A Canadian utility company's proposal to store nuclear waste in a deep hole a short distance from Lake Huron has turned into a politically tricky problem for Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.
The proposed Deep Geologic Repository Project, would be used to store waste from three nuclear power plants operated by Ontario Power Generation, according to a 2015 government environmental report. The facility would consist of man-made caverns and tunnels with about 7 million cubic feet of storage space, carved into a limestone formation 2,230 feet under the ground.
The low-level waste that the utility wants to store deep in the ground includes materials such as protective clothing, floor sweepings, mops and rags, which can be stored safely without special protective measures, according to the report. But the site also would be a burial place for "intermediate" materials such as used reactor components, resins and filters from nuclear reactor operations. At present, the waste is being stored above-ground at one of the plants.
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In the report, Canadian regulators touted the project as a breakthrough in the safe storage of nuclear waste. "The proposed DGR is an important, unique, precedent-setting project. It would be the first of its kind in North America, and it is the first of its kind in the world to propose using limestone as the host rock formation," they wrote Nevertheless, the project - which has been in the works for more than a decade - remains controversial, in large part because the site would be about three quarters of a mile from the shores of Lake Huron.
While the repository got approval from Ontario officials last year, in February Trudeau's new environment minister, Catherine McKenna, delayed approval of the project by asking the utility for more information.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), told Trudeau at a meeting in Washington in March that she wanted to see the project cancelled outright, according to accounts in the Detroit Free Press and the Washington Post. Trudeau reportedly declined to give her a definite answer.
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"All he said was that he truly cares about the environment," she told the Post.
Dingell told the Post that the Canadian plan is more problematic than another long-delayed U.S. proposal to bury nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
"We've got to find a location that doesn't impact large populations of people," she told the newspaper. "A mountain that is in an isolated place is a better place than water that is 20 percent of the freshwater in the world."
In January, a Canadian organization, Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, sent McKenna a petition with 90.000 signatures opposing the repository.
Canada gets about 15 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.