Canada and nuclear waste

Nuclear power production began in the 1970's, before the government or the nuclear industry had any safe means of storing or disposing of the highly radioactive wastes

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was created by Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick Power, the generators and owners of nuclear fuel waste. The NWMO was directed by the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act to review three "options" for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste (continued storage at the reactor site, centralized storage, or  geological disposal) and report with a recommended option by November 15, 2005.

In November 2005 the Nuclear Waste Management Organization submitted its  recommendation to the federal government.  Calling it "Adaptive Phased Management", the NWMO combined all three of the federal government's "options" in a 300-year phased approach moving from storage at nuclear plants, to centralized storage, and finally to deep rock disposal. In the first phase of the NWMO plan, the waste will remain at nuclear plants for 30 years while a centralized site is selected. The site will have  rock formations allowing shallow underground storage, an underground research laboratory, and a deep geological repository. In the second 30-year phase of the NWMO plan, either a shallow underground facility will be built at the identified site and waste transportation will begin, or waste will remain at the nuclear plants pending completion of a site research facility and construction of a deep geological repository at the site. In either case, the waste will be moved to the selected site The repository may or may not be closed after the following 240 years

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization's "fourth option" combines the worst of all three!

In  June 2007  the Nuclear Waste Management Organization launched the siting process for a nuclear waste repository with the release of "Moving Forward Together: Designing the Process for Selecting a Site", a week before the Government of Canada announced its selection of the NMWO's recommendatin of "Adaptive Phased Management" as the "best option for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste".

The NWMO spent from 2005 to 2009 preparing to launch its search for a "willing host" to Canada's stockpile of highly radiactive nuclear fuel waste. The site search is expected to be launched in early 2010.

In 2010, the NWMO intends to:

They also have big plans on the technical side of their work, including: Between now and 2014, the NWMO also plans to redo the numbers for how much money they need to have set aside,  and “interact with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on APM in the pre-licensing period consistent with the terms of the special project arrangement relating to provision of regulatory information and reviews”. No mention of public involvement in that last task.
(source: Implementing Adaptive Phased Management, 2010 to 2014, November 2009, DRAFT FOR REVIEW, NWMO)

The NWMO Siting Process is being finalized in late 2009 / early 2010. According to the documents in circulation in 2009, it included nine steps - some of them giant, some of them mouse-size.

            (Source: Excerpted from NWMO Documents, October / November 2009)

In November 2009,  small community in northwestern Ontario, Ignace, earned the unenviable distinction of being the first community in Canada to take a nibble at the NWMO's elusive prize - a "national infrastructure project" worth $24 billion. Of course, that's not $24 billion for the community or even for the project. And, of course, to "win" the prize you'd also have to put your community on the receiving end  of the more than 2 million bundles (and growing) of highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste that has been generated by nuclear power reactors in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. By October 2010, three more communities had added themselves to the list: Ear Falls in northwestern Ontario, and English River First Nation and Pinehouse in Northern Saskatchewan.

This article from the Watershed Sentinel describes the nuclear (waste) chain in Canada:
Nuclear Waste Across Canada: Yellowcake Trail

Nuclear Waste Owners On Tour
NWMO Holds"Information Centres" on Proposed Method of Siting for Nuclear Waste
Sudbury - May 25th, 2009 - Howard Johnson Hotel, 50 Brady Street - 2 pm to 9 pm

Northwatch News Release    Backgrounder     NWMO May 25th Event Details     MPP Rick Bartolucci's News Release

NWMO "designing" a siting process

Background on Nuclear Waste in Canada

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited -  a crown corporation which the federal government funds to research and promote nuclear technologies -   tried for two decades to find a means to rid the nuclear industries of its biggest  technical and public relations problem - the highly radioactive wastes produced by nuclear reactors. The net result of their efforts - they were replaced by a new agent of the nuclear industry, the federally mandated Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

How it all began ...

