The community of Kincardine, Ontario is a small unassuming town of 11,000 people. It lies right on the western shore of Lake Huron, making it a popular tourist destination. But among its sandy beaches and other touristy attractions lies the world’s largest nuclear power plant. The facility, known as the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, generates a quarter of all electricity in the province of Ontario and employs nearly 3,800 residents of Kincardine. With nuclear power being such a familiar aspect of life in Kincardine, it should come as no surprise that very few residents are voicing opposition to Canada’s latest plans for the site.
Bruce Power, a private company in charge of the station, plans to build a large underground repository for low-level radioactive waste. The repository would consist of impermeable chambers drilled into a layer of limestone resting some 2,230 feet below the surface. At this depth, the base of Lake Huron would lie 1,640 feet above the repository, further separated by 600 feet of shale rock.
The community of Kincardine and other outlying towns are highly supportive of the repository, citing Bruce Power’s safety record and their own familiarity with the realities of nuclear power. But Canada’s neighbors to the south, namely the Great Lakes states of Michigan and Ohio, have voiced a number of concerns about the project. U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have petitioned the State Department to intervene, and a number of environmental and business groups on both sides of the border have submitted letters to the federal government condemning the plan.
Opponents cite concerns of groundwater seeping into the repository, allowing radioactive particles to leak into Lake Huron. Others simply do not believe that storing nuclear waste in facilities deep underground is a viable strategy for handling nuclear waste. The U.S.’s own long-planned nuclear repository in Yucca Mountain has been delayed and all but shut down due to mounting concerns of radioactive waste leaking into the water table.
Currently, both the U.S. and Canada rely on shallow pits lined with steel and concrete to store all radioactive waste originating from nuclear power plants. These containers are located on-site, rather than a central containment facility, and take up valuable space and resources from nuclear power facilities.
The proposed repository at Kincardine is still under development and final approval from Canada’s government will not be handed down until next Spring. Between now and then, numerous voices will be heard on both sides of the issue. And the result could either bolster the case for nuclear power, or leave it behind as a relic of history.