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Bruce County divided over becoming permanent site to store Canada’s nuclear waste, 

Bruce County divided over becoming permanent site to store Canada’s nuclear waste, 

Canada has 57K tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and nowhere to put it, Colin Butler · CBC News ·  Feb 21 2020, Bruce County calls itself a place “where the smiles are bigger and a little more frequent,” but those smiles belie a deepening divide among neighbours over what to do with Canada’s growing stockpile of nuclear waste. 

The town of South Bruce, on the rim of the sparkling waters of Lake Huron, is one of two sites selected by a federal agency tasked with finding permanent locations to store Canada’s nearly three million bundles of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

On Thursday, politicians in Bruce County debated whether their community should be home to a place to put that waste, what’s called a deep geologic repository, or DGR; a multi-billion dollar high tech nuclear waste dump that would see the material stored in perpetuity hundreds of metres below the Earth.

At issue in the debate are the ethics of leaving the burden of some of Canada’s most dangerous nuclear material to future generations, the possible development and devaluation of prime Ontario farmland and concerns over the potential safety of the drinking water for 40 million people in two countries.

‘I am strongly opposed’

On Thursday, that politically-fraught debate took centre stage in Walkerton, Ont. before a packed council chamber where politicians debated whether DGRs were “settled science” in an argument that has already played out at dinner tables, arenas and coffee shops in the area for years, dividing neighbours and leaving communities deeply polarized.

“I am strongly opposed,” said Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody, whose township includes Walkerton, a place that two decades ago grappled with a tainted water crisis where e. coli killed six people and sickened thousands.

“The proposal is to bury the waste under the Teeswater River,” he told council. “I can’t support that. I’ve got several communities down river that get their drinking water from aquifers along that river.”

Peabody said if a deep geologic repository were to be located west of Teeswater, it would potentially devalue prime farmland and the resulting stigma of burying nuclear waste near his community might affect the ability of local farmers to sell their wares.

“It would make it very difficult for them to market their produce and survive,” he said. “I don’t think the scientific consensus supports burying nuclear waste in class one farmland in Southern Ontario.”

Utilizing a deep geologic repository isn’t simply a matter of “burying nuclear waste in class one farmland” as Peabody suggests. The proposed underground project is a highly sophisticated $23 billion nuclear waste disposal site designed to contain and isolate some of the most dangerous materials on Earth for thousands of years.

The sprawling complex of tunnels and chambers would occupy a footprint of about 600 hectares underground, where nuclear waste would be stored at a depth as low as the CN Tower is tall (500 to 600 metres). The idea is the material would be encased in containers below natural bedrock to keep the harmful effects of radiation at bay for millennia.

While proponents of the system claim a DGR is a safe way to store nuclear waste, those opposed argue it has a spotty record at best, pointing out that similar facilities in New Mexico and Germany have leaked – and by that token, opponents say a DGR near Lake Huron would potentially put the drinking water of 40 million people at risk.

It’s not the first time the debate has come to the area. Ontario Power Generation recently abandoned a 15-year campaign for a similar proposed facility to store low to intermediary waste at a site not far from the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station.

The failure to move ahead with the project is part of a larger problem of Canada’s struggle to find a permanent home for its growing stockpile of nuclear waste.

As of 2018, it’s estimated Canada had some 57,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and nowhere to put it.

So far, the federal agency tasked with disposing it, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, or NWMO, has identified two potential communities with the right geological makeup; Ignace in Ontario’s north and South Bruce, in Ontario’s Great Lakes Basin. …….

September 12, 2020 - Posted by | Canada, wastes

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