Another Look at the Deep Geologic Repository Plan, The Agenda (April 2014)

Another Look at the Deep Geologic Repository Plan

by Hilary Clark, The Agenda, Thursday April 17, 2014

Last fall, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency convened a review panel to assess Ontario Power Generations proposal to dispose of low and intermediate level radioactive waste in a Deep Geologic Repository buried 680 meters underground at the Bruce Nuclear complex just outside Kincardine, Ontario. The panel held several days of testimony and received hundreds of pages of submissions on the project. It was then expected to make a recommendation to the federal Minister of the Environment on whether the project should go ahead.

That process didnt go quite as expected, with the panel requesting additional information from OPG and indicating that they will reconvene public hearings. To help us get up to date on these developments, I spoke to a staunch opponent of the project, Beverly Fernandez, spokesperson for Stop The Great Lakes Nuclear Dump. If you’d like to read the Toronto Star article I quoted while speaking to her, it’s here.

Watch Beverly Fernandez here:

Back in the fall, after the panel wrapped up their first hearings, we hosted a discussion between Larry Kraemer, Mayor of Kincardine and strong advocate for the project, and Brennain Lloyd of Northwatch, an opponent of the proposal. You can watch that here:

If youd like to know more about OPGs proposal, theyve posted extensive material about it on a website dedicated to explaining the DGR proposal.

Details about the Joint Review Panels mandate and process, including all the testimony and evidence is posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website.

Finally, for more information on Ms. Fernandezs group, you can visit the Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump website.

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With no frame of reference, WIPP crews must move slowly and carefully (April 2014)

By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 12:05 am

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Its been two months since a radiation leak shut down New Mexicos geologic nuclear waste repository and two weeks since crews first went underground to explore the cause.

So why is it taking so long to find out what happened?
On April 2, teams prepared to re-enter the WIPP underground nuc

On April 2, teams prepared to re-enter the WIPP underground nuclear waste storage facility for the first time since the Feb. 14 radiation release. (Courtesy of Department Of Energy)

The fundamental point is there is no example in the world of a radiologically contaminated underground salt mine, said Don Hancock, who runs the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at the nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque. They really do have to make it up as they go, and they want to be careful.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has broken the investigation into three phases and, over the weekend, crews began the third and final phase: to make their way toward the suspected source of the radiation leak.

Its slow going for a number of reasons.

The distances underground are long and the investigation teams must travel on foot because vehicles could stir up contamination, Tammy Reynolds, deputy recovery manager, said at a recent town hall meeting. Additionally, crews are working to establish a clean base of operations as close as possible to the site of the contamination because the heavier protective gear they will wear as they approach the problem area will limit how long they can work.

a01_jd16apr_wippThey need to be concerned about getting into a contaminated environment without being prepared for it and they need to be sure that, from a mine safety standpoint, they are not getting into a place thats a problem, Hancock said. I applaud the fact they are going slow.

WIPP is housed in a sprawling mine excavated from ancient salt beds some 2,150 feet below the surface. Below ground, the waste disposal area is divided into eight panels containing seven rooms each each room the length of a football field stacked to the ceiling with sealed containers of transuranic waste, the leftovers of the countrys nuclear defense program.

WIPP managers believe the Feb. 14 radiation leak may have stemmed from either panel 6, nearly filled with waste, or panel 7, which recently began receiving waste.
A team member surveys conditions from the salt shaft station to

A team member surveys conditions from the salt shaft station to the air intake station, where exit locations would be established. (Courtesy of Department Of Energy)

The crews are inching toward a lunchroom situated a few hundred feet from the entrance tunnel to panels 6 and 7. If the lunchroom is not contaminated with radiation, crews will set up a base camp there, Reynolds explained during the town hall. Thats where they would potentially change from lightweight protective clothing into the heftier Level B suits, made of impermeable gray plastic, including a built-in hood with a clear plastic visor. Workers are wearing respirators now and will continue to do so, WIPP has said.

Although the temperature underground is cool, the plastic suits let no air in or out, making it easy for the workers, who are unaccustomed to wearing such gear, to become overheated, while perspiration can fog up the visor. Its enough of a problem that WIPP is now reconsidering whether to use Level B suits at all, said spokesman Ben Williams.

And thats another reason the investigation has taken as long as it has: Plans keep changing

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Nuclear waste heads into the virtual realm (April 2014)

Apr 16, 2014,

Illustration of the virtual underground laboratory at the Fraun
Testing ground: the virtual underground laboratory

A new computer-based tool designed to help find the best sites for nuclear-waste repositories and to win public confidence in them has been developed by researchers in Germany. The 3m VIRTUS virtual underground laboratory will allow scientists to explore the behaviour of highly radioactive materials inside specific rock formations, with the aim of making it cheaper to develop and build repositories. Critics, however, argue that the new software will do little to improve safety and might disrupt real laboratory studies of nuclear waste.

