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Picture this: you’ve lived in the same house for more than half a century, and never taken out the garbage. Instead, you’ve sorted it carefully into the easy stuff like scrap paper, and the not-so-easy stuff, like the pot of left-over clam chowder you made in 1994.
Then you sealed it all in boxes, labeled them, and locked the stuff in the basement, promising some day to find a better place for it.
Now, picture Canada’s nuclear industry.
Since the 1960s, nuclear power plants have generated more than two million bundles of highly radioactive used fuel. And they’re all still stored on the sites of the plants that produced them. But the pace of finding a site to store Canada’s most potent radioactive waste permanently is about to pick up.
Twenty Canadian communities have said they’ll consider volunteering to host the storage site. That list is about to close. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, whose job it is to find and build the site, will stop taking new names on Sept. 30.
The impending cut-off is ratcheting up the pressure on the technocrats charged with selecting a site; on the boosters who want to snare the multi-billion-dollar repository for their community; on the activists who harbour deep suspicions about safety; and on the aboriginal leaders who say they’ve been cut out of the process.
Adding urgency is another nuclear decision hanging over Ontario: Whether to proceed with building two big new reactors at the Darlington nuclear station.
Progress in finding a secure, permanent storage site for the country’s nuclear waste might give the province more comfort in continuing down a nuclear path.
The Star visited some of the communities who have expressed interest in the site.
A fuel bundle for a Candu nuclear power reactor is about the size of a fireplace log. As of June 30, 2011, Canada had 2,273,873 used fuel bundles stored at its nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
Another 85,000 or so have been added since then.
In total, they’d fill about six NHL hockey rinks, stacked up as high as the boards.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, formed by the three electric utilities that run nuclear reactors, wants to bury the waste deep underground in caverns excavated from stable rock, where it can lie undisturbed forever.
The depth will probably depend on the site’s geology. A facility proposed to hold less-potent radioactive waste at the Bruce nuclear site near Kincardine will be 680 metres deep. By comparison, the CN Tower is 553 metres tall.
The NWMO is looking for a “willing” community to agree to take the $16-to-$24-billion project. The host community itself will decide how to define “willing.” Candidate communities will have multiple opportunities to withdraw if they get cold feet, the NWMO says.
As it moves through a nine-stage selection process, the NWMO hopes to have narrowed the field to one or two communities by 2015, then spend until about 2020 deciding on a specific site within the chosen community.
After that, it will take three to five years to do an extensive environmental assessment of the site. The proponents will also have to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that their plan makes sense, and obtain a license to construct and operate the facility.
Then, it will take six to 10 years to build. The NWMO doesn’t expect the first bundles to be stored until 2035.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1250109–nuclear-waste-seeks-a-home