Do you want nuclear dump in N.B.?

Province considered as potential waste disposal site because it's one of Canada's nuclear provinces

Moncton Times: Nick Moore - May 7, 2009

New Brunswick could become the home of a nuclear waste dump -- and you have a chance to speak out, pro or con.

The process of finding a safe dumping site for Canada's nuclear waste, with this province one of several possible locations, has been opened up to the public for critique and questions.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization says it wants the public to look at its plans for finding a long-term storage site for used nuclear fuel. It has organized public information sessions across the country, including three meetings scheduled next month for Fredericton, Saint John and Edmundston.

The three nuclear power-producing provinces -- New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec -- are all being considered for the storage site, as is Saskatchewan, which is a major producer of uranium and has expressed interest in getting into the nuclear power business.

Mike Krizanc, spokesman for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, said it is asking people all across the country for their opinion before any search for a site officially begins.

"We will not begin searching for a site before we've developed a process that Canadians feel is both safe and appropriate," he said. "We want to ask people (whether) the principles we've articulated are fair and appropriate, if the decision-making steps will work to find a safe site, and if the steps are fair in terms of making a decision.

"We're asking people to identify changes they feel should be made in this and what else needs to be considered before we finalize a siting process."

Krizanc said he suspected that process to take the rest of 2009 to complete.

Energy Minister Jack Keir said the province is committed to the process, as a nuclear province, because it serves the national interest.

"Whatever they do, I want to make sure they do it right and that it's in the best interest of Canadians, not just New Brunswickers," he said. "When they've finished the consultation, I'm sure they'll sit down with myself and the premier and talk very specifically about what New Brunswick could offer, if we have anything to offer,"

In addition to information meetings scheduled for Fredericton, Saint John and Edmundston, the NWMO is considering additional meetings to be held in either Moncton or Bathurst, although nothing has yet been confirmed.

"We're calling them regional information sessions," said Jamie Robinson, also a spokesman with the NWMO. "We don't want people thinking that we're in a siting process or that we're targeting a particular community."

The fact these discussions are happening anywhere in the province remains too close for comfort for Christian Theriault, who first organized of a coalition group against uranium mining in New Brunswick.

Theriault, a Moncton resident, plans to be just as vocal at these nuclear waste information sessions.

"It will show public concern if nothing else and (these meetings) will give an opportunity to inform the public," he said.

In a working paper released by the NWMO earlier this week, it was stated that such a site would economically benefit whatever community it went to in terms of infrastructure, as well as direct and indirect employment creation.

It's a suggestion Theriault scoffed at.

"We're under a downturn in the economy so that's their sales pitch?" he said. "What is it compared to the cost of a possible clean-up? What is it compared to possible non-feasibility after this stuff is in the ground?"

The discussion paper said any long-term waste site project would cost between $16 and $24 billion to create, which would include the development of an underground geological repository and control centre.

The plan would be for the nuclear waste to be contained and isolated by both engineered barriers and geology surrounding the repository. The system would also be designed so that waste would be retrievable for an extended period.

Wherever the project ends up, the site will be required to have a surface area of about two by three kilometres (about 1.2 by 1.8 miles) and constructed underground at a depth of about 500 metres (about 1,640 feet).

The discussion paper holds that any waste site would be located away from protected areas, heritage sites, provincial parks, national parks, groundwater resources at the repository depth, and places with economically exploitable natural resources.

Features of the site that would be considered to determine its suitability include rock characteristics, the possibilities of natural disturbances and the risk of human intrusion.

When removed from a reactor, nuclear fuel still remains radioactive for thousands of years. While the waste's level of radioactivity decreases over time, it remains a potential health risk that requires proper management.

Right now, nuclear waste from New Brunswick's Point Lepreau Generating Station (about 25 minutes west of Saint John) is stored on the facility's site inside tanks similar to an Olympic-sized swimming pool. There's enough space to handle the facility's nuclear waste for the next three decades.

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