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First Nation vote kills Ontario nuclear waste plan

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 2/7/2020 11:16:00 AM

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will begin looking for a new solution for the management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste after the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) overwhelmingly rejected OPG’s plan for permanent storage 680 metres below ground at the Bruce nuclear site in Kincardine, Ontario. The SON held a vote January 31, 2019. Of 1,232 ballots cast, only 170 supported OPG’s plan.

In deciding not to contest the SON’s decision, OPG is honouring its 2013 commitment not to proceed with the initiative without the SON’s support.

OPG owns three large nuclear generating plants: Pickering, Darlington and Bruce. The Kincardine project, known as a deep geologic repository, would have stored low- and intermediate-level waste, most of which would have decayed within 300 years, but some of which would have taken as much as 100,000 years to return to background levels. It would not have stored spent fuel.

The deep geologic repository project has been before the (now) Impact Assessment Agency of Canada since January 2006 and appeared to be near the end of its assessment process. That effort is now dead, Fred Kuntz, OPG’s senior manager, Corporate Relations and Projects, confirms to EcoLog News.

In a statement announcing the decision. OPG President and CEO Ken Hartwick said: “OPG will explore other options and will engage with key stakeholders to develop an alternate site-selection process.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean that OPG must resume the quest at square one. It doesn’t even mean that OPG will necessarily look for another site for a deep hole in the ground.

“In some countries in the world, you have different facilities for low- and intermediate-[nuclear waste],” says Kuntz. “It can be done in different ways.” In France and the U.S., for instance, low-level waste is stored near the surface. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario has such a proposal on the table for its low-level nuclear waste. “So there could be more than one project here,” Kuntz adds.

Some of the work done in the lead up to the Kincardine proposal could probably be repurposed to support whatever comes next, says Kuntz, “but I think it’s fair to say that this adds a generation to the timeline.”

A delay of 15 or 20 years, or possibly more according to Kuntz, appears to be something the nuclear industry takes in stride. It’s an industry accustomed to long time horizons. Deep geologic repositories currently operating elsewhere, in Sweden or Finland for instance, took 25 to 30 years from inception to operation.

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