Nuclear waste: Canada asks its towns if they'll give it a home
Canada's volunteer approach to finding a place to store spent nuclear waste, which is radioactive for 10,000 years, contrasts the US.
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Created by federal statute in 2002, NWMO envisions burying the waste deep underground in a stable rock formation within a 2.3-square-mile site far from groundwater or national parks. The depository would be completed in 2035 and designed to allow spent fuel to be retrieved if future generations want to tap its residual energy. As many suitable sites may be on aboriginal land, NWMO studies have been translated into Cree, Mikmaq, Inuit, and other native languages.Skip to next paragraph
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No rush to relocate waste
But Darrin Durant, assistant professor of science and technology studies at York University in Toronto, says Canada made a key error in allowing the process to be controlled by the nuclear industry. NWMO is made up of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (which builds nuclear plants), and Hydro Quebec, NB Power Nuclear, and Ontario Power (which own them).
"NWMO is very much controlling the terms of discourse, saying the only concern is how to dispose of the waste we already have," Mr. Durant says. "But if you have an energy policy that involves building more reactors, this would change many of the specifications and issues. We should be choosing our options in consort with the consideration of what the future of nuclear power is."
NWMO is focusing on the four "nuclear provinces": Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick (which have reactors), and Saskatchewan (which produces the uranium). It held information sessions in several New Brunswick cities this summer. "We don't even know if New Brunswick has the geological conditions to satisfy the site," says Jack Keir, provincial energy minister. "Our view is to sit back and let the process unfold."
Others say the waste should stay put in special silos at the plants where it was produced. "Our view is that this stuff shouldn't be moved around, and that it's unfair to expect some community to take all Canada's nuclear waste," says David Coon, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which opposes nuclear power. "Those who created it should be responsible for it."
Mr. Keir, who represents the Point Lepreau area in the provincial legislature, says there's no rush, as the waste is safe where it is. "There's no impact whatsoever, and we've only used 25 percent of the total space available," he says.