Canadian Manufacturing

OPG looks to bury nuclear waste

Project still needs federal approval to bury up to 200,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste

TORONTO—Ontario Power Generation is looking to build underground vaults near Lake Huron to store low- and intermediate-level radioactive nuclear waste.

OPG says the radioactivity in the low-level waste will decay within about 300 years, while the intermediate-level radioactivity will take many thousands of years to decay.

The utility continues to seek federal approval and has submitted 12,500 pages of documents, including an environmental impact statement on the Deep Geologic Repository, to support its claim that the project “will not likely result in any significant adverse environmental or public health effects.”

What little moisture there is 680 metres below the surface of the proposed site is trapped in rock so dense it doesn’t move, said Albert Sweetnam, an executive vice-president at OPG who is in charge of the project.

“You actually have to crush the rock to get the moisture out of it, and when you test that moisture, it’s actually from a sea hundreds of millions of years ago,” said Sweetnam. “It shows you that nothing is moving down there, it’s not going anywhere. That’s why the safety case is a good one.”

The underground vaults would be used to store things like mops and used protective suits to irradiated core components from the refurbishment of reactors at Pickering, Darlington and Bruce.

They would not be permitted to store used nuclear fuel.

OPG wants to build the storage facilities about one kilometre inland from Lake Huron near Kincardine, on the site of the existing Bruce nuclear plant.

NDP officials suggest the site is too close to the Great Lakes and are using the nuclear crisis in Japan to justify their position.

“There are a bunch of Japanese engineers who never expected a wave big enough to come in and knock out their backup electricity for a nuclear plant,” said NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns.

The vaults would hold 200,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste and would be built 680 metres below ground in low permeability limestone, beneath a 200-metre thick layer of low permeability shale.

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