In 1988, AECL began seeking federal approval for a "concept" of a "disposal" method for  nuclear fuel wastes. The AECL concept, or idea, is to bury the highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste in the granite rock of northern Ontario. This "concept" is the result of political decisions in the 1970's, and was not the subject of a public or scientific review before the federal government adopted it as policy.

The approval that was being sought by AECL was for the "concept" only, and did  not require that AECL identify a site or prove that it will not cause harm where it is eventually located. When the review began in 1990, AECL was undecided about many aspects of their proposal. The wastes will be buried in caverns 500 to 1,000 feet below the surface; in titanium or copper cylinders; in the containers used to transport the waste from the reactor to the site or in a specialized container; and with or without reprocessing before burial.

By the end of the eight year public process, they were still undecided. The most consistent description given has the waste put in titanium cylinders which are placed in drill holes in the floor of an underground chamber - there would be a series of underground chambers - with the chambers being backfilled before closure. AECL also produced a case study for putting the waste in copper cylinders placed directly in an underground chamber, with the backfill around the copper container.

Was the AECL "concept" proven safe and acceptable?

The assessment of the "concept" as presented by AECL and its safety and acceptability can be approached in a number of different ways: on the adequacy and soundness of the information provided by AECL; by the critique of the technical and scientific advisors to the Panel; and by the views and information provided by others throughout the review process, including the expert testimony presented by Northwatch and other review participants and the critiques provided by the participants themselves. Singly or in synthesis, the conclusion of the various assessment approaches is the same: the AECL "concept" is neither demonstrated to be safe nor shown to be acceptable. It should be noted that, far from a not-in-my-backyard approach, public representations consistently and categorically stated that the AECL concept is not acceptably anywhere. First Nations could not have been clearer: no "disposal" on their lands, no transportation through their territories, and no authority exists, other than that of the First Nations, to allow otherwise. A Scientific Review Group appointed to give the review panel technical advice produced scathing critiques of AECL's proposal and supporting documents, and listed numerous technical and scientific shortcomings.

Did the Hearing Panel Approve the AECL "concept"?

In March 1997 the federal review panel issued its report. It's key conclusions: AECL had failed to prove that the "concept" of burying  nuclear waste in the Canadian Shield was safe or acceptable. The Panel's key conclusions were that "from a technical perspective, safety of the AECL concept has been on balance adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development, but from a social perspective, it has not... The concept does not have the required level of acceptability to be adopted as Canada's approach for managing nuclear fuel waste.". In brief, the Panel found that the AECL concept was still just that - a concept, with some theoretical possibilities, but with no demonstration of safety or acceptability in a real-world analysis. The Panel made a number of recommendations, all of which emphasized the need for a strong public role in future development and evaluation of nuclear waste management options, and the necessity of developing a social and ethical framework to use in assessing options. The Panel recommended that an independent agency be established with a board or directors with broad representation, and that and waste management option must gain broad acceptability before any search for site begins.

How Did the Government Respond?

The government quietly released its response to the panel report in December 1998. The 17 page response rejected the Panel conclusions in a number of key areas. The government announced that it will create a new agency, but its board of directors will be made up of only the nuclear industries. Public involvement in evaluating nuclear waste management options will be restricted, and discussions with communities in "siting territories" could begin immediately as part of "building acceptability" for a waste management option (rather than following broad public acceptance as the review panel had recommended).  Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the government response - and the most damning - are its repeated declarations that acceptance of a nuclear waste management option will "support nuclear energy, and particularly the CANDU option, as a sustainable supply option for electricity". The future of the nuclear industry was specifically excluded from the 10 year review, but securing that industry's future is the priority message in the government response. The Chretien government's blind support of the nuclear industry has been a recurring point of controversy over the last several years.

In 2001, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act was drafted to reflect the Government's 1998 response, and was criticized soundly in hearings of the Canadian Parliament and Senate.In 2002, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act came into force, and the nuclear industry created the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to manage research and consultation related to the long term management of nuclear fuel waste. The NWMO was mandated to report to the federal government by November 15, 2005 with a recommended option for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste.

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