Skip to content

Measure opposes Canadian plan to store nuclear waste long term near Lake Huron

Washington ― A bipartisan group of Great Lakes lawmakers introduced a resolution in Congress on Wednesday to oppose a Canadian proposal to permanently store spent nuclear fuel waste in the Great Lakes Basin.

The move comes ahead of President Joe Biden's first trip to Canada as president this week to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The resolution is concerned with Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which plans to decide next year on one of two potential sites for a nuclear waste facility, either Ignace, Ontario, or South Bruce, which is in the Great Lakes basin and less than 40 miles from Lake Huron.

The resolution says that Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should ensure that the government of Canada does not permanently store nuclear waste in the Great Lakes Basin.

It goes on to warn that a "spill" of such waste into the lakes during transit to a deep geological repository "could have lasting and severely adverse environmental, health and economic impacts on the Great Lakes and the individuals who depend on the Great Lakes for their livelihoods."

The measure is led by U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and John James, R-Farmington Hills, in the House and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, in the Senate.

“Storing hazardous nuclear waste in our shared waterways threatens the drinking water of millions of people in the United States and Canada, and jeopardizes jobs in the fishing, boating and tourism industries,” Kildee said in a statement. "I urge President Biden to address Canada’s plan to permanently bury nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin as he meets with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau."

The resolution has 15 other House co-sponsors including Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, John Moolenaar of Caledonia, Bill Huizenga of Holland, Lisa McClain of Bruce Township, Debbie Dingell of Ann Arbor, Elissa Slotkin of Lansing, Hillary Scholten of Grand Rapids, Haley Stevens of Birmingham and Shri Thanedar of Detroit as well as five Senate co-sponsors, including Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.

Canadian officials and others have noted that the U.S. has dozens of high-level nuclear waste storage sites along the Great Lakes. 

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which was set up by the Canadian government, has said the repository would permanently store high-level nuclear waste deep underground in a network of tunnels and areas to store spent nuclear fuel containers for the long term.

The organization has previously stressed that the two potential sites for the repository are landlocked and miles from any of the Great Lakes and that the project can only go ahead if it can be demonstrated as safe for people and the environment, including the freshwater lakes.

"We welcome American interest in Canada’s plan and are always pleased to share our science-based, community-driven approach to protect the health and safety of our communities with anyone who has an interest," said Russell Baker, a spokesman for Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

"The entire purpose of Canada’s plan — the reason we are investing time, effort and money to implement it — is to protect people and the environment, including the Great Lakes."

He noted that the plan calls for Canada’s used nuclear fuel, which is a "stable" solid and not a liquid or gas that could spill, to be moved from the surface and further away from the lake than where it is currently stored on an interim basis, and placed inland in a deep geological repository at a depth of over 1,640 feet.  

Baker said there is global scientific consensus that deep geological repositories are the safest way to protect people and the environment, including "precious" water resources. 

Dozens of local, state and tribal governments passed resolutions in opposition to a previous proposal by the company Ontario Power Generation for an underground storage facility for low- to mid-level nuclear waste less than a mile from Lake Huron near Kincardine, Ontario. The company had sought approval for the project for more than a decade. 

Trudeau's administration had asked Ontario Power Generation to review the possibility of relocating that project, and it did. But it found that alternate sites would have increased environmental impacts and costs, delaying the project up to 40 years and offer no added safety benefits.

Ontario Power Generation ended its pursuit of the project in June 2020.