"Demonstrating that this facility can be approved and operated safely is important because it can improve confidence that future high-level waste facilities also can be operated safely," Peterson said.
The Canadian "deep geologic repository" would be the only deep-underground storage facility in North America, aside from a military installation in New Mexico. Other U.S. radioactive waste landfills are shallow — usually 100 feet deep or less.
The most highly radioactive waste generated at nuclear plants is spent fuel, which wouldn't go into the Canadian chamber. Instead, the site would house "low-level" waste such as ashes from incinerated mop heads, paper towels and floor sweepings. It also would hold "intermediate waste" — discarded parts from the reactor core.
The project would be operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), a publicly owned company that manages waste generated by its nuclear reactors and others owned by Bruce Power, a private operator. Officials insist it's the safest way to deal with radioactive material that has been stored aboveground since the late 1960s and needs a permanent resting place.
"We've had many scientists and engineers studying this for many years," OPG spokesman Neal Kelly said. "They've concluded that it will not harm the environment or the public."
Most of the waste would decay within 300 years, but the company acknowledges the intermediate waste would stay radioactive for more than 100,000 years. That's too long for Eugene Bourgeois, who has a wool yarn business near Bruce Power.
"We have only recently discovered radioactivity," he said. "It's arrogant to think we're smart enough to know what it will do to life on this planet over such a long time."
Larry Kraemer, mayor of Kincardine, says most of his constituents don't share those fears. The risk of radioactive pollution is "so low as to be almost unimaginable," he said. "The people here draw their drinking water from the lake. We're certainly not going to take any chances with it."