As plans for the nuclear waste repository progress, friction in the community grows
By Jackie Clark
Conflict persists in the Municipality of South Bruce, Ont., where community members, municipal council, and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) are clashing over the site selection for a nuclear Deep Geologic Repository (DGR). The NWMO has narrowed the decision down to the Municipality of South Bruce or the Township of Ignace, Ont. and aims to decide by 2023.
Farms.com covered the early response to the proposal in an article in May.
Since then, the NWMO has made progress on land agreements, securing more than 1,500 acres north of Teeswater, an Oct. 15 release from the organization said.
“The agreements include a combination of option and purchase arrangements that allow the NWMO to conduct studies while allowing landowners to continue using the land,” the release said. Next steps include technical site evaluations to see if the land is suitable for the planned DGR.
Bruce County executive county members previously voted to defer a motion that “the County of Bruce affirms its view that the necessity for and effectiveness of DGRs, for the storage of used nuclear materials, is a matter of settled science,” the minutes from a Feb. 20 executive council meeting report.
The council will revisit this motion at their Nov. 5 meeting, a release from Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste said. The organization, which opposes South Bruce as a location for the DGR, is concerned about both the nature and timing of this motion, the Oct. 27 release said.
“Nothing could be more antithetical to the fundamental philosophy behind science than attaching the word ‘settled’ to an untested and theoretical project,” the release said. “It is premature for the County of Bruce to consider a vote on this motion when Mayor Buckle, who represents the lower tier Municipality of South Bruce at county council, has stated on numerous occasions that ‘No decision has been made by the South Bruce council to proceed with the project at this time.’”
The NWMO will only construct the DGR in a community of informed and willing hosts, representatives of the organization said.
“You told us the safety of wells and drinking water is an utmost priority, so we have expanded the number of wells and other water sources we will be monitoring, before and after we begin borehole drilling,” Dr. Ben Belfadhel said in an open letter to the community on Oct. 22. He’s the vice-president of site selection at the NWMO.
“We listened to concerns about property values around a potential repository site, so we have committed to working with the municipality to establish a program to compensate property owners if values are adversely affected by the project should it be sited in South Bruce,” he explained.
“You also said you’re worried about the possible disruption to agricultural activity on the proposed repository site, and we have worked to ensure as much of the land continues to be used as it currently is as is possible, now and once the repository is operational.”
The NWMO is hosting online and in-person open houses on the DGR from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6.
However, some community members are not soothed by these reassurances.
Rita Groen is one such resident. She and her husband live on a dairy farm in Teeswater, and are active in the Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste organization.
“I’m not saying that I know all the answers,” Groen told Farm.com. However, she is concerned that many people in the community don’t know enough or aren’t even aware of what is happening.
In the beginning, “the NWMO and the council kept (the discussion about the DGR) so quiet that hardly anybody knew about it,” she said.
Groen’s concern stems from personal experiences with nuclear disaster.
“We are from Holland, so we dealt with Chernobyl,” she explained.
The Chernobyl explosion, considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, happened on April 26, 1986. The radioactive cloud deposited radionuclides in the Netherlands by May 2, said an article in a 1988 edition of the scientific journal Scientific and Technical Review of the Office International des Epizooties. Scientists conducted extensive testing of agricultural products and public health officials put measures in place to prevent human exposure to the radiation in the country, the article said.
Groen remembers being instructed to keep grazing dairy cows inside for at least a week and being told not to eat their vegetables that year.
Nobody can ensure the safety of nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years, she said.
“It’s hard to say concrete numbers but we have 1,600 signatures who are opposed to the DGR,” she added.
Many “people don’t want to say (how they feel) openly,” she added. “It looks like the whole council and the mayor are for (the DGR). … They are hiding behind ‘we have to learn more’ so they don’t have to (have) dialogue with you, so they don’t have to answer your questions.”
Members of Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste “write a lot of articles trying to come with the facts” and pose tough questions, Groen said.
“I’m watching all the Zoom (videos) of the council meetings,” she added.
From tone and body language in those meetings, Groen thinks some council members would rather avoid talking about Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste and the opposition to the DGR.
Council and the NWMO “are not totally open and transparent. They say they are but I feel they are not,” she added. “They try to silence us.”
Groen wants community members to think critically about the messaging from the NWMO.
Members of Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste “try to be polite,” she explained. Despite those efforts, the issue is causing further social division in South Bruce.
For example, members of a social knitting group fell on both sides of the debate, and the group has disbanded, Groen explained.
“Our church is open, but I’m not going to church anymore,” she added. She knows other people who have stopped attending as well. She feels agitated to be around people who have said or written comments about the dispute.
“We have COVID-19 (protocols) like everybody else, and then the DGR on top of that” causing social division, Groen said.
Last week, members of Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste reported deliberate damage caused to their signs on private property.
“Our organization will continue to be a supportive voice for the growing opposition of residents in South Bruce who are concerned about this untested project. With every intimidation and every act of damage, our resolve is strengthened,” stated an Oct. 30 release from the organization.
Protect our Waterways - No Nuclear Waste photo