Out of sight, out of mind [Nuclear Waste] – Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal Editorial (March 23, 2014)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

IT has been 35 years since the governments of Canada and Ontario established the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program to develop a concept to safely and permanently dispose of the radioactive byproducts of nuclear energy. We are told it will be 2035 before a repository can be operating. So there is no hurry.

It took authorities just a year, though, to propose deep geological disposal in Northern Ontario’s granite as opposed to finding a way to keep the stuff near to where it is produced in southern Ontario.

There is a great deal to be said for geological disposal. Earthquakes are rare here and not violent. What ground movement there is would not be enough to dislodge lead-lined canisters filled with nuclear waste stored 500 metres down in rock caves backfilled with concrete. Groundwater movement is minimal. Still, nuclear waste remains radioactive for a long time.

So there is a risk, however small, no matter where this material is stored. Would the risk be greater in a vault of some description near the reactors in southern Ontario? Would terrorists be more likely to try to steal it there than here or enroute? Would terrorists try to steal spent nuclear fuel rods at all, as suggested as a reason for deep rock security? If the argument is that the longer the material remains in the open, the greater the chance for something to go wrong, is moving it through Northern Ontario by road, rail or ship really advisable?

The fact the material is now stored in canisters in water-filled pools on site at reactors is called temporary and insecure. Deep-rock storage is probably the best option. But if so, why hasn’t it been begun?

Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer wants to hear from northerners who live anywhere near the 14 northern communities that have expressed interest in hosting a repository for the economic spinoffs. Is the North the only place to store this material? Probably. But with time apparently not an issue, let’s have more consideration of ways to keep it close to where it is produced rather than use the North because it’s far away.