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Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper protests plan to bury N-waste near Lake Huron

A Canadian power generator’s plan to bury nuclear waste deep along Lake Huron’s shores is a threat not just to Canadians, but to 40 million Great Lakes-area residents on both sides of the border, according to Buffalo-area environmental organizations.

That’s why Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper this week joined several groups in sending pleas to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Canadian federal officials opposing Ontario Power Generation’s proposal to create a “deep geological repository” for nuclear waste in Kincardine, Ont.

“Our countries and communities are inherently connected by the world’s largest fresh water system, and decisions like the one pending in Kincardine have potential ramifications far beyond the boundaries of one community or one generation,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

A Canadian review panel earlier this month approved the proposal that calls for storing more than 260,000 cubic yards of “low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste” more than 2,000 feet below the province’s Bruce nuclear plant along Lake Huron, according to a recent report by the Globe and Mail newspaper. The panel determined the plan was not a threat to the environment or the residents of the region, the report stated.

But Great Lakes environmentalists disagree.

“Storing radioactive waste less than a mile from the Great Lakes is nothing short of reckless,” said Brian Smith, associate executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Radioactive waste unnecessarily puts the drinking water for 40 million people and the key to our regional economy at risk. After investing billions of dollars in restoring the health of our Great Lakes, we cannot afford to take one step forward and two steps back.”

“The Great Lakes basin contains over 90 percent of the U.S. and Canada’s fresh water supply, and is the envy of drought-stricken areas across the world. But while California may be fighting drought, we are now fighting stupidity.”

Added Jedlicka: “Western New York understands firsthand the unintended consequences and threats to our Great Lakes from nuclear waste storage. … The nuclear legacy that our region carries at West Valley, Tonawanda and Niagara Falls is an unfortunate reality for our own community and should be viewed as justification for why the Great Lakes basin is not suitable for siting radioactive waste storage facilities.”

The Globe and Mail reported that the site would not contain spent nuclear fuel, but rather radiologically contaminated “clothing and used parts.” The volume of radioactive waste would roughly occupy the size of 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Environmental groups are concerned that if the storage area fails and the waste gets into the Great Lakes system, it would compromise the drinking water supplies to millions, not to mention result in environmental devastation that would last for thousands of years.

Members of the Great Lakes Waterkeepers and the Waterkeeper Alliance petitioned Kerry and Canadian authorities late last year to block the planned storage of nuclear waste at Kincardine and support resolutions in both houses of the U.S. Congress that would oppose underground storage of nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin.

Canadian federal officials must now approve the plan before a license to construct the underground disposal area could be issued by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Globe and Mail reported.