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OPG pressed non-profits to back Bruce County nuclear-waste plan

Intermediate level nuclear waste is stored in “in-ground” structures near the Bruce nuclear power plant on June 26, 2013.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Ontario Power Generation made a quiet appeal this summer to non-profit organizations that it supports in Bruce County to endorse its controversial proposal to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron, newly released documents reveal.

After initially denying such material existed, OPG released under freedom of information laws a list of 19 non-profit organizations to which it sent e-mails soliciting support, including a women's shelter, a youth basketball association, and a beach volleyball league.

In a July 3 e-mail, OPG's Lynda Cain told the staff at the Bruce-Grey Women's House that provincial Crown corporation "would very much appreciate" their support. She asks the shelter executives to write a letter or appear at hearings, and provides a "discussion aid" that will be "helpful in preparing your letter of support."

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Peter Storck, a resident of Saugeen Shores, Ont., who obtained the documents, said there was no apparent threat to cut the groups' funding, but added they would doubtless have felt pressure to respond positively. "I just think it is unethical – which is far too tame a word," said Mr. Storck, who opposes the plan to bury some 200,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste some 680 metres underground near the lake shore.

He said the appeal was part of a pattern in which OPG has showered municipalities and local groups with financial benefits to buy their favour without regard to the safety of the project.

A federal review panel wrapped up hearings on Wednesday into OPG's project, which is seen as a permanent answer to a waste disposal problem that has vexed the nuclear industry since its post-war inception. Staff at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission say the disposal site – in impermeable limestone rock that has not moved for hundreds of millions of years – would pose no threat to human health or the environment.

But critics in Ontario and Michigan say it makes no sense to bury nuclear waste that will remain dangerous for centuries so close to the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for 40 million people. In a letter released on Wednesday, four members of the U.S. Congress from Michigan urged the review panel not to approve the site without much more consultation with the United States.

OPG has garnered endorsements from local municipalities, chambers of commerce and many residents who have lived for decades in the shadow of the Bruce nuclear plant, where the waste repository would be built. At least some of that was prompted by OPG's appeal to community groups this summer.

On Aug, 7, Women's House's executive director, Casey Weichert, sent a letter to the joint review panel supporting OPG at the hearings, but did not specifically endorse the waste project. She wrote that the power utility has been a significant contributor to the organization's shelter, counselling and outreach services.

"Their ongoing commitment to creating and sustaining relationships within the community is to be commended," she wrote. In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Weichert said she was happy to highlight OPG's community engagement. "They've been a great support to us locally," she said, adding emphatically that she felt no pressure to get involved.

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OPG spokesman Neal Kelly said the company was required to address socioeconomic impact as part of its application. "Our community partners are in a position to judge and speak to the value OPG brings to the community," he said. "Through these relationships, we support various groups that align with our corporate principles and the groups have an opportunity to talk about OPG and the good that we do in the community."

On the final day of the hearing, officials from the Saugeen First Nation said they could not support the OPG project and require further discussions about the plan and the historic concerns about lack of consultation when nuclear power and waste were introduced on their traditional territory decades ago.

Chief Randall Kahgee said consideration must be given to "spiritual and cultural" issues that would arise from burying nuclear waste in "mother earth."

"Our people do not believe these decisions can be made purely on technical or economic grounds," Mr. Kahgee said.

In a letter to the Ojibway community this summer, OPG chief executive Tom Mitchell said the corporation would proceed with the project only with the support of the Saugeen First Nation.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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