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South Bruce DGR will protect the Great Lakes, says resident

August 25, 2020

To the Editor:

Canada has about 20 per cent of the planet's freshwater resources and sits astride the largest freshwater body of water in the world — the Great Lakes. It goes without saying that it is in everyone’s best interest to maintain and protect this invaluable resource.

Some people believe constructing a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in South Bruce is putting the Great Lakes at risk of radiological contamination, and in order to prevent that, we should adopt a method known as “rolling stewardship.” This is contrary to the truth.

The proposed DGR is an underground storage facility where the spent fuel will be encased in a combination copper/steel canister, surrounded by bentonite clay and sealed into the sedimentary rock formation at least 500 metres below the surface.

There are individuals who believe a DGR in South Bruce is not a viable option because a) burying nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin is a bad idea; and b) repackaging the spent fuel near the Teeswater River, a tributary of Lake Huron, is also not ideal. These same individuals like to suggest that “rolling stewardship” is the appropriate and responsible path forward in order to protect our water supply. But what is rolling stewardship?

Rolling stewardship means leaving the fuel safely stored where it currently is, and repackaging it every 50 years or so, indefinitely.

Yes, the fuel is presently safely stored and monitored at reactor sites across Canada. Where are those reactor sites located? On the shores of the Great Lakes. Should the spent fuel need to be repackaged every 50 years or so, it will be repackaged on the shores of the Great Lakes. This constant repackaging also increases the risk of human error.

I would argue that a DGR is a much safer scenario for our water. Instead of repackaging every 50 years for essentially the rest of time, the spent fuel would be repackaged once. After that repackaging, it would be placed into a carefully-mined repository room, packed in bentonite clay and eventually sealed into the rock formation.

Did you know that the hydraulic conductivity of the potential host rock is so low that it would take a million years for any water to travel a distance of one metre through said rock? Add to that the fact that the DGR is slated to be at least 500 metres below the Earth’s surface, 200 metres below the bottom of Lake Huron.

It would take right around 200,000,000 years for any water from the DGR to even reach the lake. By that time, IF any radioactive particles were in the water, their days of being dangerous to human health would be long over.

Leaving the fuel where it currently is stored is absolutely safe, as long as we have strong and vibrant nuclear power companies caring for it, and as long as we have a strong government regulator overseeing it. This is not a solution for thousands of years; just a convenient way to “deal” with nuclear waste in the immediate future.

What happens when the reactors are no longer operational? What happens when there’s a war? What happens during the next ice age? How will the containers, sitting on the lakeshore, be protected from glaciers? If, and when, any of these occur, it would be much better to have the fuel sealed away safely inside solid rock, where no one has to take care of it.

It is true that no DGR in the world exists for spent fuel; but Canada is not the first, or only, country to adopt this strategy. Every single country that uses nuclear energy is somewhere in the process of planning, siting or constructing a DGR. It is considered, internationally, the best way to manage our nuclear waste.

Finland, Sweden and France are all ahead of us in the DGR process; whether it be having chosen a site or constructing a DGR. We have programs from which to learn.

I encourage all South Bruce residents, whether you believe in the DGR or not, to support the research process, be willing to listen and learn, and most of all, be kind to each other.

Sheila Whytock

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