As if it were a bizarre episode of reality TV, by the end of September 2012, several Canadian communities will be one step closer to winning a competition to host a massive storage facility for the country’s spent nuclear fuel.
It’s a lot of jobs, a lot of money, and a lot of waste.
There’s no slick reality TV title for this competition, though. Some 20 communities are currently vying for the multi-billion dollar hosting opportunity under what the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) calls its “adaptive phased management process”.
The NWMO has been sought after by more than 20 Canadian communities such as the English River First Nation in Saskatchewan and Elliot Lake in Ontario, all to see who can host the mammoth $16-to-$24-billion project, the bill for which is footed entirely by industry.
The NWMO takes up to four months to investigate whether a community is even eligible to proceed beyond the first stage, which ends in just under one month’s time.
‘We want to see if there’s any show stoppers,” NWMO Communications Manager, Mike Krizanc, told Ecolog News.
The process started in May 2010, but the nuclear repository is nowhere near its estimated 2035 start date. And with good reason, too, Krizanc explained.
“At that time, we’ll have all the cards on the table. There’s no urgency. It’s an ethical consideration,” he said. “We have the time to do this right, and if better technologies come along, we’re ready.”
Following the first stage, next up is the preliminary assessment process, which could take at least two years. Krizanc hopes this will whittle down the contenders to one or two communities. At that point, a $200-million detailed site characterization would proceed for some five years, the NWMO says. It would involve an intense study of the area’s geology.
Then…construction, which could last a decade.
While it could be argued that having such a long process could mean changes of opinion as local councils are replaced, and new generations move into prominent community positions, Krizanc sees it more as an opportunity for studied consideration. He says “time may make more people amenable” to the project.
The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, developed in 2002, mandated the nuclear industry to develop a non-profit organization that would clarify how the Canadian public viewed the long-term management of spent nuclear fuel. Hence the creation of the NWMO. An industry study conducted between 2002 and 2005 determined that Canadians wanted the current generation to take responsibility for disposal of the spent nuclear fuel.
As of June 30, 2011, Canada had 2,273,873 used fuel bundles stored at its nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Each bundle is about the size of a piece of firewood.
The design of the waste storage facility calls for surface buildings to cover about 100 hectares. Underground, the excavated caverns will cover an area of about 2.5 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres.
Many communities (see the full list here) appear to be excited about the economic spinoffs for such a large project. Elliot Lake officials have been actively promoting the underground waste repository.
But there has also been opposition. First Nations of the North Shore Tribal Council strongly rejects the prospect of the north shore of Lake Huron in Elliot Lake being used for the storage facility.
“We cannot idly stand by and watch as they inject Mother Earth with this cancer," said Chief Lyle Sayers, chairman of the North Shore Tribal Council, in a statement following the city’s December 2011 meeting with the NWMO. "We must ensure that the future natural resources of this area are there for our children, generations to come, and businesses alike."
In Saugeen Shores, Ontario, a citizens group called Save Our Saugeen Shores, or SOS, fights what they see as an attempt to impose the waste site on their scenic community, on the shore of the Great Lakes.
Also looming over the competition is the decision whether to proceed with building two new reactors at the Darlington, Ontario nuclear station.
NWMO says that communities can withdraw from the site selection process at any time, unless they’ve advanced to a final point where an agreement has been drawn up.
------This article originally appeared on ecolog.com, September 7, 2012------