and construction of DGRs across the country.

“Bruce County is a host community for a considerate amount of low and intermediate level nuclear waste, and we need a permanent, long-term solution for that material,” Charbonneau said. “The need for storage of nuclear materials in passive isolation is absolutely a matter of settled science.”

DGRs have been a controversial issue recently, with the Saugeen Ojibway Nation voting against the proposed DGR in Kincardine, and the City of Sarnia passing a resolution against DGRs at all. Charbonneau’s motion was seconded by Kincardine Mayor Anne Eadie, who’s municipality is the host to the Bruce Power nuclear plant and Ontario Power Generation. Eadie put her support behind the science of DGRs to replace the interim storage of nuclear waste above ground, which has been in use since the 1960s.

“I feel wherever the process ends, whatever location, there will be science to back it up,” said Eadie. “They will spend the time and money and get the expertise to get the right location.”

South Bruce Mayor Bob Buckle also spoke in favor of DGRs, saying that underground storage of nuclear waste is the best option.

“This waste will be active for thousands of years, and it should not be stored above ground, especially our waste here on the shores of Lake Huron,” Buckle said.

Chris Peabody, Mayor of Brockton, was the first to strongly oppose the motion, saying it was premature to support DGRs as the lands west of Teeswater are being considered for sites, and any decision would preempt the public consultation process.

“I don’t agree in this case the scientific consensus supports burying nuclear waste in Class 1 farmland,” Peabody said. “I believe if we endorse this motion at this time, we’re turning our back on the agricultural community in favour of the nuclear industry.”

Peabody added he was shocked by the proposal by the NWMO for Teeswater, which he said deserves a full environmental assessment before proceeding.

“This is nuclear waste, it’s not a plow truck. I don’t understand why there’s such a push to do this when we haven’t been given information on both sides.”

– Janice Jackson, Mayor of South Bruce Peninsula

“The proposal is to actually bury the waste underneath the Teeswater River,” he said. “I can’t believe they would bury it under a river, and as Mayor of Brockton I can’t support that.”

Janice Jackson, Mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, also urged council to take more time on the issue, as she has yet to hear any arguments against DGRs.

“This is nuclear waste, it’s not a plow truck,” Jackson said. “I don’t understand why there’s such a push to do this when we haven’t been given information on both sides.”

Jackson motioned to defer the decision and prepare a staff report for more information, which was seconded by Peabody.
Before voting on the deferral, Bruce County Warden Mitch Twolan shared his pro-stance on DGRs, after being involved with them since 2003 and visiting several sites around the world. Twolan said it’s time to find a permanent solution to nuclear waste, and blamed previous generations for doing nothing on the issue.

“Every single person sitting in this room has benefited from nuclear energy,” Twolan said. “This is the legacy we’re left with as a community. It’s incumbent as a community to work together and find solutions.”

The motion to defer was passed, which was a small victory for Michelle Stein and the protestors gathered.

“It actually feels like we’ve made a step in the right direction,” Stein said, following the decision by Bruce County council.

“Obviously they saw all of us there and realized maybe they need to take the time and look at the other side.”
Stein organized the Nuclear Tanks, No Thanks protest after looking into the proposed DGRs and not being satisfied with the answers she was given.

“I was being applauded for all of the great questions I was asking, but no answers. So I started looking for answers, and it scared me,” Stein said. “There’s a lot of information out there that shows this is not the best idea.”

Stein said she has found information on DGRs that have caused ground water contamination in Germany, and a case in Sweden where the copper containers used to store the nuclear waste corroded and started to fail.

“A simple search of the history of DGRs shows they’re not accident-proof and the perfect model has not been achieved,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I see some pretty copper containers in the NWMO workbook.”

As a resident of South Bruce, Stein is thankful for the support of her neighbours on the issue, and hopes council takes a position that doesn’t bury nuclear waste in her community.

“That Teeswater location that he was talking about is right next door to my sheep, my beef cattle and my children,” she said. “That’s not the legacy I want to leave for my grandkids, this mess underground.”