Tuesday, December 18, 2012 2:20:30 EST PM
This is the fourth of my five-part letter explaining why I am opposed to the building of a high-level, deep geological repository (HL-DGR) in Bruce County for the disposal of exhausted fuel rods from nuclear reactors.
In parts 1, 2 and 3 I argued that Bruce County is a completely inappropriate location for a HL-DGR because (1) it is in the midst of an agricultural and recreation/tourist region, (2) the stigma associated with nuclear waste might depress the county’s economy and also reduce land values, (3) a HL-DGR would create an imbalanced and boom-bust economy, (4) deeply buried nuclear waste has the potential for contaminating the environment and endangering human health through construction activities of the repository and because of unexpected failures in the underground storage system, (5) the potential for accidents in transporting nuclear waste (by road, rail and ship) to Bruce County from central and eastern Canada, and possibly the United States as well, would create additional risk to the environment and human health, (6) payments made by Ontario Power Generation to several municipalities in Bruce County for their
“… cooperation in support …” of the low- and medium-level DGR (at the Bruce generating station) may be influencing municipal/town council interest in the high-level DGR.
In this, Part 4, I discuss the possibility that corporate convenience may be influencing the site selection process for a HL-DGR and, secondly, that the scientific basis of a deep geological repository may be severely limited, creating other levels of risk.
Corporate convenience. I am concerned that Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) may be tempted to locate a HL-DGR in Bruce County because: (1) roughly 42 per cent of Canada’s exhausted fuel bundles is stored at the Bruce generating station, (2) the results of initial screening for a high-level repository in municipalities adjacent to the Bruce generating station did not exclude those municipalities from further consideration, suggesting that the regional geology is potentially as suitable for a high-level DGR as for a low- and medium-level repository, (3) technical services in southern Ontario and the adjacent United States are readily accessible and the infrastructure (transportation network, housing, schools etc.) is well developed or could be expanded. My greatest concern is that, for all of the reasons mentioned above, work on the LM-DGR planned for the Bruce generating station may be developing into a trial run, geologically and politically, for a high-level repository in Bruce County.
This is disturbing because it would give momentum to a HL-DGR in Bruce County independent of the “partnership approach” with the general public developed by NWMO; and probably also be very much of a surprise to the 60 per cent of the Kincardine voters and municipal/town councils in neighboring jurisdictions who in 2004 approved a much different DGR.
Scientific issues. After reading a number of scientific studies on the NWMO website and technical reviews by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), I would be skeptical of any assurances that the geology at the Bruce generating station may be suitable for a DGR, whether for low- and medium or high-level waste. Scientific knowledge of the geology underlying the Bruce facility, where one or both of the DGRs may be built, is based less on local site data (project-dedicated boreholes) than regional information obtained from distant petroleum/gas/water wells and surface outcrops. In addition, many geoscience studies concerning the properties of the different bedrock formations (mineralogy, porosity and permeability – all affecting the mechanical strength of the rock and deep groundwater movements) and the presence of faults and fractures (affecting the vertical movement of fluids) – to mention just two categories of information required – are often based on inferences from small diameter cores (eight centimeters or less) taken from boreholes, computer predictive modeling based on the laboratory study of those samples and analogue studies of rocks from distant outcrops – a very narrow base of information. In addition, some studies may be unknowingly flawed. Other kinds of information (or higher levels of confidence in the information that is available) may simply be beyond the current capabilities of geoscience. Scientific knowledge is never complete, always subject to improvement or change.
No high-level, deep geological repositories are operating in the world today, although three are in an exploratory, near-construction or construction phase: Onkalo in Finland (in granite; currently under construction and scheduled to begin operation in 2020), at Bure in France (in clay; currently being researched at an underground laboratory and scheduled to open in 2025) and at Psthammar in Sweden (in “wet” granite; construction to begin in 2012 and operations in 2023). NWMO’s proposed HL-DGR would be buried in limestone, not granite or clay but, like the European repositories, would use engineered and natural containment systems (steel caskets encased with copper and placed in shafts sealed with bentonite clay). Considered together, the geological context and barrier system will be unique in world experience; untested in practice.
Lots to think about.
In the last part of my five-part letter explaining why I oppose a HL-DGR in Bruce County, I will discuss my concerns about whether NWMO will be able to avoid overselling the project and provide a balanced assessment of the risks of a high-level nuclear waste disposal facility.