Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2014
By John LaForge
The proposed Deep Geological Repository for radioactive waste being considered by Canada’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) is such a bad idea that even pro-nuclear Republican US senators like Illinois’ Mark Kirk are against it. Still, it’s not dead yet.
The Southgate Michigan News-Herald reported last September that “some of the waste is highly radioactive and much of it will remain toxic for more than 100,000 years. The proposed site is less than a mile inland from the shore of Lake Huron and about 440 yards below the lake level. It is approximately 120 miles upstream from the main drinking water intakes for southeastern Michigan.”
The language is from a Michigan State Senate resolution against the dump which passed last year. Now the US Senate has taken up the fight with a similar bill introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and co-sponsored by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. Dozens of cities along the Great Lakes, Duluth, Minnesota included, have formally opposed the craziness of burying leaky tins of radiation in a watershed that serves H2O to 40 million people.
Dave Herndon, writing for the News-Herald dug up this zinger: The Canadian government itself raised identical objections about radioactive waste near drinking water in the 1980s, when the US Energy Department surveyed sites for a US waste dump. Back then, Canada formally protested and a Parliamentary resolution urges US officials to prevent such a dump from ever being built in the Great Lakes Basin.
Ontario’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) will make a recommendation to the federal government after studying the plans pros and cons. It has held two sets of formal hearings, and loads of highly critical testimony is in the record. Not the least is that of former Ontario Power Generation (OPG) scientist Frank Greening.
OPG—the radioactive waste producer that runs 18 reactors in Ontario—is the dump’s chief promoter. Dr. Greening worked for the company for 22 years.
Radioactive waste generator’s “cavalier attitude”
A PhD in chemistry, Dr. Greening testified last September that OPG has a “cavalier attitude” toward the long-lived hazards of radioactive wastes.
(In 2013, I testified likewise that one particularly cavalier information sheet from OPG said, “…even if the entire waste volume were to be dissolved into Lake Huron, the corresponding drinking water dose would be a factor of 100 below the regulatory criteria initially, and decreasing with time.” This quip refers to 200,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste in over 50,000 containers.)
In his attack on OPG’s analysis, Dr. Greening reported that the company estimated the sorts of radioactive materials that would be in the waste—and in what proportions—instead of taking samples. “Estimating is cheaper,” Greening told the panel on Sept. 10. “OPG has chosen to skimp on the costs of properly characterizing [its] radioactive waste, perhaps because the analysis of just one sample costs over a thousand dollars,” Greening said.
Last April, Greening reported that materials to be placed in the dump are up to 1,000 times more radioactive than OPG had formally reported. Dr. Greening’s report devastated the company’s (OPG’s) public image and professional credibility.
After Greening broadcast OPG’s gross mistakes, the company said its errors resulted from the use of “available data” in 2010.
“This is simply not true,” Greening then charged. “OPG did not use available data, but used fabricated data instead.”
With cesium-137, OPG’s numbers “are 1,000 times lower” than the actual radioactivity level in some of the waste, Greening discovered. “[OPG] got these numbers wrong up front …” Greening said. “Why would I trust [OPG’s] numbers now?”
Replying to Greening’s crucial testimony, Dr. Stella Swanson, the chair of the JRP, warned that some of his information was “new to the panel,” and could for that reason perhaps be ignored. New information was supposed to been given to the JRP in advance of September’s formal hearings.
Dr. Swanson said the government panel will rule later on whether all of Greening’s materials would be accepted for review.
Louder and more robust objections to OPG’s Lake Huron dump plan need to be organized in order to make the Canadian authorities do the right thing. Senator Stabenow made a start when she told the press, “Canada’s proposed nuclear waste dump … puts our Great Lakes at risk of radioactive contamination that could have devastating consequences for future generations. I have expressed my strong objections to the Canadian government directly, and (this) resolution puts additional pressure on the Canadians to stop this plan.”