nuclear hot spots map great lakes A\J AlternativesJournal.ca Original Production by Irene Kock. Updated by Anna Tilman, April 2013, International Institute of Concern for Public Health

Ontarians may have no idea of the volume of nuclear-related facilities in the Great Lakes basin, but a new map offers a clear picture. The Great Lakes Nuclear Hot Spots Map recently created by Great Lakes United and the International Institute of Concern for Public Health is a comprehensive depiction of all facilities related to nuclear power production in the region. And it is intended to get our attention.

“The objective was to wake people up,” said John Jackson, program director for the bi-national environmental group Great Lakes United. “Our organization was stunned when we saw how many places around the Great Lakes had nuclear facilities,” he told A\J. “People we’ve spoken to were really shocked to see the extent of this around the basin.”

There are proposals currently before the federal government to create new nuclear waste disposal sites on Lake Huron near Kincardine and plans to expand the Darlington nuclear station by four additional units on Lake Ontario, but these projects are often seen in isolation from each other, Jackson said.

“We need to look at this cumulatively. We look one by one but have no sense of the total effect on the Great Lakes,” he said. “All of these [give off] small amounts of radioactive materials during their regular operations [and] there are a lot of places that have the potential to have an accident that could have a very dramatic impact on the Great Lakes.”

The impetus for creating the map, which took over a year to complete, was not only the absence of a 30,000-foot perspective on nuclear facilities around the Great Lakes, but the fact that no report had been made on the issue since the International Joint Commission (IJC) studied it in 1997. Jackson believes this 16-year-old report is simply out of date. “In 1997 they said they had no idea the extent of the problem and years later and they still have not taken this study seriously,” he said.

Recently, under pressure from his and other environmental groups focusing on Great Lakes water quality issues, Jackson said the IJC claimed if both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments referred the issue to them to investigate they would. If no referral comes, the IJC will not undertake this study on their own, a move Jackson says has as much to do with scarce funding as it does the priority they place on nuclear concerns.

Jackson is concerned about leakage from transporting radioactive waste from reactors to storage facilities by cargo ship and the potential of waste infecting the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to millions in the basin on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

“A year ago there was a proposal to take Bruce Power equipment to be recycled from Collingwood through the Great Lakes to Sweden but there was a huge uprising from municipalities who didn’t want the threat of this out on the water,” he said.

Environment Minister Jim Bradley said in an interview that any issue involving radioactive material falls under federal jurisdiction and his government is active in monitoring any nuclear situations that arise. “We also have an interest in the quality of water in the Great Lakes so this is something [Great Lakes United] will be getting a response from the federal government on. Having said that, we’ll analyze any information they provide to us and take any action we find appropriate,” Bradley said in an interview.

“We always raise issues of this kind,” he said. “We’re concerned about any potential contamination and the ability to prevent it or clean it up if it’s there.”

Andrew Reeves is an environmental writer completing a book about Asian carp in North America. He is a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal and This Magazine’s environmental columnist. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights.

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