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Nuclear waste organization partners on bat study in anticipation of eventual impact assessment

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 3/13/2020 2:58:00 PM

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is getting a head start on one aspect of the eventual impact assessment of its proposed $23.6 billion (2015 dollars) deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel — wherever it may eventually be sited.

The NWMO wants to avoid the fate of Ontario Power Generation, which earlier in 2020 saw the Saugeen Ojibway Nation overwhelmingly reject its plan for a deep geological repository at Kincardine, Ontario. That rejection put an end to its 10-year effort to find a host community for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste.

The NWMO has narrowed its short list to two potential sites: Ignace in Northwestern Ontario and South Bruce, roughly 40 km from the Bruce Nuclear power plant, and it is eager to demonstrate to local residents that it would be a good neighbour.

The two sites share more than an abundance of solid rock underfoot. They are habitats for endangered bat species, and in partnership with the Toronto Zoo, the NWMO has embarked on a five-year research program addressing knowledge gaps in the ecology of bat species in Ontario.

Ontario’s native bat species are undergoing “catastrophic and unprecedented decline in their populations,” explains Melissa Mayhew, a senior environmental scientist at the NWMO, in a telephone interview with EcoLog News. White nose syndrome is the chief culprit, “but there are other complicating factors,” she says.

The impact of a deep geological repository, whether at Ignace or South Bruce, will factor into the project’s impact assessment, she says, and right now not a great deal is known about how the species interact with their environment. This research will help fill that knowledge gap and, Mayhew hopes, find its way into the project’s impact assessment.

The research will also incorporate Indigenous knowledge through contributions and support from traditional knowledge holders. The NWMO has made a strong commitment to Reconciliation with First Nations, explains Bradley Hammond, the NWMO’s Director, Strategic Communications, in a telephone interview with EcoLog News. “We want to find ways to apply Indigenous knowledge to our project,” he says, “and we also want to treat that knowledge as a sacred trust.”

This initiative is the first of its kind for the NWMO, but perhaps not the last. Mayhew hopes it will serve as an example that can be replicated in other projects.

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