OPG to explore other options to Bruce DGR proposal after SON vote

An illustration of the proposed DGR for low and intermediate level radioactive waste showing the underground layout. (courtesy OPG) jpg, OT

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Ontario Power Generation says it will explore other options for the permanent disposal of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste after Saugeen Ojibway Nation members overwhelmingly rejected OPG’s proposal to create a deep geologic repository at the Bruce nuclear site near Kincardine.

“OPG respects the decision of SON members. We will now move forward to develop an alternate solution,” CEO and president Ken Hartwick said in a statement.

OPG senior manager Fred Kuntz said Saturday that the SON vote is decisive – the power producer committed in 2013 to not build the DGR at the Bruce site without SON support – and OPG will immediately begin to develop the alternate site-selection process.

Key stakeholders, including Indigenous people and interested municipalities, will be engaged.

Kuntz said DGRs around the world have generally taken about 25 to 30 years from inception to implementation.

“I don’t want to set a specific timeline for OPG’s alternate solutions because we’re about to embark on a process to find alternate solutions and a site-selection process has to be designed. So it would be premature to say an exact timeline,” he said in an interview.

In a community vote, held in-person Friday as well as online and via mail, 1,058 SON members voted “no” to the DGR plan, with only 170 supporting it. There were four spoiled ballots.

Chippewas of Nawash Chief Greg Nadjiwon, in a statement provided by SON’s environment office, said SON will continue working with OPG and others in the nuclear industry to develop new solutions for nuclear waste in SON’s traditional territory, which includes the location of OPG’s proposed 680-metre-deep DGR.

“We know that the waste currently held in above-ground storage at the Bruce site will not go away,” he said. “SON is committed to developing these solutions with our communities and ensuring Mother Earth is protected for future generations. We will continue to ensure that our people will lead these processes and decisions.”

Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot, in the same statement, said the vote was an “historic milestone and momentous victory for our people,” noting SON has worked for many years to exercise jurisdiction within its territory and “the free, prior and informed consent of our people to be recognized.”

An official at SON’s environment office said the SON chiefs and councils will be consulting with their communities before commenting further.

Members of SON, which includes the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing north of Wiarton and Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation near Southampton, had been able to vote online since Jan. 11.

Polling stations were set up Friday at the James Mason Memorial Culture & Recreation Centre at Saugeen First Nation and Cape Croker Community Centre at Neyaashiinigmiing. They closed at 8 p.m., the same time as online voting ended.

The ballot question was: “Do you support OPG’s proposed DGR project as the permanent solution for low- and intermediate-level waste in the SON territory.”

Beverly Fernandez, spokesperson for the seven-year-old group Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, said the organization is “very pleased” SON members came to the same conclusion as the 232 resolutions passed by Great Lakes communities to oppose OPG’s plan.

“Burying radioactive nuclear waste beside the precious waters of the Great Lakes was always a bad idea,” she said Saturday.

SON member Kim George, who helped to organize a protest rally at Saugeen First Nation on the day before the in-person voting, said she is revelling in the win.

“It was a long 15 years, but we have been heard with a loud no,” she said Saturday.

OPG says its proposed DGR would have been the long-term solution for 200,000 cubic metres of low- and mid-level nuclear waste from Bruce Power, Darlington and Pickering nuclear generation stations. Currently, that waste is stored above ground at the secure Bruce site in OPG’s Western Waste Management Facility.

Low-level waste includes items used at nuclear facilities, like mop heads, gloves, clothes and floor sweepings, according to OPG, while intermediate-level nuclear waste includes things like used filters and resins and reactor components.

The DGR plan came about after Kincardine approached OPG in 2001 to jointly develop a long-term disposal facility for low- and intermediate-level waste at the Bruce nuclear site.

After 14 years of study and consultation on the proposal, an independent joint review panel recommended to the federal government in 2015 that the DGR proceed.

Two years later, the approvals process was paused by then-Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna to allow time to ensure Indigenous people support the project.

OPG has said the DGR “would safely store the waste, 680 metres below the Bruce site, in strong, impermeable rock that has been isolated from any lakes or groundwater for millions of years, protecting people and the environment for future generations.”

The proposed DGR site is more than a kilometre from any part of Lake Huron and OPG has said it would have no impact on the surrounding environment. It has said the project has been “proven very safe through numerous studies and analyses conducted by engineers, geologists, geoscientists and hydrologists.”

Despite that, the proposal has been met by significant opposition.

Last year, Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump announced its petition opposing OPG’s DGR had surpassed 100,000 signatures.

After OPG committed to not proceeding with the project without securing Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s approval, SON says it went through almost two years of hearings and launched a community process to inform members about nuclear issues and the DGR project.

Community information sessions took place at Saugeen First Nation and at Neyaashiinigmiing as well as other local locations in SON’s traditional territory and around the province, according to its environment office. SON also engaged with their off-reserve population across Canada and abroad to “ensure their members are informed leading up to the vote.”

Even if SON had granted its approval for the DGR, the project would still have required steps culminating in federal ministerial approval.

The Sun Times recently reported on an Oct. 18 letter from OPG to Saugeen Ojibway Nation members that said SON would receive $150 million if its members supported the plan.

SON’s vote did not concern a second DGR project, proposed to store highly radioactive used nuclear fuel rods. That project’s one remaining potential location within the traditional territory is in South Bruce, in southern Bruce County. The Township of Ignace, in northwestern Ontario, is the other community still in the running.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which is responsible for long-term management of Canada’s spent nuclear fuel, has committed to making its DGR project contingent on SON’s approval as well, according to the SON environment office.

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