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(Donald Gruener)
(Donald Gruener)

The search for a nuclear graveyard Add to ...

"The result of public resistance to underground radioactive waste disposal is what keeps reprocessing alive, even though it is uneconomic and makes the waste disposal problem much worse."

Anna Mehler Paperny

***

THE NEVADA FIASCO

As Canada prepares to bury its nuclear waste deep underground, a similar project that has already cost the United States government billions of dollars and several decades of research is going nowhere fast.

In 1987, Congress chose Yucca Mountain, in what was deemed to be a suitably dry, remote region in the Nevada desert, to bury the country's nuclear waste. Since then, more than $10-billion has been spent researching how to do that so the waste stays away from humans indefinitely.

The project has since run into myriad roadblocks, both political and practical. The State of Nevada has long opposed it, going so far as to take legal action against the federal government. Research found water flowed more quickly through the mountain than thought, raising fears the waste could contaminate groundwater over time.

It didn't help that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is a Democrat from Nevada who has opposed the plan for years; or that President Barack Obama slashed funding for it in his 2009 budget.

It isn't clear what will happen to the 77,000 tonnes of nuclear waste in the U.S. if the Nevada project doesn't go through. But the federal government has already paid more than $1-billion to utility companies who sued after it failed to make good on a promise to take the companies' nuclear waste starting in 1998.

Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Centre, said the project offers a cautionary tale to any other jurisdiction trying to come up with creative ways of disposing of nuclear waste.

"What a disaster - billions of dollars pissed away on nothing."

Anna Mehler Paperny

***

NUCLEAR CANADA

Cities in consultation on nuclear storage

Bathurst

Edmundston

Fredericton

Whitby

London

Toronto

Brockton

Ottawa

Thunder Bay

Quebec City

Trois Rivieres

Montreal

Saint John

Used fuel storage

Quebec City

Saint John

Whitby

Toronto

Brockton

Ottawa

Research reactors

Montreal

Quebec City

Toronto

Ottawa

Montreal

Trois Rivieres

Electricity-generating reactors

Ottawa

Quebec City

Saint John

Whitby

Toronto

Brockton

******

Special handling: How the waste will be packaged

If they could be stacked like cordwood, all of Canada's used nuclear fuel bundles could fit into six hockey rinks, from the ice surface to the top of the boards.

108 USED NUCLEAR FUEL BUNDLES... (0.5M)...FIT IN EACH BASKET

EACH COPPER CONTAINER HOLDS THREE BASKETS

EACH CONTAINER HOLDS 324 USED FUEL BUNDLES

CONTAINERS WILL BE ENCASED IN CLAY IN THE TUNNELS OF THE REPOSITORY

TONIA COWAN AND DAVID PRATT / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE / THE NUCLEAR WASTE MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATION

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