Currently, OPG stores all low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste generated by the province’s 20 reactors at the Western Waste Management Facility, situated at the Bruce site.
As much as 50 per cent of the material that would be buried in the DGR over the next 40 years is already at the site. Some 80 per cent of the material is low-level waste – things such as mop heads and protective clothing – and is kept in shed-like buildings above ground. The more dangerous items – resins, filters and equipment from retooled reactors – are entombed in steel-and-concrete vaults just beneath the surface.
Initially, OPG looked at three options for dealing with the waste: surface storage with greater processing, the use of concrete vaults just below ground level and, finally, deep burial. It determined that all three were technically feasible and safe after a 2004 report from consultants Golder Associates. OPG opted for the deep storage after the town of Kincardine stated its preference for the DGR.
While several protest groups have sprung up, the utility has the support of the local municipal governments, which have been receiving as much as $650,000 a year from OPG for agreeing to host it.
Mike Smith is mayor of Saugeen Shores. He is also a former worker at the Bruce plant, which is owned by Cameco and TransCanada Corp. and some Ontario pension funds and unions.
“We have 2,000 people that work out there [at Bruce], and I hear it from both sides,” Mr. Smith said in an interview at his office. Despite complaints that the decision is set in stone, he insisted the municipality is still deciding whether to be an official candidate for the high-level waste site being planned by the federally appointed Nuclear Waste Management Organization.
“The thing that escapes people with the Kincardine [OPG] project is that the waste is all here now and it’s going to continue to come here so long as nuclear plants operate in Ontario,” he said. “So if you’re opposed to it, does that mean you’re happy with the way things are now?”
Mr. Smith said the DGR – and the high-level waste repository, should it be approved – would bring significant employment and financial benefits to an area that has little industry beyond the nuclear plant.
OPG has spent years drilling deep into the dense limestone, formed some 450 million years ago, that lies 650 metres below the Bruce site. In comparison, Lake Huron has a maximum depth of 200 metres. During that exploration process, the scientists recommended locating the repository deeper than initially planned to take advantage of the seismically quiet, impermeable Cobourg limestone formation, said the project’s chief geophysicist, Mark Jensen.
“It’s good fortune that the best geology lies under the Bruce plant,” Dr. Jensen said.
But in a submission to the panel, University of Alberta professor Peter Duinker slammed the environmental impact study done by OPG as “not credible” and “not reliable,” though he offered no opinion on the project itself. Indeed, a staff report from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – which is jointly responsible for the panel that must approve the project – concludes that OPG’s plan poses little risk to the public. “The overall safety case for the DGR is acceptable,” says the CNSC report, which was filed with the review panel this week.
But critics are skeptical about the scientists’ assurances and worry about biased regulators.
CNSC president Michael Binder met in 2009 with pro-development mayors in the region. Notes taken of the meeting by a municipal employee, obtained this year by opponents via a request under the Access to Information Act, describe Dr. Binder as telling the mayors that he next hopes to see them at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the DGR.
“The CNSC seemed to think its role was to promote the project and make people feel good and safe about it,” said Pat Gibbons, a retiree in Saugeen Shores who worries that approval of the DGR project would set the stage for the more dangerous high-level waste site to be located in the town.
CNSC spokesman Aurèle Gervais said Dr. Binder would not comment on the alleged statement but added that the commission president attended the meeting at the invitation of the mayors and “presented the science-based regulatory requirements for the project.” Mr. Gervais said Dr. Binder is not a member of the review panel and will not participate in the decision.
For the critics, relations between the industry, the municipal officials and the regulators have been far too cozy. But they remain hopeful that the swell of opposition, rippling across the water to towns on the U.S. side, will keep the waste site from being located anywhere near their backyards or indeed in the Great Lakes watershed.