Anti-nuclear flyers sent to 50,000 homes are ‘fear mongering,’ says top scientist


Anti-nuclear flyers sent to 50,000 Ontario homes, that criticize a proposed high tech vault to store the country’s nuclear waste, contain misinformation and are an attempt at ‘fear mongering,’ according to a top scientist working on the proposed project. 

The flyers were mailed to homes in a dozen communities across a large swathe of Bruce and Grey counties, including Owen Sound, Kincardine and Walkerton by Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste, a grassroots organization trying to halt the federal government’s efforts to build a high tech underground facility to store the country’s stockpile of nuclear waste in Southern Ontario. 

The flyers show a brightly coloured map of the southwestern Ontario peninsula with a radiation symbol near the community of Kincardine meant to symbolize the proposed location of the vault.  A red plume appears to be leaking from the site into the nearby lake with the words “a leak from the dump site could eventually contaminate the Great Lakes.” 

Paul Gierszewski, the director of safety and technical research with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), the federal agency tasked with finding a permanent place to store Canada’s stockpile of nuclear waste, said the flyers are an attempt to deliberately deceive the public. 

Flyers an attempt to deceive the public, says top scientist

Paul Gierszewski is the director of safety and technical research with Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization. (NWMO)

“From my perspective it’s being deliberately vague and its encouraging people to misinterpret the project,” he said. “It’s fear mongering in a way. Our approach is to isolate and contain the waste.”

The NWMO has been tasked with finding a permanent home for the most toxic waste Canada has ever produced, a stockpile of three million spent nuclear fuel bundles, which could end up at one of two potential sites: Ignace, a community northwest of Thunder Bay and the town of South Bruce on the shore of Lake Huron. 

Scientists are proposing a kind of high tech underground vault, called a deep geologic repository, or DGR; a multi-billion dollar high tech nuclear waste dump that would see the material stored for millennia as far below the Earth as the CN Tower is tall. 

The debate over whether to put the DGR in South Bruce has divided the community. A debate that includes the ethics of leaving the burden of some of Canada’s most dangerous nuclear material to future generations, the possible development and devaluation of prime Ontario farmland and concerns over the potential safety of the drinking water for 40 million people in two countries.

A diagram shows the vast underground network of chambers that would permanently hold spent nuclear fuel deep below the Earth in a high tech nuclear dump known as a deep geologic repository. (Nuclear Waste Management Organization)

Except, Gierszewski said, according to all of their models, the potential radioactive contamination of Lake Huron isn’t just improbable, it would take a really long time. 

“The only way for radioactivity to move is through the process of diffusion and that’s an extremely slow process.”

Gierszewski added that the waste stored inside the facility would be encased in several layers of protection far below the bottom of the lake.

Gierszewski said even if the water were to make it into the DGR and into the protective case holding the waste, the vault would still be safe and capable of supporting a family living on the land on top of it, even in what he called the “unlikely circumstances” that one or more containers containing waste were to rupture.  

Used nuclear fuel will be stored in containers, which will be encased in multiple layers of protection, including clay and rock so it can be stored for 100,000 years. (NWMO)

“One container, multiple containers, all containers; these are things that we look at to understand risk,” he said. “It’s extremely unlikely.” 

Scientists have tested nuclear waste containers rigorously for decades. The NWMO has even published a video in which the containers survive being dropped from a tower, lit on fire, submerged in water and hit by a speeding freight train with no release of radiation. 

In the proposed DGR, those containers would be encased in cement, clay and then stored in underground chambers nearly a kilometre below the Earth. 

‘There’s 40 million people who drink from the Great Lakes’

Those who oppose the DGR say they’re trying to protect the water, but those who support the project say it doesn’t put the water in any danger. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“There’s 40 million people who drink from the Great Lakes and they deserve to know what this proposal is,” said Michelle Stein, one of the organizers of the grassroots anti-nuclear group Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste, which distributed the flyers to 50,000 homes. 

Stein said the map on the flyer is meant to show people how the Great Lakes could become contaminated by radiation, if it were to leak from the proposed site, but she admitted it is not based on any particular research or scientific information. 

“Off the top of my head, I can’t say there is any specific research paper, but everything that happens in the Great Lakes water basin, ends up in the Great Lakes,” she said. 

Stein said she thinks the high level nuclear waste, which has been sitting in temporary storage for the past 70 years, should stay where it is until new and better technology can come up with a better solution. 

“It needs to be kept above ground and monitored until a real solution can be found,” she said. “They can upgrade the facilities that are there.” 

Stein said building the multi-billion dollar DGR and having regular shipments of highly toxic nuclear waste delivered to the area will change the community of South Bruce forever. 

Some farmers in South Bruce say the stigma of being a potential dumping ground for Canada’s nuclear waste has already hurt the area’s reputation. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

“They’re going to be bringing work camps, which they tend not to want to talk about,” she said. “The fabric of our community is going to change.”

She said the stigma of being a dumping site for Canada’s nuclear waste will also affect the community. She said the DGR hasn’t even been built yet and already the area’s reputation is suffering. 

“They say it’s not going to affect agriculture, yet I’ve one Toronto land buyer tell me he would not be interested in our lands anymore because his clients want to know where their produce comes from.” 

“If I’m living next to the nuclear dump nobody wants my produce,” she said. “This is a decision that will change life as we know it around here.” 

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