Used nuke fuel project will likely require community referendum (September 2012)

By Troy Patterson, Kincardine News

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 3:09:13 EDT PM

A community referendum and other detailed decisions are the most likely scenario for whatever area successfully meets the years of social, technical, geological and environmental studies set out to qualify a site in Canada’s long-term used nuclear fuel storage framework.

The gatekeepers of Canada’s long-term management plan for used nuclear fuel, or Adaptive Phased Management (APM) don’t plan to debate rhetoric attacking the project, but instead look forward to lengthy dialogue over the better part of a decade to determine a willing and educated host community to accept and welcome a used fuel repository.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is currently working with the 21 communities who approached the company and are interested in finding out more about the “first-of-its-kind-in-Canada” used nuclear fuel deep geologic repository project, expected to receive increasing national and international attention in the coming months and years.

With opponents to the project planting “No Nuke Dump” signs across Saugeen Shores and spreading into the Municipality of Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss, the NWMO is taking a neutral, science-based approach to provide whatever information is required to answer questions about the project, to the communities that have shown interest in hosting the used fuel repository.

“We want to foster a dialogue of respect, so people can feel safe in expressing their views,” said NWMO communications manager Michael Krizanc, who said he has no opposition to differing views, as they are needed in the process.

“Some don’t trust the company, the government, or scientists, which is why we need continuous engagement. We need to earn their permission to move forward.”

About 10 members of the media from Bruce and Huron counties toured Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) on the Bruce nuclear site Sept. 7, in order to educate and provide information to them on the current nuclear fuel and low and intermediate-level waste storage methods, as each of their local communities discuss the possibility of hosting the site. The visitors also spent over two hours with NWMO officials, discussing the social and technical details of the APM process and the repository, from beginning to end. They were also provided an extensive information package that’s also available to the public online. (

“This is going to attract the world’s attention when it’s underway,” said Krizanc. “(APM) commits this generation to take the first steps to manage used nuclear fuel.”

Huron-Kinloss played host to the NWMO Sept. 11-12, with eight-hour open houses held at the Ripley Huron Community Centre. The sparsely attended events saw both people asking questions and sharing their concerns for the project. South Bruce also held events in their communities.

They are two of many open houses planned in the communities in Ontario and Saskatchewan throughout the process, whose municipal councils have openly expressed interested in learning more about the APM plan to build a used nuclear fuel repository more than 500-metres underground, designed to be retrievable as a future energy resource, or to sit isolated for 100,000 years or more.

“The time frame is tough for people to appreciate, as it goes on for longer than recorded time,” said Sean Russell, NWMO director of repository research. “The time frame is also not a one-trick, or one-issue situation. Getting people to think more broadly about the issues is very important and is just one of our challenges.”

Russell said educating people about the technology, the geological models, science and tools that will be engineered with the intent to survive or avoid the changes in the Earth over time, and convincing them it’s safe, is just a fraction of the long-term challenges facing NWMO staff.

Opponents and many members of the general public are “suspicious of the industry” and Russell said their goal is to learn “what is safe to them” and provide whatever information necessary to educate and raise their comfort level so they understand the NWMO’s role and the science and technology behind the repository.

“We have to help those with a narrow thought line to think more broadly and not shut off the information we’re giving them,” he said. “People expect more than a top-down authority telling them what to do.”

Aside from explaining the science, community engagement is a massive undertaking in terms of determining the ability of the project to be implemented, while preparing for the stress construction and operation would put on local infrastructure, schools, hospitals and public/private services, culture, the influx of workers, as well as external media and the international attention that would be brought on by the project, all in collaboration with the host community.

“No decision will be made that compromises safety,” said Jo Anne Facella, NWMO director of social research and dialogue. “A compelling demonstration of willingness is needed to move forward. In order to do that it needs to involve a conversation that includes everybody.”

At the end of Step 4, the leading communities must demonstrate a dedicated interest on the part of the community as a whole to pass Step 5, she said.

�Municipal council as a whole can’t get you through this process,” said Facella. “Compelling willingness needs to be demonstrated. A referendum would be a part of that and other expectations may evolve before then.”

Step 6, Site selection could be completed within the next two years to determine one or two potential candidates from the current 21, but no earlier than 2014. After that point the Site Evaluation Process is expected to take seven to 10 years of extensive study involving technical and geological studies, bore-hole drilling, peer reviews and ongoing community involvement and feedback along the way, said Facella.

The “community-driven process” currently has 11 communities in Step 2 (Learning More/Initial Screenings). These include Bruce County communities like Huron-Kinloss, Brockton, Arran-Elderslie, Saugeen Shores and South Bruce, as well as the northern Ontario communities of Nipigon, White River, Blind River, Elliott Lake, North Shore and Spanish.

