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Nuclear dump site could take 30 years to create;

Nuclear agency spokesman says site will not be imposed on any community that doesn't want it

Moncton Times: Nick Moore Times - May 8, 2009

Storing Canada's nuclear waste in one single location will not be a process that will happen overnight, this year, or even in the next decade or two.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization is considering New Brunswick, along with Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan (all of which are Canada's nuclear provinces) as possible areas to house the nation's used nuclear fuel in the long-term, all in an underground repository.

Mike Krizanc, spokesman for the NWMO, said the process of setting guidelines for choosing a site will likely take the rest of 2009 to cement. But that would be just filling the foundation of the entire project.

"We're expecting it will take us several years, as many as eight to 10-years, working in those communities to provide the information they need, to answer the questions they have, so they can make an informed decision for their own best interest," he said. "After that, if we do find a site in an informed and willing community that can safely manage this used fuel, we anticipate there will be a licensing and regulatory process.

"We'll have to go through an environmental assessment which could take five years and then go through a licensing process which could take a couple of years."

Following that, more technical work would need to be done in order to guarantee a suitable site, said Krizanc.

Then, and only then would construction of the actual repository and control centre begin, taking another couple of years.

Krizanc said citizens in whatever community the nuclear waste site went to would be included every step of the way. He said the site wouldn't be imposed on any community that didn't want it because the nuclear agency wanted the project to be seen as a positive.

Krizanc stressed that no specific area of New Brunswick or elsewhere is being considered for the project right now. He maintained that confirming the guidelines of finding a site was the only thing on the table, right now.

On the geology side of things, New Brunswick likely has the requirements needed for the project, according to Tom Al, a geologist at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Al said that generally speaking, the type of rocks required for such a project are here, adding they're likely in all the other provinces being considered as well.

"Really, what they're talking about when they say the right type of rock are those that have low permeability, where water doesn't run through them," he said.

Al said it was difficult to speculate on any particular part of New Brunswick that might have more of these geographical requirements than others.

Nuclear waste from New Brunswick's Point Lepreau Generating Station (about 25 minutes west of Saint John) is stored on the facility's site. When removed from the reactor, the used nuclear fuel bundles (the nuclear waste) are placed in water-filled pools for seven to 10 years while its heat and radioactivity gradually decrease. Following that, the spent fuel is transferred to dry fuel canisters, above ground, on the Point Lepreau site.

In the 40 years that Canada has been producing nuclear energy, just over two- million used fuel bundles have been produced. About 85,000 used nuclear fuel bundles are generated in Canada each year. As of last June, Point Lepreau had about 121,758 bundles stored in total.

Krizanc said there are reasons that having one singular site manage the nation's nuclear waste was beneficial, as opposed to the seven sites in Canada which currently do it. He said security would be more practical if it was just being considered for one site.

"There's also the expense of having to manage seven sites rather than just one site," he said.

The NWMO also maintains that a new national nuclear waste site would give the next generation options. "It would be this generation taking responsibility, putting aside the money, and putting in place a system that would not have to be actually managed if future generations decided not to retrieve the fuel," said Kirzanc, noting unused fuel that still exists in nuclear waste.

If they don't, Krizanc said the waste could be backfilled and then only need to be "passively managed" in the future. Any long-term nuclear waste site project would cost between $16 million and $24 billion to build, which would include the development of an underground geological repository and control centre.

Quick Facts

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has proposed guidelines for locating a long-term storage site for Canada's used nuclear fuel. The organization is considering New Brunswick, along with Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, all among Canada's nuclear provinces. The guidelines were noted in a position document released by the organization earlier this week.

* The deep geological repository would be required to have a surface area of about two by three kilometres (about 1.2 by 1.8 miles) and be constructed underground at a depth of about 500 metres (about 1,640 feet).

* The site would be outside of protected areas, heritage sites, provincial parks and national parks.

* The site wouldn't contain groundwater resources at the repository depth, so that the repository site is unlikely to be disturbed by future generations.

* The site wouldn't contain economically exploitable natural resources as known now, so that the repository site is unlikely to be disturbed by future generations.

* The preferred site would be located in a rock formation with desirable characteristics (geological, hydrogeological, chemical and mechanical), that are consistent with the expectations of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency and experience in other countries with nuclear waste management programs.

* Questions would be asked of a potential site to determine if characteristics of the location's rock are appropriate to ensure the long-term containment and isolation of used nuclear waste from humans, the environment and surface disturbances.

* It would be essential to determine whether the site's rock formations are geologically stable and likely to remain stable over the very long term in a manner that would ensure it wouldn't be substantially affected by natural disturbances and events such as earthquakes and climate change.

* Conditions at the site would be investigated to see if the location was suitable for the safe construction, operation and closure of the repository.

* Prior inspections would be done to see the likelihood of human intrusion at the site, for instance through future exploration or mining.

* A transportation route would need to be identified or developed, by which used nuclear fuel could safely and securely be transported to the site from the locations at which it's currently stored.

* Source: The Nuclear Waste Management Organization

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