Speaker cautions about dangers of nuclear waste deep geological repository

By Melissa Murray, QMI Agency 

Tuesday, February 19, 201310:49:59 EST AM

About 50 people came out to a public meeting on Feb. 9, to hear why Central Huron should reconsider hosting a deep geological repository to house nuclear waste.

Brennain Lloyd, project coordinator of Northwatch, a regional group that has looked into the issue of housing nuclear waste in the Canadian Shield for over 25 years, came to the REACH centre to explain that housing nuclear waste has both economic and health risks.

“When you opt into a DGR (deep geological repository) you are quite potentially opting out of other economic activities,” said Lloyd.

Lloyd explained there is uncertainty as to how the nuclear waste will interact with the barriers and how radioactive material will react in a closed environment. She also fears there will be corrosion of the barriers, the releasing of gases, seismic or glacial activity or that human error could cause someone to unknowingly affect the site over its 300 year lifespan.

Twenty-one communities, largely concentrated in western Ontario, have indicated their interest for being potential host sites for a nuclear waste repository, since the Nuclear Waste Management Organization asked communities to indicate their support in 2010. Central Huron indicated their interest in learning more and learned the results of a desktop study of the municipality during a session of council on Feb. 19.

The DGR that would be constructed is a multi-barrier system 500 metres below ground. On the surface, 250 acres of land is needed as well as 930 acres subsurface.

Currently, nuclear waste is held in a fuel bay or pool for eight to 10 years before being transferred to dry cask storage containers. Of the waste produced so far, Lloyd said 75 per cent is sitting in pools and the remainder is sitting in dry cask storage.

Since the tsunami in Japan, where the Fukushima nuclear plant released radioactive materials, regulators are looking at trying to move more waste from the pools to the storage containers to decrease the vulnerability. “The less waste in the pools, the better,” said Lloyd.

Currently low and intermediate level waste is being trucked to the Bruce Western Waste Management facility where low-level waste is incinerated and the intermediate level waste is stored.

Lloyd explained that repositories are the option favoured by nuclear facilities all around the world for storage of high level waste.

There are several problems with the nine step process the NWMO has laid out for communities to get more information and show their support for the process, said Lloyd.

“This is an incredibly divisive process and neighbours and friends will be divided,” she said.

In terms of the process, communities are put on a shortlist of host cities before they are required to demonstrate the community’s willingness to have the project.

When the Kincardine area was asked about housing DGR one, Lloyd said the willing majority worked out to 42 per cent, with 60 per cent of people responding and 70 per cent of those approving of a vague question.

“It didn’t say do you support a nuclear waste repository one kilometre from the shore of Lake Huron,” she said.

To make sure that the community is interested in having the repository, Lloyd suggested communities hold a referendum or a vote well before they are put on a short list, but in the end, Lloyd isn’t confident in the process. She also isn’t confident in the predictions made about the repository.

“There are known uncertainties with DGR and we have no confidence those uncertainties will be resolved,” she said adding, the NWMO needs to start dealing with the reality at the reactor station, including moving waste from pools into more secure storage.

“We owe it to reactor communities to take a more proactive approach” than putting waste deep underground where it can’t be monitored or measured appropriately.

Transporting the waste to the repository, depending on the method of transportation includes another set of risks for everyone along the route, explained Lloyd.

The NWMO estimates approximately 3.5 million bundles will be transported throughout the life of the DGR meaning two road shipments a day, a train a week or two boat loads a month, but Lloyd suggested the Waste Owners Group recently completed a study which found trucking the waste is the cheapest. She now suspects trucking will be the preferred option.

Lloyd suggested the standards for safety testing how the waste would be transported are not high enough, saying the containers are dropped from one foot, tested in 800 degree Celsius heat for 30 minutes, submersed in 2 cm of rain for 30 minutes.

In congested traffic, Lloyd said 30 minutes of exposure is the equivalent of 2 chest x-rays.

Lloyd suggested phasing out nuclear energy and engaging in a mix of renewables.

If the project did move past stage two in Central Huron, which Lloyd advised against several times, she recommended third party studies into the stigma surrounding nuclear waste and how that might have a negative impact on the area’s largest sector, agriculture.

National Farmers Union local 335 president Tony McQuail said the benefit of the repository is seen to be for its economic impact. With the recent closures of E.D. Smith and MDL Doors, McQuail said Huron County is looking for jobs. But he also added, the people who’ve recently lost their jobs, wouldn’t be the employees hired for the repository.

“They would be coming from outside the community,” he said.

“How many dollars would become local, I’m not sure that that is known,” he added.

The event was organized by the local divisions of the National Farmer’s Union and Christian Farmers Federation

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