Paul Mitchell, Detroit Free Press guest writer 12:17 a.m. EST December 9, 2015
(Paul Mitchell opinion piece appears in today’s Detroit Free Press at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/12/09/nuclear-waste/77009180/)
In recent months there has been an uproar over a proposed low-level nuclear waste facility being developed along the shores of Lake Huron in Canada.
This facility would allow Ontario Power Generation to store low-level waste 2,000 feet below ground less than a mile from Lake Huron.
New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently delayed the decision on whether to move forward on this project until March 1. I applaud this delay and urge our Canadian neighbors to abandon this project and identify a more suitable location outside the Great Lakes basin in order to protect the drinking water of millions of citizens in both countries.
Stopping this Canadian low-level waste facility does not mean that the Great Lakes will be protected from potential hazards of nuclear waste. Nuclear power plants currently dot the lakes on both sides of the U.S./Canadian border. Nuclear power is a key component of our national energy policy with nearly 20% of our nation’s electricity, and around 30% here in Michigan, coming from nuclear power.
Canada produces about 16% of its electricity via nuclear power with many of those plants along the shores of the Great Lakes. Yet, we still have failed to address the challenge of how to safely and permanently store the spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste generated at U.S. nuclear plants to protect our environment, particularly our precious Great Lakes.
Due to federal inaction and outrageous political deals, power generation companies are forced to store highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel onsite along the shores of the Great Lakes. This problem has posed, and continues to pose, a real threat to the Great Lakes environment.
There is a solution to this problem; a solution for which American taxpayers and electricity rate payers have already spent tens of billions of dollars — the national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain deep in the desert wilderness of Nevada. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1987 mandated such a site be built to accept waste from across the nation, and Yucca Mountain was approved by Congress in 2002 after having been studied as a possible location since 1978 and scientifically deemed to be a safe repository of this waste for at least 10,000 years.
In 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to abandon Yucca Mountain in an effort to win the favor of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from the important early caucus state of Nevada. Following the election, President Obama’s energy department backed away from the Yucca Mountain site, without a plan for an alternative, leaving tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear facilities along the shores of the Great Lakes, in very hazardous sites in earthquake zones along the Pacific Coast, and other environmentally sensitive locations across the nation in the name of political deal-making, not science or safety.
While we urge the government of Canada to make the “responsible” decision about our Great Lakes, we also need to insist upon such decisions in this country. We must demand a safe and clean environment by dealing realistically with the waste nuclear energy produces. Given the fact that Sen. Reid will soon be leaving the Senate and Obama will soon be leaving the White House, Congress has the opportunity to take decisive action to put Yucca Mountain back on the table to solve this challenge once and for all. This can only be accomplished if we put leadership to protect our energy and environmental security ahead of politics, and allow no more political deals that kick the can down the road. Congress and the federal government must act to move forward with Yucca Mountain.
Paul Mitchell is the former CEO of Ross Education. He led the effort to defeat the Proposal 1 tax increase and is a Republican candidate for the 10th Congressional District.