By: John Spears Business reporter, Business Reporter, Published on Tue Sep 09 2014
KINCARDINE, ONT.Accidents of the type that led to the closure of an underground nuclear waste facility in New Mexico wont happen in this province, Ontario Power Generation insists.
But chiefs of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) told a federal panel as hearings re-opened Tuesday that they remain to be persuaded that OPGs plans will protect their territory.
OPG wants to bury low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in a limestone formation 680 metres deep on the site of the Bruce nuclear plant near Kincardine.
We have come today with tough but open minds and deep concerns over our future, Chief Vernon Roote told the panel.
Chief Arlene Cheghano said the SON doesnt want to accept new risks, and noted that the waste site, which contains material that will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of millennia, is a forever project.
Our concerns have not yet calmed, she said. We will keep and open mind, but we will test what we hear.
Tuesdays hearings focused on whether OPGs project is affected by two incidents at the WIPP waste site in New Mexico, which stores waste material from the U.S. nuclear weapons program in underground salt caverns.
A fire in an underground vehicle in February forced evacuation of the operation. Ten days later, in another part of the storage area, radiation leaked from a waste container, and a small amount escaped to the surface. The cause isnt certain.
But a robotic camera has shown a container with a lid that appears to have been damaged by heat possibly caused by a chemical reaction of materials packed inside.
One theory is that cat litter, used to mop up a liquid spill, reacted with chemicals in the bin.
OPG officials ran through a list of factors that make the WIPP operation which remains closed different from OPGs planned waste site.
In industry jargon, OPGs site is a deep geologic repository, or DGR.
Waste at the Kincardine site will all come from OPGs nuclear reactors, the utilitys Lise Morton told the hearing. The company knows and understands its properties, she said.
The WIPP site receives material from a variety of government labs, and contains a broader spectrum of chemicals, she said.
There has been no evidence of strong chemical reactions of the type seen at WIPP, she said.
That point has been disputed in a submission filed by Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition of Nuclear Responsibility, which notes that OPG ultimately intends to bury waste from de-commissioned reactors at the site.
The variety of waste forms intended for OPGs DGR staggers the imagination, he wrote.
Morton also argued that OPG has a much stronger safety culture inculcated in its workforce. WIPP suffered from a degraded safety culture, according to a post-accident investigation.
Panel member Gunter Muecke asked whether inadvertently mixing volatile chemicals which may have led to some of the problems at WIPP could happen in OPGs operation.
Morton said that OPGs waste currently stored on the surface at the Bruce plant has never shown evidence of violent chemical reactions, as may have happened at WIPP.
OPG has rules about what materials are mixed, she said.
A number of containers were opened and examined several years ago when they had to be moved. All were found to contain what they were supposed to, she said.
Kathleen Klassen of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said they doesnt expect to encounter some problems that occurred at WIPP, where most air monitors that warn of airborne radiation were not working.
Only one monitor was working at the time of the radiation release, and it broke down less than half an hour after sounding an alarm.
The Bruce site will have good equipment, and it will be kept in good order, Klassen said.
Don Hancock, a New Mexico-based researcher who has closely watched the WIPP events, was skeptical about OPGs assurances, noting that WIPP had always been confident about its operations.
This event was never supposed to happen, he told the hearing by telephone link.
Both workers and the public were misinformed about the accidents in the days after they occurred, he said.
The result of the accidents is that no one knows when the site will be able to re-start operations, what changes will have to be made, or how much it will cost, he said.
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