Great Lakes region targeted for nuclear waste dumps

The Great Lakes region, the center of the freshwater universe, could become home to central repositories for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the U.S. and Canada.

The U.S. and Canadian governments are both studying the possibility of building radioactive waste dumps in the Great Lakes basin.

This is, in a word, INSANE.

The Great Lakes are the largest source of surface freshwater on the planet, provide drinking water for 30 million people and support one of the world’s largest regional economies.

There are also large deposits of granite in parts of the Great Lakes basin, which has caught the attention of federal officials looking for a place to store radioactive wastes for eternity.

The Associated Press reported that the Obama Administration’s decision to scrap the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada has federal officials looking at new sites in areas with large deposits of granite. Minnesota and Wisconsin have large deposits of granite, especially around the western end of Lake Superior. Read more here.

The Canadian government is considering a proposal to store most of that nation’s spent nuclear fuel rods along the shores of Lake Huron, in the tourist town of Saugeen, Ontario. Read more about that plan here.

Of course, these studies are in the initial stages. My point is that the Great Lakes region shouldn’t be part of the discussion of where to permanently store high-level radioactive waste.

I’m sure the nuclear power industry and government agencies could provides all kinds of data and studies that suggest nuclear waste repositories are safe and pose little risk of causing pollution.

The salient point here is that we must stop playing Russian roulette with the health of the Great Lakes and the millions of people who rely on the lakes for drinking water, employment and recreation.

Many nuclear power plants, including some adjacent to the Great Lakes, currently store spent fuel rods in concrete casks because there is no repository for the radioactive waste. (U.S. Department of Energy photo)
There is no question that the U.S. and Canada need repositories for high-level radioactive waste. It makes no sense to store spent fuel rods at nuclear power plants, several of which are located on the shores of the Great Lakes.But if the two nations are serious about building nuclear waste repositories that are safe, and pose the least chance of causing environmental harm, those facilities should be kept away from the Great Lakes.

The U.S. and Canada are already paying an extraordinarily price for our past willingness to risk the health of the Great Lakes for commercial gain.

Over the past two centuries, industries littered the lakes with millions of pounds of toxic chemicals that have contaminated fish and wildlife and made some areas unfit for human use.

The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, which allowed ocean freighters into the Great Lakes for the first time, unleashed a biological catastrophe in these freshwater seas. Zebra mussels and other invasive species have caused the most profound, destructive changes to the Great Lakes in recorded history.

When Congress and President Obama passed the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, it seemed that our nationally elected officials had finally realized that the lakes are a national treasure worthy of protecting.

Inviting nuclear power plants across North America to send their high-level radioactive waste to repositories in the Great Lakes basin would be a monumental mistake and the pinnacle of hubris.