Site selection process for deep geological repository continues

Deep geological repositories (DGRs) have been determined as the safest method today to safely and securely manage used nuclear fuel.

This approach is the culmination of more than 30 years of research, development and demonstration of technologies and techniques. In Canada, this method emerged from many years of dialogue with Canadians. During that dialogue, alternative management methods were also analyzed, including interim storage at reactor sites, which is the current management approach.

According to a Joint Review Panel, following months of public hearings, a DGR is the method that best meets people’s values and objectives of safety and, even more importantly, the protection of future generations. Countries with operating deep geological repositories for radioactive material include Finland, South Korea and Sweden.

While the need for safe and secure storage of used fuel is paramount for the future and for future generations, there are those who have even stood in the way for a DGR that would house low and intermediate wasteThey argue that the interim storage at ground surface level at nuclear sites is “safe enough”.  Safe enough for how long?  Safe enough against what?  Climate change severe weather?  Are we to let our grandchildren make the tough decision of what to do with used nuclear fuel and low and intermediate waste?  Like it or not, the waste is here.  Like it or not, something ‘permanent’ must be done with it.

According to Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), “Canada’s plan is an approximately $23-billion national infrastructure project that will be developed and implemented in phases. It has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to the area where it is eventually located, including the community that initiated the area’s involvement, and other municipal and Indigenous communities in the area. Benefits include direct, indirect, and induced jobs, involving scientists, engineers, tradespeople and others.”

South Bruce is one of two potential hosts remaining in the site selection process for a deep geological repository and associated facilities, including a Centre of Expertise.  NWMO announced in November, 2019 that studies are also continuing in the Township of Ignace, in northwestern Ontario.  NWMO expects to identify a single, preferred site to host the project, in an area with an informed and willing host, by 2023.

The Municipality of South Bruce has also shared the NWMO summary report from its May 26th council meeting of the project’s visioning workshops held earlier this year. The workshops explored the community’s expectations for the project if it were to be located in South Bruce and also aimed to understand the community’s vision for the Centre of Expertise. The Municipality of South Bruce is leading a four-week public comment period on the draft summary report. Visit the Municipality Website for more information.

NWMO is planning to begin field studies later this year at the potential repository site to determine whether it meets the project’s robust safety requirements. The work will include borehole drilling, geophysical studies, environmental monitoring, and other site investigation work, such as Indigenous cultural verification.

In an op-ed by Mike Sterling, he points out that some countries have based their decisions on science and are “… moving along at a steady pace while most are caught in political quagmires”.

Is any progress possible?