Underground disposal

Many scientists believe that the best way to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and other long-lived radioactive materials is to bury them hundreds of metres underground, with Sweden and Finland having both selected sites for national waste repositories next to existing nuclear power stations. France also plans to open its own facility in 2025, and, like Sweden, has built a major underground lab to test the geology and technologies to be used at the site.

However, there are severe technical and societal problems associated with repositories, not least that the waste they contain will remain harmful for hundreds of thousands of years. The development of a national repository in Germany, for example, has been mired in controversy. A formal site-selection process has still to be set up, even though exploratory work at the Gorleben salt mine in the north of the country began as far back as the 1970s. The nearby Asse mine, meanwhile, was set up in the 1960s as a research facility but was decommissioned in 1997 after a brine leak threatened to flood the complex and cause it to collapse.

Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg, together with Germany’s nuclear-safety organization (GRS), the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources and the waste-repository company DBE Technology, VIRTUS will attempt to partially address this issue. The software enables detailed models of specific rock formations or mine structures to be created and then fed into a simulation to calculate how a repository would evolve physically and chemically over time. The results of these calculations can then be visualized graphically, and it is planned that members of the public will in future be able to see those graphics inside a 360° projection system.

Modelling heat

Klaus Wieczorek from the GRS, who is head of VIRTUS, says that the software could, among other things, model the heat emitted by the radioactive decays taking place inside canisters, and the resulting temperature-induced stress that would build up in surrounding rocks. It could be used to better design laboratory experiments, he explains, and to simulate the performance of potential repositories ensuring that safety criteria, such as maximum-allowed temperatures, are met and that the position of tunnels can be optimized to minimize mining costs.

A prototype VIRTUS system was supposed to have been completed this spring, but unexpected difficulties associated with matching up the geological models with those simulating the behaviour of nuclear waste has now pushed that deadline back. "We are continually improving the prototype and we will present it to funding institutions in October this year," says Wieczorek. In fact, he admits that it might be "another two or three years" before it is ready for public use.

Arising uncertainities

Johan Swahn of Swedish nuclear-repository watchdog MKG believes that the new software has little or nothing to contribute to research on radioactive-waste disposal. He says that experiments carried out in underground laboratories continue to provide "a lot of surprises". For example, new uncertainties have emerged regarding how copper canisters designed to hold Sweden’s spent fuel behave in low-oxygen environments, and as a result the licence application for the proposed national repository may not be approved. "Creating a generic safety case with a nice visualization will in my opinion only enhance a dangerous belief in modelling, creating a false impression that we have understood more than we actually have, he says.

About the author

Edwin Cartlidge is a science writer based in Rome

Northwatch | Box 282 . North Bay . P1B 8H2 | Tel 705 497 0373 |

Canada narrows list of possible locations for nuclear waste facility (April 2014)

7 of 22 municipalities dropped from list of potential sites

By Rick MacInnes-Rae, CBC NewsPosted: Apr 09, 2014 7:07 PM ETLast Updated: Apr 09, 2014 7:07 PM ET

Canada is a step closer to picking a place to store spent nuclear fuel underground for the next 100,000 years, a project that’s backfired on some of the world’s other nuclear economies.

Despite the stigma of radioactivity, 22 Canadian municipalities expressed interest in hosting such a facility. Four have now been moved up the list for further evaluation, while seven have been rejected as not suitable. The other 11 are still in the initial assessment phase.

Final approval could take another couple of decades, but if a site is found and approval given to build a Deep Geologic Repository (DGR), the project will generate thousands of jobs, some lasting generations.

Billions would be spent constructing a vast warehouse over 500 metres underground to contain some of the most radioactive waste in the world.

Deadly byproduct

Nuclear energy has helped meet Canada’s electricity needs for more than 40 years, but a deadly byproduct has been steadily building up as a result.

There’s a growing inventory of spent uranium pellets. The radioactive pellets are stored inside long tubes bundled together like 24-kilogram logs.

Spent uranium pellets from nuclear reactors are stored inside long tubes that are bundled together like 24-kilogram logs.

Heading the search for a secure place to store those tubes is the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO), funded by Canada’s four nuclear agencies, which describes the situation this way: "If Canada’s entire current inventory of just over two million used fuel bundles could be stacked end-to-end, like cordwood, it would fit into six NHL-sized hockey rinks from the ice surface to the top of the boards."

