On risk and choice

Dear Editor,

In the discussion regarding the proposed Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in South Bruce, it has been suggested that the decision to host the project is about risk and choice. 

I agree. Like all great opportunities, there is a choice to be made, and like all choices, there is an element of risk. 

I would suggest that there is virtually nothing we do that does not involve some sort of risk. Without taking risk, we would not drive a car, buy a farm or a piece of equipment, plant a crop, or go on vacation. Our local farmers understand this best, as they live and work in an industry with many hazards, like operating heavy machinery and rotating equipment. Farmers have stewardship of our beautiful farmland and our rivers and streams. Every crop year, they have to manage risk to themselves and the environment in order to produce food. And they need to manage significant financial risk, in an industry where a simple change in the weather, like a late frost or a timely rainfall – can make a massive change to profit and loss.

What does this have to do with the DGR? The scientists and engineers in the nuclear industry are also experts at dealing with risk. They need to manage high energies and dangerous substances that can cause hazards to people and the environment. In the case of the DGR, layer upon layer of risk mitigations have been built into the design, to reduce the risk to the level of near certainty. Unlike farming, the DGR is not generally dependent on weather. Even cataclysmic changes like seismic events and drastic climate change have been taken into account in the planning. As far as risk of radioactive pollution, in my opinion, the risk is very close to zero, and our confidence should be bolstered by our fifty-year history of safely handling spent nuclear fuel.

What about other risks? For those living down the road from the DGR, there’s a very real risk that there will be more trucks and cars on the road, and more people driving past the laneway. That’s almost a certainty. There’s also the risk that some uninformed consumers may question the safety of our agricultural products. That risk is not generally supported by the experience of the thousands of farms and businesses that currently operate safely and successfully near nuclear facilities.

Which brings us to the other part of the equation – the opportunity. If there’s some risk, why would we do it? What’s in it for me? I already have my farm/house/business. This is where it gets tough. For current voters and land-owners like myself, it’s very likely there will be zero personal gain. 

By the time the DGR construction begins in the 2030s, I hope to be happily retired. Even most of my kids will likely be well into their careers at that point, and the DGR may not mean anything to them either. But the DGR would be a major contribution to Canada’s energy industry, and it has the potential to bring hundreds of high-paying, high-tech jobs for future South Bruce workers, allowing them to stay here in our community, earning and spending their money, and generating prosperity for our local businesses. 

To me, that’s worth some consideration, and maybe worth the risk.

Tony Zettel
RR5 Mildmay

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