OPG DGR project approval hinges on new Environment Minister


 By Barb McKay

A decision on whether or not OPG’s project to construct a deep geologic repository for the storage of low and intermediate-level waste will go ahead is still expected to be made Dec. 2, but will ultimately be up to the new federal environment minister, according to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).

“The incoming Minister of the Environment, who is yet to be appointed, will make a decision on the proposed project,” CEAA spokesperson Anita Szerze told The Independent Friday. “At this time we cannot speculate on the outcome of a future ministerial decision or on the timing or format of an announcement.”

Szerze said once the decision has been made and posted on the online registry the public will be notified.

Ontario lobby group Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump is circulating a petition calling on the incoming minister of the environment to reject the plan to bury the nuclear waste in an underground vault encased in bedrock 680 metres deep approximately one kilometer from Lake Huron. So far, the petition has received 87,000 signatures. As well, a resolution calling on the federal government to find an alternative solution for the waste has been signed by 177 municipalities in Ontario and the United States, including the nearby municipalities of Owen Sound, Bluewater, Meaford and West Grey.

A three person Joint Review Panel, appointed by the federal government and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to review OPG’s environmental assessment for the project, held lengthy public hearings in 2013 and 2014 in Kincardine and Port Elgin involving approximately 300 participants. In May, the Panel submitted its report to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq with the recommendation that the project proceed. In June, CEAA invited Aboriginal groups, participants from the hearings and members of the public to comment on possible conditions that OPG would have to adhere to, as well as mitigation measures and follow-up requirements if the project is approved. In order to accommodate a required 90-day comment period the deadline for a decision by the Ministry was pushed back from September to Dec. 2. Approximately 800 comments were received and CEAA reported that they will be posted to the public registry as soon as possible.

If OPG receives the go-ahead to proceed to the next phase of the approval process, final conditions will be attached to the approval that will be legally-binding.

Subject to this federal government decision, Szerze said, the Joint Review Panel will make a decision whether to issue a licence to OPG to prepare a site and construct the deep geologic repository facility.

Approximately 80 per cent of the material stored will be low level nuclear waste, consisting of industrial items such as mops, rags and protective clothing. The remainder of the material will be intermediate level waste, including mechanical parts, ion exchange resins and filters.

In related news, the future of the Lake Huron Learning Centre may depend on the project being approved. The learning centre, located in the former Westario building on Queen Street, was developed out of a hosting agreement between OPG and the Municipality of Kincardine for the deep geologic repository. OPG provided $500,000 over five years for the learning centre to lease the building and provide post-secondary education through educational partnerships with colleges and universities. An additional $62,500 was granted while the Joint Review Panel hearings were carried out. The agreement and the building lease expire on Dec. 31.

Former Municipality of Kincardine mayor and LHLC board co-chair Larry Kraemer said during a council meeting Oct. 21 that the centre has enough funding to get to the end of the first semester in 2016, but without new funding would not be able to carry on beyond that.

Councillor Laura Haight suggested that the municipality extend the agreement to allow council to get through the 2016 budget discussions and see what it has available. Mayor Anne Eadie said a staff report will be coming back to council this month and suggested that council wait until that time to make a decision.