DGR process should continue says Willing to Listen group

On February 5th, 2021, “Protect Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste” (“POW-NNW”) released a statement to the press and the Municipality of South Bruce detailing a series of demands from that legislative body.

South Bruce DGR – Willing to Listen is a local South Bruce group of residents however, with a stated goal of seeking information and education on the proposed-DGR from the NWMO in their municipality. They seek to engage in the conversation between the Municipality of South Bruce, the NWMO, and the community, to make an informed decision.

‘Willing to Listen’ disagrees with POW-NNW on two points of their statement. One, that such a facility is not permitted under zoning bylaws, and two, that there must be a commitment to a binding referendum immediately on the matter of a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in South Bruce. Much of the issued statement hinges on the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (“NWMO”) acquisition of land for the express purpose of constructing a DGR in South Bruce, and a supposed-majority support for their positions. In response to this statement, “South Bruce DGR – Willing to Listen” has issued a release.

It should be clarified, at the outset, that the land purchased in South Bruce is not expressly for the construction of a DGR or its facilities. The land has been procured for site selection purposes – borehole drilling, environmental baseline drilling, and other testing to determine the suitability of the site prior to selection. The presentation of the site purchases for DGR construction at this point is under-informed, at best, or willfully misleading, at worst.

On the first matter, we agree with POW-NNW’s statement, in that NWMO and any prospective DGR project can and must abide by zoning bylaws governing any lands in the Municipality of South Bruce. Where we diverge, however, is that this is not currently a pressing concern. Amending any applicable bylaws is a matter to be met at such time as the viability of a site is confirmed. According to Willing to Listen’s founder, Sheila Whytock, “Control of these bylaws is a powerful negotiating lever for the municipality, and neutering that leverage before negotiating any terms of that amendment is harmful to South Bruce in the long term of this process.”

On the second matter, we do not share POW-NNW’s perspective. Whytock responds to this by saying “any referendum on this matter boils down what is a complicated, nuanced, politically-loaded conversation to a simplistic and binary question, to be decided on their terms alone”. The municipality is commissioning studies on NWMO’s data, and NWMO has scarcely begun geologic and environmental studies of the site – there is simply not enough information to make an educated decision on the matter. Furthermore, POW-NNW’s statement calls into question the qualification and competency of South Bruce’s municipal council, as well as the willingness of South Bruce residents to be informed.

In addition, the presentation of POW-NNW’s survey as fact that a majority of South Bruce residents support this action is questionable at best. By their own statements, “we are informed and we are not a willing host community”; however, the findings of their own sponsored survey show South Bruce is not informed. 28.8% of respondents consider themselves “very informed” (less than one third), whereas 36.1% consider themselves uninformed. The question, then, whether a respondent would vote for or against the DGR project is built on un-firm ground – if 36% of respondents would vote against the DGR because they feel uninformed on the issue, less than 28% of South Bruce residents, then, would vote against the project from an informed stance – far from the overwhelming majority presented. Sheila Whytock says, on the topic: “this illustrates the need to continue with the process so that South Bruce residents can make a decision from a fully-informed perspective, and not half-truths or misleading data”.

In short, we ask that, rather than issuing forceful rhetoric, POW-NNW engage in the process and discussion of the project, with a goal of honesty, education, and openness.”