May 24, 2004
Challenge Radioactive Waste Plan
Toronto -- Canadian environmental
groups say that a draft
recommendation released today by the Nuclear
Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has ignored a primary concern
of Canadians -- as a first priority, no more high level radioactive waste
should be produced.
“They refuse to consider
waste reduction by shifting electricity production from nuclear power to
cleaner, safer options. Nobody wants a radioactive waste dump in their
backyard” said Dave Martin, Energy Coordinator for Greenpeace
In 2002 the federal government
gave NWMO a three-year mandate to choose between three radioactive waste
management alternatives: “deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield”;
“storage at nuclear sites”; or “centralized storage”. However, as NWMO
admits, all of these options have serious problems.
NWMO has released a draft
recommendation combining all three flawed options in a 300-year, $24 billion
“phased” approach moving from storage at nuclear plants, to centralized
storage, and finally to deep rock disposal. It says the high-level radioactive
waste dump should be located in either Quebec, Ontario, or Saskatchewan,
and will make a final recommendation to the federal government by November
“The Nuclear Waste Management
Organization is leading the public down a radioactive garden path. This
is just a re-packaged version of the standard nuclear industry options”
said Brennain Lloyd, Coordinator for Northwatch,
a coalition of groups in north-eastern Ontario. “The phased approach is
the worst of all worlds – it combines all the problems of site-storage,
centralized storage and deep-rock disposal.”
“There’s no way to contain
poisons that last a million years. The first priority should be the phase-out
of nuclear power not the phase-in of a radioactive waste dump” said. Dr.
Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition
for Nuclear Responsility. Agreement on a nuclear waste strategy, environmentalists
say, depends on waste reduction through the phase-out of Canada’s 22 nuclear
reactors by 2020, at the end of their operational lives. NWMO says it has
“not examined nor [made] a judgment about the appropriate role of
nuclear power”. However, NWMO’s board members – Ontario Power Generation,
New Brunswick Power and Hydro-Quebec – are all rebuilding or planning to
rebuild their aging reactors, potentially doubling the amount of Canada’s
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For more information, contact:
Greenpeace Canada, office 416-597-8408 X 3050 cell 416-627-5004
Lloyd, Northwatch, 705-497-0373
Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, cell 514-839-7214
Background and Summary: NWMO Radioactive
Ignoring a 1998 recommendation
by a federal environmental panel (the Seaborn Panel) to create an impartial
radioactive waste agency, in 2002 the Chretien government gave control
of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to the nuclear industry
– Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick Power.
The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act gave
the NWMO a three-year mandate to choose between (a) “deep geological disposal
in the Canadian Shield”; (b) “storage at nuclear sites”; and (c) “centralized
storage, either above or below ground”. The NWMO must make its final recommendation
to the federal government by November 15, 2005.
NWMO’s May 2005 draft recommendation
was a fourth option called “Adaptive Phased Management”. It combines all
three 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, while waste remained at nuclear plants for 30 years, a centralized
site would be selected with rock formations allowing shallow underground
storage, an underground research laboratory, and a deep geological repository.
This site would therefore be in either the Canadian Shield or an area with
Ordovician sedimentary rock (for example, south-western Ontario).
In the second 30-year phase
of the NWMO plan, either a shallow underground facility would be built
at the identified site and waste transportation would begin, or waste would
remain at the nuclear plants pending completion of a site research facility
and construction of the deep geological repository at the site. The repository
may or may not be closed within the following 240 years.
NWMO says that the high-level
radioactive waste dump should be located in either Quebec, Ontario, or
Saskatchewan. This is apparently because these provinces have nuclear reactor
sites. However, there are also reactor sites in New Brunswick (Point Lepreau)
and Manitoba (Whiteshell Laboratories). New Brunswick has been ruled out
because it does not have suitable rock formations. Manitoba, however, does
have suitable rock formations, and may have been excluded because of legislation
forbidding radioactive waste sites. Quebec has a policy against the siting
of a permanent radioactive waste dump, but no legislation.
NWMO has identified 19 economic
regions in Quebec where a radioactive waste dump could be located; 17 in
Ontario; and 3 in Saskatchewan.
NWMO has also stated, “We recognize
that communities in other regions and provinces may come forward with interest
in possibly hosting the facility [waste dump]. Such expressions of interest
should also be considered.” (Chapter 9, p. 160). The nuclear industry has
long favoured deep geological disposal in the granite rock of the Canadian
Shield, which is located in areas of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut.
High level radioactive waste
(also known as irradiated or spent fuel) is the used uranium fuel from
nuclear power and research reactors. Each fuel bundle from a power reactor
weighs about 24 kilograms, and at the end of 2004 there were about 1.9
million fuel bundles at Canadian nuclear facilities (about 45,000 metric
tonnes). Without an early nuclear phaseout, an additional 2 million fuel
bundles (about 45,000 metric tonnes) will be produced.
High level radioactive waste
contains over 100 different radioactive isotopes. Even low doses of radiation
emitted by the waste can cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems.
The waste is lethal and must be strictly isolated from the environment
for a million years. If the wastes leak into the environment, the radioactive
elements will contaminate the soil, water and air.
The NWMO says cost of its proposal
is $22.6 to $24.4 billion ($2002) (Table 3-7, p. 106). This compares to
industry estimates of $14 to $18 billion for deep geological disposal;
$16 to $24 billion for reactor site storage, and $14 to $22 billion for
central storage. The comparable present value figures ($Jan2004) are $5.1
to 6.1 billion for the NWMO proposal; $5.5 to $6.8 billion for deep geological
disposal; $1.9 to $5 billion for reactor site storage; and $2.8 to $4.3
billion for central storage (See: Joint Waste Owners Conceptual Designs,
WHAT DOES NUCLEAR WASTE
WATCH SUPPORT? For the foreseeable future, radioactive waste management
should be based on surface and/or near-surface monitored and retrievable
storage -- at least until a nuclear power phaseout has been achieved, the
technical case for an alternative option (or options) has been thoroughly
reviewed, and a social consensus has been achieved. Nuclear Waste Watch
is also calling for a joint federal/provincial environmental assessment
panel on the full range of waste options following the NWMO recommendation
in November 2005. The federal government should also guarantee a full parliamentary
debate and free vote on the recommendations of the NWMO and the environmental