DURHAM: In modern times, nuclear technology seems to generate a sense of anxiety, in addition to a large portion of our electricity.
Over 50 per cent of Ontario’s electricity production comes from nuclear power. This fact has left many people feeling uneasy, given the dangers linked to nuclear waste.
Janet McNeill has been an activist for 30 years. She currently acts as coordinator for Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA), a volunteer group that looks to raise awareness about nuclear risks to residents of Durham Region.
“There are two very, very large nuclear plants in Durham Region,” McNeill says, “The longer they run, the more waste they produce.”
What exactly is nuclear waste?
Simply put, it is the material that nuclear fuel becomes, after it is used in a reactor.
Compared to other energy sources, nuclear generation produces surprisingly little waste. It’s the fact this waste is radioactive and extremely toxic that causes concern.
Nuclear waste stays radioactive for thousands of years.
As radioactive material decays over time, it can release energy into the environment which can be extremely harmful if a body is exposed to it. It can directly kill cells or cause mutations to DNA. If those mutations aren’t repaired, those cells could become cancerous.
With something so dangerous at play you would think the industry would be closely monitored by the government, and protected by straightforward laws and regulations.
Many activists say this is not the case.
“Canada’s nuclear regulator is seen by many to be a captive of the industry,” McNeill says. “It all looks pretty much like a take the money and run game.”
The Department of Natural Resources Canada does not hide the fact that the waste itself is not dealt with on a federal level.
“Owners of radioactive waste are responsible for developing and implementing solutions to manage their waste, sagely, both in the short and long-term,” says Jocelyn Argibay, communications officer for the department.
Earlier this fall, Janet McNeill was one of over thirty experts to sign a formal letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This letter urges Trudeau to prioritize the development of a long-term plan, at a federal level.
“We need to sit down and plan how to get this right,” says McNeill, “if there is such a thing. I’m not sure there is... Nuclear waste is one of those wicked problems. It’s forever, essentially.”
Despite conspiracy, worry and criticism: Argibay insists the Government of Canada is dedicated to ensuring that safe solutions are in place for managing the waste.
Is this enough? Are citizens being heard? Some would say no.