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Nuclear waste needs stability for centuries

Owen Sound Sun Times: McNichol, Phil - Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kincardine Mayor Larry Kraemer says he does not support the long-term deep geological storage of used nuclear fuel in his municipality at the Bruce nuclear site. He's going to an international conference on geological repositories in Switzerland next week not to promote that idea, but to continue gathering information for the Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities (CANHC). The association has 10 members, communities from New Brunswick to Manitoba that host nuclear energy facilities. They include Kincardine, where the Bruce nuclear complex is located, and Bruce County. Kraemer is its current vice- chair; he has been its chair in a previous term as Kincardine mayor. He said this week in an interview that Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has asked the association to help it design a public consultation program for the lengthy process of finding a suitable host community for the long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste. "We're doing anything we can to help the NWMO with their deliberations . . . We're being asked what the consultative proves should look like," Kraemer told me. This past summer Canada's current Conservative government accepted the NWMO's recommendation for an adaptive phased management approach for the eventual long-term storage of Canada's growing stockpile of used nuclear fuel. Used fuel bundles are currently being stored in relatively short-term storage facilities at Ontario nuclear plants, including Bruce. Used nuclear fuel is dangerously radioactive for hundreds of years. Where and how to store it has long been an unanswered issue for Canada and its nuclear industry. For years burial deep in the hard, igneous rock of the Canadian Shield was touted as the most likely solution. The NWMO was set up in 2002 with a federal mandate to study that idea and other options further. During the study process, and encouraged by its senior partner Ontario Power Generation, the organization looked at the feasibility of deep geological burial in sedimentary rock formations, like those found in this part of southern Ontario. As a result, the search for a suitable host site for development of a Deep Geological Repository 9DGR) for high level nuclear waste will extend far beyond the Canadian Shield area, to many other parts of Canada. It could, as Kramer said at one point in our phone conversation, even include Owen Sound. The NWMO's adaptive phased management approach involves a slow and supposedly careful timeline of 60 years or more before a centralized DGR site for used fuel is found, and the multi-billion-dollar facility actually built. Then, it would be monitored for 300 years before being sealed. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if there's one thing nuclear energy and nuclear waste storage needs it's global stability, on social, economic and environmental levels. If anyone involved in looking at the long- term future of nuclear energy and nuclear waste storage has done any serious thinking about that, I haven't seen it. Any student of history knows the changes that have taken place in the world during the past 300 years are astonishing. Try to imagine, in view of the challenges we're currently facing, how different the world may look by the year 2300. And who, if anyone, will be around to monitor nuclear plants or nuclear waste storage facilities, above or below ground. It is unimaginable. The future of the world is arguably more uncertain than it has ever been. And, to my mind, that's a good enough reason right there to stop building more nuclear plants, In Ontario, Canada, or anywhere, and stop producing more nuclear waste. But that won't happen. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle; and the illusion that dangerous nuclear waste can be safely stored for hundreds, or even thousands of years, in deep rock caverns will help keep it out. Still, I hope when Mayor Kraemer goes to that international conference next week he might dare to make some modest mention of these concerns, that he might ask, what about the uncertainties of global stability: Is that anything we should be thinking about? "There will be experts from all over the world," he said about the international conference in Switzerland. As the mayor of the only community in Canada that has agreed to host a deep geological repository for nuclear waste of any sort, Kraemer will be in a position to offer a lot of first-hand information from experience. Ontario Power Generation hopes to build a DGR for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste at the Bruce site by 2017. Local municipalities, including Kincardine are being paid millions of dollars to back the proposal. Kraemer noted the agreement between Kincardine and OPG says that planned DGR can't be used for used fuel storage and that remains the position of the municipality. He said as far as he's concerned Kincardine has already gone "well beyond the call of duty," by agreeing to be host to the low- and intermediate-level DGR. "I feel we've done our bit there." Other countries in the world with low and intermediate, and high-level DGRs have them in different locations, the Kincardine mayor said. He said he supports the storage of used nuclear fuel deep in the rock of the Canadian Shield. I've suggested in this space that the current DGR proposal could give Kincardine the inside track to be selected as the willing host site for a centralized DGR for used nuclear fuel. Kraemer had to admit that door was not completely closed. Nobody can say for sure what changes might happen "five or 10 years from now," he said. My point exactly. But if Kincardine does throw its hat into the high-level DGR ring, he will insist on a local referendum, Kraemer said. Counter Point appears Saturdays.

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