written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling
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One of the most interesting and annoying parts of the unfolding story of the search for a safe solution for nuclear waste is how political it has gotten across the international border.
Some local politicians in Michigan and some on the national stage have come out against the DGR process in Ontario. That is their prerogative, but we owe it to ourselves and so do they to look at the process that spawns their objections.
Looking a little deeper, we see that there is a lack of respect for the Canadian process and depth of study by US politicians. DGRs are easy pickings.
Dan Kildee is a US representative. He represents the 5th US Congressional district in Washington. (see map in the second column) He would be akin to an MP in Canada. Because he is running for re-election every two years, means he's electioneering all the time. Does he have time for careful study of the DGR proposed for Kincardine? Is his staff well versed to advise him?
The US 5th District as luck would have it contains Flint Michigan. Oh, oh, there goes his time.
So while Kildee was admonishing Canada and in particular the 15 years of study and the long Joint Review Panel process, something happened under his nose. The City of Flint was slowly being poisoned by lead.
Here are the facts for readers unfamiliar with the troubles in Flint and their origins.
1. Flint was once at the core of US automotive manufacturing. It had the highest per capita income per household years ago with excellent jobs plentiful. It was a manufacturing hub along with nearby Lansing and Detroit.
2. In the Roger Smith era, when he headed General Motors, Flint was decimated and left without their former industry. Smith created a rust belt wasteland.
That story I know well having worked for GM's Research and Development's arm specializing in manufacturing innovation, process and technology.
The ruin of the Flint economy was so powerful, it served as the basis for Michael Moore's 'Roger and Me' award winning documentary The tragedy continues today.
3. Flint obtained their water from a processing facility provided by Detroit which serves southeastern Michigan. Because of Detroit's dire finances, they gradually raised rates to Flint.
Flint being beleaguered themselves tried to cut costs up and gain control of their budget.
The Governor of Michigan became involved with a growing number of cost cutting consultants brought in to find a way to balance the budget in an area that had lost its employment base.
4. Flint decided to do their own pipeline to Port Huron and tap into Lake Huron's water directly just as Detroit had done for years and years. This was done as Detroit tried to increase the rates to Flint.
But, a new pipeline was and is a big project and would take years to come into fruition. So Flint opted to do a temporary 'fix' of using the Flint river as a water source. The Flint River drains the watershed of the Flint area and more. That area is not exactly pristine due to past lax environmental practices. The river was right there and cheap too.
5. Not understanding the entire process, Flint and Michigan officials did not take into account the leaching of lead from old piping systems. Detroit had taken care of that for them for years by adding chemicals which neutralized the lead. Flint ignored or did not know about that aspect of using the Flint River and old lead pipes.
You know the rest of the story.
So while Flint's citizens were being poisoned, Kildee and other Michigan politicians were making quick judgments about a long studied DGR in Kincardine Ontario.
With not much respect for Canadian know how and science, they took up the torch of the anti-side. Did they think that Ontario Power Generation were not worth some time devoted to study?
Why did Kildee come out against something he had not studied in detail? The quick answer is he needs votes and his term is for two years, so he, like others in the House of Representatives in Washington are always running for re-election.
He too like others know that water purity is an issue that will not have any opposition. The words "Nuclear Waste Dump" were enough.
Something remote from them like a DGR long studied in Canada is easy pickings to gain points with his electorate. We can hardly blame him. There is no chance of his 5th District being mad at him for this. But, now we have Flint. Who is mad now?
Kildee is not a bad man, but as those close to the DGR in Bruce County know, it is not an issue that can be understood, without knowing the 15 year history and the science. Facts shout at us. We have to listen.
So while Kildee and others were looking afar for political points, beneath their feet a few meters below, death was lurking.
Compare this with a DGR process storing waste 680 meters below and studied and refined over a 15 year period with years more study to take place.
The story is tragic and it is why OPG, NWMO and CNSC have proposed DGRs as a long term solution. We cannot trust opinions from short term elected officials from the US who do not have the time for the necessary study and who do not have expert staff to delve into the facts.
Waste stored above ground will always be subject to somebody's budge or some political change of heart.
Canada is not innocent in this. All Kildee heard from north of the border were loud voices from the anti-side going to Council meetings in the US to have them quickly sign on to the no side. Did any of these signatories know the issues or that the Bruce has the largest Nuclear Power plant in the world?
As residents of Bruce County will recall, Walkerton had a tragedy that shocked the world, now it's Flint.
If Kildee would like to spend a few weeks with OPG, NWMO, Bruce Power and CNSC, it would help him become a positive force or at least claim to have facts. I suspect that Flint will keep him busy for a while. Remember how long Walkerton took to unravel?
It's a difficult subject, let's give it some respect.
See the Joint Review Panel recommendation in Column 2.
Michigan 5th District with Flint at the bottom of the dark green area Note proximity to Lake Huron
Saginaw Bay has been the source of
long term pollution.
According to the Joint Review Panel ..."The DGR should be built now rather than later"
"The Panel is of the view that the sooner the waste is isolated from the surface environment the better. The Panel notes the importance of reducing and, if appropriate, reusing and recycling the waste. However, it recognizes that current technologies to alter the waste to render it no longer hazardous are limited, particularly for intermediate level waste that contains radionuclides with longer half-lives. The Panel concludes that the likelihood and consequences of an event resulting in the release of radionuclides from surface storage are greater than they would be for a DGR. The Panel is of the view that the risk of waiting until technologies are available to eliminate the hazards associated with longer-lived radionuclides outweighs the benefits."
For the full Joint Review Panel final report Click Here
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Sunday, March 06, 2016