Radionuclides are Turning Our Lakes Into Radioactive Toxic Sewers

Guest Blog
(originally published as a letter to the editor in Bruce Peninsula Press (Issue #5, 2016, May 3-17, 2016)

Water is the elixir of life. Water is surounding our peninsula. That’s why the Bruce Peninsula Environment Group (BPEG), now in its 27th year, has strived true to its mission statement to preserve the unique ecology of the Bruce Peninsula, its shores, and the waters around it.

Back in the late 1990’s, we held a symposium titled “Are our lakes turning into toxic sewers?” and the presenter speaking before the near capacity crowd at the Rotary Hall was John Jackson, then President of the bi-national Coalition of Great Lakes United (GLU). We’ve always kept a critical eye on the Bruce Nuclear Generating site, with its eight reactors and the large nuclear waste facility next to it, on a spit jutting out in to our Lake Huron.

Canada and the U.S. have had a joint Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) for many years. In the 2012 amendment a section was added to list chemicals of mutual concerns. Over all these years, nuclear emissions from more than 30 sites around the Lakes have never been coherently monitored. Through a great study by John Jackson, now a Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), the health and environmental effects were highlighted and resulted in a letter to both governments to add radionuclides to be declared as "chemicals of mutual concern" under the GLWQA. Together with over 100 organizations, BPEG with other groups from Bruce County felt compelled to add its name to this letter. That's because there is an overwhelming concern that these radioactive elements keep accumulating because of long half-lives and will affect the health of the aquatic habitat, our drinking water, ourselves and future generations.

In 1997, the Nuclear Task Force of the International Joint Commission (IJC), concluded that the monitoring of the nuclear power emissions are not very cohesive and highly recommended that the governments should address this problem. Almost twenty years later and nothing has been done. Through studies, several highly respected bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences, have found evidence that even very low levels of radiation can have serious health impacts, from cancer-causing cell damage to genetic mutations that can trigger birth defects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted these findings and has set its protective levels accordingly, but our Canadian Regulator has not followed its example.

With the nuclear power reactors reaching the end of their design life and still being kept operating, there is much concern about more frequent leaks and accidents which are adding to the levels already in our environment.

Nuclear power is the least efficient way of generating electricity, having to boil water to make steam that drives the turbines which then produce electricity, while using huge amounts of water to cool the fission process. Wind turbines and solar panels don’t need water to produce clean, safe and sustainable electricity. Nuclear generators leave us with huge amounts of radioactive and toxic wastes that are costly to safely maintain which will haunt us and our offspring for many generations. There has been no long term solution for how to keep this lethal waste out of our environment.

John Jackson has been unwaveringly working on the GLWQA with the IJC as the agency monitoring the health of our waters. I worked with him for seven years on the Board of Directors of GLU. At the IJC meetings, I presented our concern that Lake Huron doesn’t have the Lake-Wide Action Management Plan that the four other Lakes have. There is high time to protect our lake and monitor all the toxic emissions from the largest operating nuclear plant in the world and other industries. It’s so very important to speak out on matters that are of huge public concern that are not widely understood. I hope that under the guidance of Megan Myles as chair, BPEG will continue to raise awareness and preserve the health and environment of our unique ecology, which hopefully will allow us to avoid endangering our health.

View the groups' letter and the associated study