Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Holding in the deep: what Canada wants to do with its decades-long pile-up of nuclear waste

no country in the world has solved the conundrum of how to permanently dispose of waste that will stay toxic for 400,000 years. And after decades of trying hard to figure it out, Canada doesn’t seem especially close to a solution. 

This is the legacy that we are leaving for our children, our grandchildren, great grandchildren, or great, great grandchildren,”

it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to a technology that produces such dangerous material, unless there is at least one proven safe method of dealing with it,”

Canada plans to store spent nuclear fuel deep, deep underground near the Great Lakes. That is, if an industry group can find a community willing to play host,  The Narwahl, By Emma McIntosh Jan. 19, 2022,   The final resting place of Canada’s most radioactive nuclear waste could be a cave about as deep below the surface as the CN Tower is tall.

If it happens, the chamber and its network of tunnels will be drilled into bedrock in the Great Lakes basin. Pellets of spent nuclear fuel — coated in ceramic material, loaded into bundles of metal tubes the size of fireplace logs, then placed into a metal container encased in clay made from volcanic ash — will be stacked in the underground chamber sealed with concrete 10 to 12 metres thick. Though the radioactive pellets will have spent several years cooling down in pools and concrete canisters, they will still emit so much energy that their presence will heat up the space where they sit for 30 to 60 years. The warmth will linger for anywhere from a few centuries to a few millennia.

But none of this will become reality unless the industry-backed Nuclear Waste Management Organization can find a willing host. Two Ontario towns are in the running: South Bruce, located about two hours’ drive northwest of Toronto near Lake Huron, and Ignace, roughly 200 kilometres north of Lake Superior, not far from the Manitoba border. The municipalities, along with 10 First Nations and two Métis councils, are awaiting the completion of dozens of studies as they mull whether the economic benefits of such a project outweigh the risks.

“We have to make sure that there isn’t an environmental risk for us, or it’s a relatively remote risk,” said Dave Rushton, a project manager for the Municipality of South Bruce.

If anyone thinks they’re informed today, I kind of question it. We’re not fully informed because we haven’t got this information yet.”   

……….   no country in the world has solved the conundrum of how to permanently dispose of waste that will stay toxic for 400,000 years. And after decades of trying hard to figure it out, Canada doesn’t seem especially close to a solution. 

“This is the legacy that we are leaving for our children, our grandchildren, great grandchildren, or great, great grandchildren,” said Bzauniibiikwe, whose English name is Joanne Keeshig. She’s Wolf Clan from Neyaashiinigmiing, also known as Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, which is located near the South Bruce proposal.

“Seven generations from now, this will not be resolved unless we start seriously taking a look at what can be done.” Modelling suggests underground nuclear waste disposal is safe. But no country has tried it yet…………….

High-level waste, meanwhile, is the responsibility of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, a non-profit established by Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power Corporation, and Hydro-Québec. In the 60 or so years that Canada has produced nuclear power, it has never had a place to dispose of spent fuel. As of 2020, the country’s nuclear power utilities had produced about three million fire log-sized bundles of it — enough to fill eight hockey arenas from the ice to the top of the boards — and that number grows by about 90,000 each year. In the absence of a place to leave it permanently, producers are currently keeping high-level waste in temporary storage near the reactors. By 2100, when the federal government says it expects all of the country’s existing nuclear plants to be decommissioned, industry projects it will be holding onto nearly 5.6 million bundles.

Accumulating nuclear waste has raised red flags for a long time. In 1978, the Ontario government commissioned a report titled “A Race Against Time,” which concluded the waste was proving trickier to handle than experts initially thought and suggested a potential moratorium on new nuclear plants if the industry didn’t progress within eight years. 

Another report from the United Kingdom the same year came to a similar but stronger conclusion, said Gordon Edwards, a mathematician who has long critiqued the nuclear industry as the president of the not-for-profit Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. 

“One of their main conclusions was that we are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to a technology that produces such dangerous material, unless there is at least one proven safe method of dealing with it,” Edwards said.

“The problem with radioactivity is you can’t shut it off … You have to somehow keep it out of the environment.” 

Federal and provincial governments never issued a moratorium: construction on the Darlington plant in Bowmanville, Ont., which had been approved in 1977, began in the ‘80s. The Bruce and Pickering plants, meanwhile, continued to get new reactors. 

These days, the federal government is pushing to advance new nuclear technology, called small modular nuclear reactors (commonly known as SMRs), which some argue could be a climate mitigation tool. The technology is less efficient than larger reactors and produces more waste. Two of these new reactors might be built in the near future — the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which oversees the industry, is considering an application for one at the Chalk River Laboratories research site in Deep River, Ont., and Ontario Power Generation has announced its intent to build another at Darlington. 

In 2002, Parliament did pass legislation requiring the industry to band together and deal with its waste and later that year, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization was formed. Twenty years on, it still hasn’t figured out what to do with high-level radioactive waste. Keeping it above ground, as is done now, leaves it vulnerable to natural disasters, or human ones like terrorism and war. 

“It’s a question of ethics,” said Brian Ikeda, an associate professor at Ontario Tech University who studies the management of radioactive waste and has a contract to do upcoming work for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

“Do you want to leave this stuff — which you don’t like and you think is really dangerous — and have your grandchildren figure out what to do with it? Because that’s what’s actually going to happen … we could be putting those people at huge risk by having this material out.”

As such, a consensus has emerged among global experts that the best way forward is to dispose of spent fuel far underground, a concept called a deep geological repository. But putting nuclear waste underground isn’t simple. 

The waste — which in worst-case scenarios could poison groundwater or soil — must be packaged securely enough to withstand a future ice age, which could bring massive glaciers three kilometres thick, heavy enough to affect underground geology. It must be placed in rock that is stable and won’t shift for 400,000 years, the length of time the Nuclear Waste Management Organization believes the waste would remain radioactive enough to be harmful if leaked. It must be climate change proof. 

It must also account for the many unknowns of future generations, who might not know how to  actively maintain the storage site, but on the other hand will hopefully be able to monitor it. It must be buried so deep that, if our languages disappear or the information about what’s sealed within is somehow lost, our descendants would be unlikely to disturb the buried chamber and expose themselves to the unimaginable risk inside.

Another challenge is the simple fact of entropy: everything breaks down over time. No matter what type of container holds the nuclear waste, its material will corrode over the course of many thousands of years, Ikeda said. The trick is to buy as much time as possible. …………………………………………….
Finding a nuclear waste disposal site in Ontario will require First Nations consent and buy-in from local towns…………………………………………………………   https://thenarwhal.ca/nuclear-waste-ignace-bruce/

January 20, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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