Waste Management – Repository sites and threats to water bodies Pt. II

Picking up from where I left of in the previous post, I highlighted the role of water in the risk of radiation pollution of water bodies.

With reference to the pollution transfer continuum, water may both be a mobilisation mechanism by dissolving radionuclides, and also a transportation mechanism by carrying these dissolved radionuclides into larger water bodies via groundwater flow.

The case of Lake County, Canada

The Great Lakes are a series of interconnected freshwater lakes on the Canada-United states border, which also connect to the Atlantic Ocean. These lakes are used to supply drinking water to tens of millions of people in bordering areas, and also host a range of native habitats and ecosystems.

Toronto-based Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is looking to store Ontario’s low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in a constructed underground permanent burial facility. This facility will be within the Great Lakes basin, less than a mile inland from the shore of Lake Huron and 120 miles upstream from the main drinking water intakes for southeastern Michigan.

OPG’s assurance:

Their practices reflect international standards, and scientists have ensured favourable geologic features that will safely isolate and contain the waste, with protection of the water and environment.

Here are some information provided in their video presentation of geological features of the repository by Mark Jensen, director of Deep Geologic Repository Geoscience & Research of OPG:


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Those who are interested in geology and deep geologic repository for nuclear waste may watch the video here.


Concerns regarding contamination of drinking water

  • William Fyfe, a retired University professor of Western Ontario commented: “It is universally acknowledged that nuclear waste must be kept away from water circulating through the environment of living things, since water is seen as the main vehicle for dissolution and dissemination of radiotoxic pollutants”
  • The Board of Lake County, California states that “Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are hydrologically connected as one continuous water body, and any contamination resulting from a leaking nuclear waste repository located on Lake Huron would affect Lake Michigan’s waters, the source of drinking water for almost 7 million residents of 11 Northeast Illinois counties

General health hazards

  • Some primary isotopes found in low-level waste are: Cesium-131 which attacks the ovaries, heart and muscles has a half-life of 30 years and Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years. All are considered mutagenic and carcinogenic.
  • Some primary isotopes found in intermediate-level waste are: Carbon-14 with a half-life of 5,000 years and Nickel-59 with a half-life of 76,000 years. All are potential mutagens and carcinogens.

With the possibility of contamination, the persistence of these radioactive isotopes would render the drinking source of many communities toxic.

Current status:

  • Concerned citizens have started a petition asking lawmakers in Canada and the United States to disapprove the proposal
  • The Lake County Board joined a reported 136 communities in Canada and the United States in opposing the proposal, in early February (2015)
  • A Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Joint Review Panel is scheduled to review the proposal in May (2015)

Some thoughts of mine

I feel that OPG has a strong case for the proposed repository site, despite facing opposition from communities and environmentalists. The geologic features of the site are such that the probability of any leakage of radioactive out of the repository are low.

But I feel that regardless of any reassurance given on the part of OPG or supporting officials, it is the stigma attached to associated with nuclear energy that is keeping the communities from accepting this proposal. From the Chernobyl accident to the Fukushima disaster, these catastrophic incidents – no doubt dubbed as unfortunate – have played over in the memories of people all around the world. In the case of the Great Lakes, it is the wariness that people have regarding nuclear and the threat it poses to the life-line of many communities that compound their fears.

I believe that this proposal has a long way to go before being materialised, until the communities will reluctantly accept it as a necessity to nuclear energy generation. Perhaps a necessary evil that comes along with the perks of “clean” and “greenhouse gas emissions-free” energy, radioactive waste disposal is part and parcel to the entire energy generation process.

Thanks for reading!



Herndon, D. (2014, September 23). Senate, House both oppose proposed Canadian nuclear waste facility on Great Lakes. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from The News Herald: http://www.thenewsherald.com/articles/2014/09/23/news/doc5421c333a648c047361605.txt?viewmode=fullstory

Moran, D. (2015, February 16). Lake County condemns nuclear-waste storage in Great Lakes basin. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from Chicago Tribute: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-county-news-sun/news/ct-lns-nuclear-waste-protest-st-0217-20150216-story.html

Rucke, K. (2014, June 26). Great Lakes Communities Struggle Against Proposed Nuclear Waste Facility. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from Mint Press News: http://www.mintpressnews.com/great-lakes-communities-struggle-against-proposed-nuclear-waste-facility/193028/






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