Wednesday, February 16, 2005

TheStar.com - Verdict due on nuclear waste site

TheStar.com - Verdict due on nuclear waste site

Kincardine townsfolk and politicians alike will find out tonight what their fellow citizens think about building deep underground storage vaults for radioactive waste near the town.

Verdict due on nuclear waste site
Residents polled on disposal plan


JOHN SPEARS
BUSINESS REPORTER

The envelope, please.

Kincardine townsfolk and politicians alike will find out tonight what their fellow citizens think about building deep underground storage vaults for radioactive waste near the town.

A Toronto-based polling firm, The Strategic Counsel, has tried to ask all residents 18 and over whether they favour the proposed waste site. The results will be unveiled at tonight's town council meeting.

If more than 50 per cent of those polled favour the underground storage plan, the council is scheduled to vote tonight on a bylaw to push ahead with the regulatory process needed to get it approved.

The council has already voted in favour of the plan and drawn up an agreement that would see the storage facility's proponent, Ontario Power Generation Inc., pay $35.7 million over 30 years to Kincardine and four neighbouring municipalities.

Kincardine, which would get two-thirds of the money to use as it pleases, commissioned The Strategic Counsel to poll adult residents about the proposal. If more than half reject the plan, the town "will direct OPG to consider alternatives." If there's a tie vote, the issue would be referred to a council committee.

It's not a usual municipal process, Mayor Glenn Sutton said. "But it's not a usual municipal issue, like a sewer or water main," Sutton added.

Still, not everyone is pleased with it.

Jennifer Heisz, who thinks the facility could damage the environment and the health of residents, says she was never contacted by phone or mail, and says she knows others who were also missed.

Nor did the poll cover seasonal residents, who also have a vital interest, she said. "This can't even approach being credible."

Michael Sullivan, a partner with The Strategic Counsel, said the firm made every effort to reach all the town's more than 8,000 adults.

"We made at least 10 calls to each household" until there was a reply, and a toll-free number was also left for residents with an answering service, he said. The number of households reached closely matched Statistics Canada's data for households in the town, he added.

Whatever the result of the poll, Kincardine's response will be carefully studied as Ontario mulls the wisdom of spending billions of dollars over the next decade refurbishing its aging nuclear stations — or even building new reactors.

What to do with the radioactive waste produced by nuclear facilities, and finding a community willing to play host to it, are part of the puzzle of charting Ontario's nuclear future.

Kincardine is not a surprising choice as a possible site for a waste facility; it's been a nuclear town for 35 years. It's the biggest community in the neighbourhood of the Bruce nuclear station, operated by Bruce Power LP under lease from OPG.

But the area also has a considerable tourist trade and it sits on the edge of western Ontario's agricultural heartland.

The nuclear station lies 16 kilometres north of the town centre, but, after swallowing the adjacent township, Kincardine's boundaries now embrace the nuclear plant itself.

The Bruce site already stores low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from reactors across the province in buildings and surface containers.

OPG plans to store the waste in underground caverns, carved out of limestone 660 metres below the earth's surface. They would hold low- and intermediate-level waste generated by all Ontario nuclear plants until 2034, when they would shut.

The site wouldn't hold spent fuel, the most dangerous waste produced by power reactors. Finding a home for spent fuel has been turned over to the federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

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