At present, spent fuel is stored at seven different sites across Canada, including at the reactors it once powered. But thats not a long-term solution, because in time those reactors will be decommissioned and dismantled.

In its quest for a site, the NWMO took the novel step of asking Canadian communities if they’d think about hosting the highly-radioactive payload.

"Well, we didn’t know what to expect" said Jo-Ann Facella, director of social research and dialogue at the NWMO.

"We put out the plan that Canadians had come forward with and the government had selected as Canada’s plan. And an important part of that plan, it emerged from Canadians, is that these facilities only be implemented in a willing host."

What also came back were expressions of interest from 22 different municipalities, tempted in part by the promise of employment if theyre chosen. Some were also drawn by the fact that for taking part in the selection process, they’ll get $400,000 even if they’re not chosen, providing they advance far enough in the process and a DGR is ultimately approved.

All those on the list are from Ontario and Saskatchewan, none from the nuclear-power provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. (Ontario already hosts the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, where a proposal to construct another DGR on-site for low-to-intermediate level nuclear waste is far more advanced.)

Among the first communities to move up the list is Creighton, Sask. – population 1,500 – where every Monday is Bingo Night, but the town has never won the jackpot of jobs, says Mayor Bruce Fidler.

Under the deep geological repository plan, spent nuclear fuel bundles would be encased in copper containers, then embedded in holes bored into rock 500 metres below ground. (Nuclear Waste Management Organization)

"We’ve been looking at different things throughout a number of years to attract more business, more industry to the area. So that’s why we are learning more about this process."

Creighton is the only Saskatchewan site left on the list. But southern Ontario sits on just the right kind of rock, a thick plate of limestone delightfully named the Ordovician Cobourg Formation. Water contamination and seismic activity is not thought to be an issue for a facility built in that kind of rock, though 24 American reactor operators "cannot show that their reactors would withstand the most severe earthquake that revised estimates say they might face," according to the New York Times this week.

Three Ontario towns with promising geology are moving to the next level of evaluation for a DGR; Hornepayne, Ignace and Schreiber.

Eleven other Ontario sites are still in the early stages of assessment; Blind River, Brockton, Central Huron, Elliot Lake, Huron-Kinloss, Manitouwadge, Nipigon, North Shore, South Bruce, Spanish, and White River.

Seven sites have been turned down because their geologys not right, or they lack the 250 acres of land above ground for ventilation buildings. They include English River First Nation, and Pinehouse in Saskatchewan. And in Ontario, Arran-Elderslie, Ear Falls, Saugeen Shores, Wawa, and the Township of Red Rock.

Mixed reception

In Saugeen Shores on Lake Huron, Mayor Mike Smith expressed regret about missing out on the potential economic bonanza a DGR project would bring, but notes nuclear waste is also controversial.

Canada’s spent nuclear fuel is temporarily being stored at seven main facilities across the country.

"It’s in the neighbourhood of a $30-billion project, so I think that’s a fairly big infrastructure project that would have big economic benefits. But it would also have some pretty big social effects on our community."

Indeed, the rejection notice is welcome to some.

"We are very pleased the NWMO has eliminated us from the siting process" said Pat Gibbons, speaking for Save Our Saugeen Shores, a citizen’s group opposing DGRs in the region.

"We feel that the Great Lakes Basin is not the appropriate place to bury nuclear radioactive waste."

That’s because of fears of leaks in and out of underground nuclear facilities. It has happened before.

In Lower Saxony, German engineers at a salt mine used as a DGR for radioactive waste since 1967 have discovered water coming in, and that the structure has begun to weaken. A salt mine in Morsleben used for similar purposes has also become unstable.

More recently, American authorities shut down the DGR near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February after workers were exposed to radioactive gas that was also detected above ground. ‘We need to meet robust technical requirements, but at the end of the day it’s going to be the decision of society when, and if, and under what conditions, we want to move forward with this project.’- Jo-Ann Facela, NWMO

The NWMO’s Jo-Ann Facela contends a DGR in Canada would involve more sophisticated controls and technology than anything that exists today.

"We need to meet robust technical requirements, but at the end of the day it’s going to be the decision of society when, and if, and under what conditions, we want to move forward with this project."

And if that’s not enough, the narration in one of the NWMO’s promotional videos adds a dash of guilt to the pitch.

"Canadians have told us that our generation – which benefits from nuclear energy – has an obligation to move forward now with a long-term management program for the used fuel we produce. It would be unfair to future generations to wait any longer."

