With an updated project description for its underground used nuclear fuel facility, Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is working on the ethical dilemma nuclear disposal poses to the country.

“From a volume perspective it is not something that is a big problem,” said NWMO communications manager Mike Krizanc. “… We have an ethical responsibility to deal with the waste we have produced.”

Each year Canada’s nuclear power plants produce 90,000 used nuclear fuel bundles in the process of creating nuclear-based electricity.

Once depleted of usable energy, these uranium fuel bundles, which remain highly radioactive for millions of years, are cooled in pools for a decade before being procedurally packed in dry storage canisters.

These canisters are then lined in warehouses, vaults or silos at the nation’s CANDU reactor sites located in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec.

At the Bruce nuclear site, which houses 60 per cent of Canada’s used nuclear fuel bundles at Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF), the warehouse is expected to reach capacity by 2020.

However, more warehouses can be erected, Krizanc said.

“There’s no way anybody is running out of any kind of room to keep these,” Krizanc said, explaining that the entirety of the nation’s nuclear fuel bundles stacked like cordwood would fill only seven hockey rinks to the top of the boards.

The problem, Krizanc said, is not one of space, but of ethics and it is the responsibility of the generation that reaps the benefits of nuclear power to cover the costs.

In 1998 after years of study, the federal government approved a plan to bury all 4.4 million used nuclear fuel bundles that Canada’s power plants will produce during their life expectancy hundreds of meters underground.

Though studies have shown the repository to be technically safe, low public acceptance of the plan had prevented it from moving forward causing the federal government to found the NWMO in 2002.

Since then, the NWMO has been working to find a suitable host community for the used fuel through public consultations.

Nine sites including Huron-Kinloss, South Bruce and Central Huron are currently being sized for the NWMO’s deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel.

This number was whittled down from an original 21 interested cities.

Some anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists criticize the project as unsafe and unethical.

However, the NWMO rejects this attitude as obstructionist, stating the nuclear waste that already exists must be dealt with professionally and responsibly.

Leaving the bundles on the Earth’s surface, Krizanc said, “is basically driven by people who are opposed to nuclear power who want to be able to argue there is no plan for the waste.”

“[The NWMO] is not here to promote or penalize nuclear power,” he said. “… We’re here because the used fuel exists and regardless of the decisions that are made it has to be managed.”

Over breakfast April 4, the NWMO’s vice president of design and construction Derek Wilson told Kincardine News that they have recently released an updated project description.

First published and publicized in 2011, the project was modeled primarily from Swedish and Finnish designs.

The latest plan has been tailored to Canada’s CANDU reactors, which use fuel bundles three-quarters the size and weight of the Scandinavian bundles.

“So what we’ve looked at is optimizing our container design for CANDU [used nuclear] fuel,” he said.

And this container of steel and copper has “greatly influenced” the project’s entire design, he said, causing Wilson and his team to model a multi-layered barrier system to contain the dangerous bundles.

With this new multi-barrier containment system the used nuclear fuel bundles are encased in the copper-coated steel canisters, which are then packed in bentonite clay blocks.

This entire process is done above ground at the site’s processing plant before the bundle is shuttled approximately 500 meters below the earth where it is then buried in channels cut into the sedimentary rock.

It is then packed into place with more of this clay, which expands when it comes into contact with water.

The multi-barrier system won Chris Hatton, NWMO president of design and construction, the 2015 Innovative Achievement Award, which was the first time the honour had been handed out since 2012.

The layout of the repository will cover 340 hectares, or a roughly 3km by 2km square footprint underground. Its life-cycle costs will be published in the near future, WIlson said, and testing of the containers is now in its third year.

Meanwhile the NWMO has divided site selection process into nine steps with the final step being the start of construction.

The project is currently at the third phase of step two, preliminary assessment, which Krizanc said NWMO hopes to complete by 2023.

The preferred site will be identified in step six.

“We from the beginning said we’re going to take the time necessary to do it right,” said Krizanc. “We don’t have a fixed time table.”

No bore holes have yet been drilled to examine the host rock of any of the vying nine communities. The NWMO is currently planning to drill, but not for at least a year.

“We will only move forward with this project if it will contribute to the long-term well being of the community,” said Krizanc.
And it’s for the community to decide what that means, he said.

“If you go out and ask people who don’t have an axe to grind they will tell you we have a responsibility. We can’t leave this for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “We have a responsibility. We can’t leave this at the surface forever and ever. We have a responsibility because we don’t know what society is going to be like in 10,000 years, 5,000 years from now. And we can’t expect future generations to continually pay and look after this used nuclear fuel,” he said.

By Darryl Coote, Kincardine News and Lucknow Sentinel, Sunday, April 10, 2016 11:13:13 EDT AM as posted at http://www.lfpress.com/2016/04/05/officials-are-looking-for-a-new-home-for-26-million-highly-radioactive-fuel-rods-from-nuclear-plants