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Michigan tribe and lawmakers urge Canada to rethink plans for nuclear storage site near Lake Huron

Nuclear Waste Management Organization
Canada is planning to install an underground nuclear waste storage facility in one of two possible sites in the Great Lakes basin. American lawmakers have introduced a resolution opposing those plans.

A group of Michigan lawmakers will submit a resolution to Congress asking the Canadian government to change its plans for nuclear waste storage near Lake Huron.

Ten Michigan congresspeople, both Democrats and Republicans, are sponsoring the resolution, alongside legislators from other Great Lakes states, including Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

“Permanently storing nuclear waste in the Great Lakes does not make any sense,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat representing an area around Flint and Saginaw, who introduced the measure.

“The Great Lakes are central to our way of life, and permanently storing nuclear waste so close to our shared waterways puts our economies and millions of jobs at risk in the fishing, boating and tourism industries.”

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization is considering two sites to store that country’s radioactive waste. One is in northwestern Ontario, 150 miles from Lake Superior. The other is in the southern part of that province, much closer to Lake Huron -- though Monica Hudon, a spokesperson for the waste management organization, said both sites are landlocked and miles from any of the Great Lakes.

The communities around both potential sites in Canada have expressed interest in hosting them, Hudon said. “Deep geological repositories are the safest way to protect people and the environment,” she said.

“In Canada, communities have been taking the time to fully understand these projects before making decisions. We would encourage lawmakers to do the same.”

The U.S. already has several nuclear storage sites around the Great Lakes. Hudon said those sites are older and less reliable than what Canada is proposing.

“We are doing the responsible thing by implementing plans to place used nuclear fuel in a deep geological repository which, scientists from around the world agree, would permanently protect people and the environment including the lakes,” said Hudon.

Still, Kildee said, the plans for the storage sites put shared ecosystems and American people at risk.

“They get to take the benefit that comes from nuclear power generation but pass the risk on to people on our side of the border, on our side of the lake.”

Frank Cloutier, a spokesperson for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, agreed. He said nuclear power is an important source of non-fossil fuel energy, but he wants Canada to find a different place for its waste products.

“All they have to do is find a repository that’s more secure, more inland, with greater guarantees. I’m not saying ‘No’ to nuclear power. Absolutely not. What I’m saying is, make better choices.”

Cloutier said despite the waste storage organization's assurances that it would use the best technology available to keep the waste secure, he still feared a risk of a radioactive leak from the disposal site. Even a small risk, he said, was too much.

“If there’s contamination, we’re losing a way of life,” said Cloutier. “We’re losing an ecosystem that provides ecotourism. We’re losing all of these hard-working jobs that are supported by our Great Lakes.”

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.