Netherlands is an example in nuclear waste storage says reader

Dear Editor,

Here, in South Bruce, as we consider the possibility of hosting Canada’s Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for spent nuclear fuel, it’s interesting to take some lessons from the Netherlands.  COVRA, the Netherlands version of Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has made nuclear waste a symbol of national pride, and in some ways, elevated it to an art form.

One of the main COVRA storage buildings is painted bright orange (the colour of Dutch pride, and of national sports teams), with “E/c2” in green lettering that covers the entire outer wall.  The message refers to Einstein’s famous formula, “E=mc2“, the building designers having done the simple algebra to isolate “m” (mass).  The point is that the mass of uranium used in a nuclear reaction is equal to the energy produced, divided by “c” squared, where “c” is the speed of light (an extremely large number).  In other words, the amount of uranium used is incredibly, almost unbelievably small, in relation to “E”, the energy produced in a nuclear reactor.

Every twenty years the building will be painted a tinge lighter, until in one hundred years it is white. The structure’s colour will gradually become less intense, in the same way that in time, the heat and radiation produced by the waste stored inside will gradually decrease. The building thereby reflects the concept of radioactive waste in an accessible manner.

This same building, a work of art in itself, is also used to house works of fine art, including priceless tapestries, that adorn the inner walls of the facility.  The message here is “We are really good at keeping things safe, including priceless antiquities and nuclear waste”.  The intent is to make the facility a showpiece of both science and art.

An additional COVRA building is equally impressive.  Painted sky-blue, with “U3O8” (the chemical formula for uranium oxide) emblazoned on its side, this building’s protruding pipes cast shadows on orange lines, turning the entire building into a giant sun dial. 

Here in South Bruce, part of Canada’s nuclear heartland, some residents have tried to capture similar sentiment, using the phrase “South Bruce Proud”, to suggest that we should have similar pride in our science, our technology, and our capability to safely store Canada’s spent nuclear fuel.  After all, we live in an area with more nuclear energy experts per capita than almost anywhere else in the world.

The jury is still out on whether South Bruce will host Canada’s DGR.  Officials are working on a draft Hosting Agreement, which will be the subject of a public referendum, and these things take time.  As a project of a federally-regulated organization, the DGR will also require the assent of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, on whose traditional territory we live and work.

One thing, however, seems certain: the world is progressively looking to nuclear as a large-scale carbon-free energy source.  The Netherlands plan to bring two new power reactors online by 2035, and here in Bruce County, we are likely to see four or more reactors under construction in the same timeframe.  The work of COVRA and NWMO in safely storing nuclear waste products is an important part of our “net zero” plans in both our geographies.

Tony Zettel,
RR5 Mildmay