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Environmental assessment endorses nuclear burial plan

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 5/8/2015 1:06:00 PM

The environmental assessment of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposal to bury nuclear waste near the shore of Lake Huron gave nothing to opponents of the plan. The 457-page report, made public May 7, 2015, is heavy on science and concurs that the plan is sound from an environmental and engineering standpoint.

The decision whether or not to proceed with the plan now rests with federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who has 120 days to make her decision.

The debate around the project, known as the Deep Geologic Repository (DGR), is emotionally charged, with opponents challenging the wisdom of burying nuclear waste so near to the world’s greatest repository of fresh water. Local communities, such as Kincardine, are backing the plan, but more than 140 Great Lakes cities and towns in Canada and the U.S. stand opposed to it.

The plan is to store low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in a facility 680 metres below the surface, 1.2 km from the shores of Lake Huron. At 680 metres below ground, the DGR will be 450 metres below the Lake Huron lakebed at its deepest depth. The DGR will be near the Western Waste Management Facility, which is a surface facility on the Bruce nuclear site that currently houses the waste.

According to the environmental assessment, given the characteristics of the limestone formation in which the DGR would be built, “it would take a water particle at the repository depth in undisturbed rock approximately 10,000,000 years to move one metre.”

The environmental assessment confirms flatly that the DGR will house only low- and intermediate-level waste. Low-level waste can be handled without radiological protection, and includes protective clothing, floor sweepings, mops, and rags. Intermediate-level waste cannot be handled without radiation protection measures, and includes used reactor core components, refurbishment waste, and resins and filters from nuclear reactor operations.

The DGR will not store used fuel. A separate process is underway to determine the best solution for used fuel disposal, and OPG has stated that the design of the DGR is not appropriate for that purpose.

Under the plan, the DGR would house the existing stockpile of waste, and would operate for approximately 60 years – the maximum lifespan of Canada’s current nuclear plants. It would then be capped.

View the environmental assessment report here.

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