Another eight communities are at Step 3 of the process and are under preliminary assessment by NWMO. These include English River First Nation, Pinehouse and Creighton in Saskatchewan, as well as Ear Falls, Ignace, Schreiber, Hornepayne and Wawa in northern Ontario.

Still in Step 1 are the communities of Manitouwadge and Huron County’s Central Huron, which have both expressed interest in receiving more information.

Facella said jobs and the socio-economic benefits are obvious drivers for the expressions of interest, as scope of the project is valued at $16-$24 billion to see its completion. More than a decade of consultation may be required to see proper community and societal acceptance achieved in the eyes of Canadians, as well as the NWMO.

“This is a societal question on how it will be handled over the long-term,” said Facella. “We all have knowledge to bring to this. We share that, and it reflects that in the study, so we want people to come in, learn and contribute… it’s both a policy and ethical issue.”

A federally mandated national infrastructure project, APM is funded by nuclear fuel users in Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario, including Bruce Power via its Ontario Power Generation (OPG) lease, as well as Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a trust fund was established years ago to ensure finances would remain available over the long-term to construct a system where nuclear fuel is stored and monitored for generations, during the 60 to 100-plus years the repository would operate and the centuries after the land above the site has been decommissioned.

Currently over two million used fuel bundles are stored at Canada’s nuclear reactor sites, or the equivalent of six hockey rinks stacked to the boards. The repository would be designed to accept the current used nuclear fuel as about 40% of its capacity, leaving another 60% to be filled over its operating life of about 100 years. During operations, it would also act as a “centre of excellence” where international experts could share best practices and build on Canada’s used fuel storage experience.

Krizanc said the NMWO decided on the deep geologic repository option as a path forward based on a 2002-2005 nation-wide study involving 18,000 Canadians, 120 information and discussion sessions in every province and territory and dialogue with 2,500 Aboriginal peoples. With options like “shooting the used fuel into the sun” as an option quickly weeded out, the repository was looked upon as the most realistic option, he said.

The study determined that “safety and security” is the top priority for Canadians, while also sharing the view that the current generation “must take action now” and not leave the build up of used nuclear fuel to future generations. The other focus of the study is that it be adaptable, Krizanc said, meaning scientific and technological advancements will be included over time, as well as the impact of societal changes and the views of Canadians.

The surface area required for the project is about 250 acres, with about 650 acres required underground at a geologically undisturbed area 500-metres or more, in either sedimentary rock like the local Great Lakes lowlands, or crystalline rock like the Canadian Shield. Russell said both rock types are suitable for a repository, as they would be a natural barrier to isolate radiation from being released into the natural environment a half-kilometre above. The primary containment would feature the Candu corrosion-resistant Zircaloy fuel bundles inserted into of a sheath of copper and encased in prehistoric bentonite clay, which near-doubles in size if ever to be exposed in water and provides a barrier from it, retaining radionuclides within the clay and host rock, he said.

“Used fuel will be retrievable during all phases,” said Russell, who added much of the public’s interest the future of the site after its closure. “These containers are designed not to fail. The regulators (CNSC) are interested and people are interested in seeing this.”

In order to earn the public’s support for the science, NWMO staff have lined up the most unlikely of timelines, scenarios and circumstances that could lead to the release of radiation, due to human error or system failure. Hypothetical geospheres and worst-case environmental scenarios involving water sources, future agricultural uses, ice ages and geological changes are all under consideration in the project modelling to show how radiation would be contained by the geology, Russell said.

“We want to be able to show people how a release would work its way through worst-case environmental scenarios,” he said.

Potential candidate areas must have no deep groundwater sources, oil and gas resources, or potentially valuable mineral or ore deposits.

Bruce County’s groundwater sources are within the first 25-30 metres, according to previous studies. It is also has low seismic activity, no oil or gas resources, no precious metals and 40% of Canada’s used nuclear fuel located in close geographic proximity.

Huron-Kinloss recently learned it passed the initial screening process, while Saugeen Shores council will be informed of its candidacy in the coming weeks.

NWMO staff agreed that the level of analysis in every community will be different, so it’s up to them to learn the needs of their audiences and provide them whatever information they require about the project.

Although NWMO has set a timeline for feasibility studies to be completed by 2014, the project has “no fixed timetable” and “no urgency” to see it advanced from a safety perspective.

“Canadians want us to get a move on, but they want us to do it right,” said Krizanc. “We’re going to take our time.”

Detailed project information and videos are available at

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