It’s natural for humans to be afraid, and to focus on, and even obsess about things we’re afraid of. For example, many people are nervous and afraid of flying, even though we’re statistically 200 times more likely to die in a car accident than we are in a plane crash. Psychologists tell us that most people have a natural “negativity bias”, which means we pay more attention to something we perceive as negative or threatening than something positive.
What does this have to do with the Deep Geological Repository (DGR), Canada’s plan to store spent fuel from nuclear reactors deep beneath 250 acres of our beautiful South Bruce farmland? Well, for people my age and older, we remember the “cold war” era, when the number one existential threat was something called “nuclear”. This was the threat of nuclear war, which has pretty well nothing to do with nuclear power besides the name, and the fact that both technologies have to do with splitting atoms. For a lot of people, the very term “nuclear” makes them uneasy and fearful.
Today, most of us understand that our number one existential threat is the way we are destroying our environment, including the burning of fossil fuels, which is causing our climate to change in dangerous and unpredictable ways. The consensus is that the best path forward is “electrification”, which will require massive amounts of non-emitting electricity generation. This puts nuclear in a different light. Nuclear power is a necessary part of the solution, and permanent storage of spent fuel is a necessary part of nuclear power.
As someone who has had the great privilege of working in and around the nuclear industry for a couple of decades, I feel a debt of responsibility to help bring my neighbours to a better level of understanding, and to overcome unfounded fears. We who have worked in the industry know the extreme, almost religious approach to safety that prevails in our nuclear generating stations. We know the pervasive passion for protecting people and the environment from radiation, and the layers upon layers of protection the industry puts in place to do so. We know the constant improvements in science and engineering that have been achieved over the past decades, and continue to take place today. Many of us have accumulated a wealth of experience working with nuclear technology, as operators, maintainers, scientists and managers.
That’s what makes South Bruce one of the best places in Canada to build the DGR. We don’t need to rely solely on outsiders to explain how things work, or what’s safe – we can talk with industry insiders right here in our own community.
Soon, we residents of South Bruce will need to make a decision whether or not we are a “willing host community”. My fervent hope is that we will each make up our own mind with a clear head, informed by sensible discussion and the science at hand, based on the expected impacts and benefits for our community, and not on unfounded fears.
Tony Zettel, RR5 Mildmay