Four communities in Northwestern Ontario remain in the hunt for a possible nuclear waste underground repository.
Ignace, White River, Hornpayne and Manitouwadge continue to be involved in the site selection process for a proposed underground nuclear-waste storage facility.
Studies such as geophysical and environmental surveys are currently being conducted in areas surrounding the communities to assess the potential suitability of rock formations to host a deep geological repository for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. A number of open houses have also been held to keep residents apprised of developments.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization is searching for a suitable underground storage site for 50,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel bundles - enough to fill six hockey rinks up to the boards. The proposed facility, which would go into service by 2040 at the earliest, is expected to create between 400 and 600 permanent jobs.
Those communities willing to consider having the site on their turf have so far each received $400,000 for their trouble. Receiving the money from the NWMO doesn’t mean the towns must accept a nuclear-waste storage site; they can spend the funds as they see fit for “community projects.”
The NWMO has maintained that the project will only move forward with the approval of area communities, First Nations and Métis groups.
Ignace Mayor Lee Kennard said Friday that his community is still involved in the process because “there is still a lot to learn, not only for us but also for the other communities in this process.
“We continue to be involved in field studies and engagement activities as we learn more about this important national infrastructure project and whether or not it may be feasible in the Ignace area,” he said, adding that “it will be several years before a potential host area is identified.”
The NWMO has indicated they hope to be down to one of the nine communities as the sole focus of study by 2023, Kennard said, and that a facility may be operational between 2040 and 2045.
As for support of the project in the community, Kennard said that “no one is being asked or expected to make decisions at this point.
“It’s simply too early. We are currently involved in learning and research on the suitability of the geology and potential social and economic impacts. We won’t know the results for several years. The Ignace area may never even reach that point,” he said.
The Ignace mayor noted that this is a $22 billion national infrastructure project. That means it brings significant social and economic impacts to a potential host area.
“An important part of the process is examining these impacts and how they may be managed to be a net benefit to our community and region. It’s not just about finding the right geology. Although,” he said, “without that nothing else would matter as safety is the number one priority.
“Over the last several years, we have held numerous open houses and many other engagement activities. That will continue and expand for as long as we remain in the process. I would encourage people to become involved. Right now, it’s very much about learning together,” Kennard added.
NWMO regional communications manager Pat Dolcetti said that there are currently nine Ontario communities involved in the site selection process.
Four of which are in Northwestern Ontario, while others are Elliot Lake, Blind River, South Bruce, Huron-Kinloss and Central Huron.
“All of these communities are in the preliminary assessment phase,” Dolcetti said, adding that the NWMO is planning to select one the nine as the focus of study by 2023.
He explained that the preliminary assessment phase focuses on studies of the local area geology (such as geological mapping, airborne surveys, initial environmental mapping and planning for core sample studies) and the potential social and economic impacts for the community and surrounding region. The process is conducted collaboratively with the involvement of communities in the area, he said.
“Learning and engagement continues and broadens to involve communities in the areas involved, including First Nation and Métis communities,” Dolcetti said. “Collaboration with both specialists and the public was key to the design of Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel. The work of the NWMO is guided by the values and objectives identified during this process.
“Collaboration with interested communities and Canadians is at the heart of this process,” he said. Public engagement is an ongoing key element of working together. For example, the NWMO has held numerous open houses, information sessions, group and individual conversations with interested people in the potential siting communities and across the country.
“These efforts will continue to grow as the process unfolds,” Dolcetti added.
For more information visit the NWMO website.
Three other Northwest communities, Schreiber, Ear Falls and Nipigon, are no longer involved in the site selection process. Rock formations near Ear Falls and Schreiber were deemed unsatisfactory for storing nuclear waste, while Nipigon pulled out because of its push for tourism was at odds with the nuclear waste plan.
Like a proposal to bury nuclear waste near Lake Huron, the Northwest plan does have its objectors.
A local White River citizens group staged a protest earlier against the storage-site proposal.
Proponents “think we should do the noble thing and accept the waste for the good of the country, but I don’t want it here,” protest organizer Jennifer Jacques said then. “We live up here for a reason. Everyone around traps, or goes hunting and fishing.”
White River Mayor Angelo Bazzoni earlier said he “encouraged the community to become involved as we learn together with the NWMO and our neighbours about the potential impacts of the project on our region if it were to be implemented here.”
Meanwhile, a new report released this week by Ontario Power Generation, says that relocating a nuclear-waste bunker from its currently proposed site on Lake Huron would cost billions of dollars, take decades to execute, and increase health and environmental risks,.
In May 2015, an environmental review panel approved the project - currently estimated to cost about $2.4 billion - which would see a bunker built at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont. Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste - now stored at the site above ground - would be buried in bedrock 680 metres deep about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron.
The federal government has since delayed making a final decision on the plan, instead asking OPG last February to provide information on locating the repository somewhere else.
Finding another community willing to take the waste - the municipality of Kincardine has been supportive of the project - won’t be easy.
“There would be considerable uncertainties associated with a DGR at an alternate location including the time required to develop and implement a consent-based site-selection process and achieve a willing and supportive host community, as well as the consent of indigenous communities,” the report states.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will now review and assess the utility’s report, allow time for public comment, and come up with its own recommendations to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in the fall. The agency notes the timeline could change if it requires more information.
For its part, however, OPG insists it’s time to set aside any criticism and get on with digging the bunker - at the Bruce site.
“Deferring costs to future generations, when a safe, cost-effective option already exists, is not necessarily in the best interests of society,” the report states. “OPG therefore concludes that the DGR project at the Bruce nuclear site remains the preferred location.”