Meanwhile, Canada is piling more spent fuel bundles on to those virtual ice rinks every year.

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Schreiber, Hornepayne, Ignace move to next stage in nuclear burial site process (April 2014)

2014-04-09 at 21:58
By Leith Dunick,

Three Northwestern Ontario communities are moving to the next stage as Canada seeks a long-term burial solution for nuclear waste.

Starting this month small fixed-wing aircraft will conduct aerial geophysical studies over Hornepayne, Ignace and Schreiber, as well as Creighton, Sask.

The three Ontario communities were among 22 who expressed initial interest with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to potentially house a deep geological repository, that when constructed will safely contain and isolate Canadas spent nuclear fuel.

Seven communities have been eliminated after the initial stage. Fifteen others, including Nipigon, Manitouwadge and White River, will continue on to the next phase of study.

Ear Falls, Wawa and Red Rock were among the seven communities that have been removed from further study during the Phase 1 assessments.

The NWMO says several more years of study will be needed before a site can be chosen. The organization adds a site won’t be picked without extensive consultation in each community, as well as nearby First Nations and other surrounding municipalities.

As posted at,-Hornepayne,-Ignace-move-to-next-stage-in-nuclear-burial-site-process

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Northwestern Chamber holding off on firm nuclear position for now (April 2014)

Northwestern Chamber holding off on firm nuclear position for now

By Matt Vis,

The region’s Chamber of Commerce is keeping its eyes on nuclear waste disposal.

New Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC) president Nathan Lawrence says the group passed a resolution at its spring meeting this past weekend hold off on taking a firm position on the matter until they have all the answers.

Its really important that were doing our due diligence to continue with the research and making sure we have all the information and facts before a decision is made, Lawrence said on Monday.

What were hearing is that there are communities interested in partaking in this potential program, but we want to make sure our businesses and business members have the appropriate information.

Lawrence, the former president of the SHIFT Young Professionals Network, was named president at last weekends meeting in Geraldton, replacing former president Michael Nitz after his one-year term expired.

The group also passed resolutions advocating for the proper allocation of wood in the forestry industry and trying to allow for stick-frame construction in mid-rise buildings through the Ontario Building Code.

NOACC represents chambers of commerce ranging from as far west as Kenora to Marathon in the east, and includes branches such as Dryden, Fort Frances and Greenstone.

There are nearly 2,000 businesses encompassed

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Nuclear waste disposal meetings ‘don’t go far enough’ (April 2014)

Environmental group Northwatch wants people to have more opportunity to speak out

CBC News Posted: Apr 01, 2014 11:14 AM ETLast Updated: Apr 01, 2014 11:14 AM ET

A North Bay-based environmental group holds meetings in the northwest this week, to talk about nuclear waste disposal.

Six communities in the region are among the 15 under consideration for long-term storage by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

Northwatch project co-ordinator Brennain Lloyd said the group will hold meetings in Nipigon today and in Schreiber and White River on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
Brennain Lloyd

Brennain Lloyd of Northwatch says the NWMO’s meetings provide an opportunity to hear the organization’s message, but not enough open dialogue. (Supplied)

"Our objective is to be … sharing information and networking across the different communities who are being studied by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and creating an opportunity for people to have the conversation, Lloyd said.

Meanwhile, the NWMO has two open houses of its own planned for Nipigon today and Wednesday.

Lloyd said the NWMO’s community consultations don’t go far enough, however.

"Those [meetings] provide a certain opportunity for people to find out what [the NWMO’s] message is, [but] it doesn’t provide an opportunity for people to really have around-the-room discussions.

Community must be ‘informed’

But NWMO regional communications manager Patrick Dolcetti said town hall-style debates don’t always have the best results.
Patrick Dolcetti

NWMO communications manager Patrick Dolcetti says the organization has found the open-house meeting format ensures "respectful conversations." (Supplied)

"We’ve found that meaningful dialogue occurs best when our specialists are able to have respectful conversations, one-on-one, with small groups, at events such as open houses, he said.

Dolcetti noted it is still early in a years-long site selection process, and communities under consideration can withdraw at any time.

"This project will not come to a community that does not demonstrate they want to be an informed and willing partner," he said.

Nipigon, Schreiber and White River are three of the communities under consideration in the northwest. The others are Ignace, Hornepayne and Manitouwadge.

The Northwatch meetings take place at 7 p.m. today at the Nipigon Community Centre, 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Schreiber Municipal Office and 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harmony Seniors’ Centre in White River.

The NWMO open houses take place today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Nipigon Legion.

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