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Canada Moving planned nuclear-waste bunker would cost billions, raise risks: OPG

A Deep Geologic Repository built near the Bruce Power nuclear plant is being proposed to store nuclear waste deep underground.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Relocating a nuclear-waste bunker from its currently proposed site on Lake Huron would cost billions of dollars, take decades to execute, and increase health and environmental risks, according to a new report by the project's proponent.

The report by Ontario Power Generation, done at the request of the federal environment minister, also asserts that the public doesn't really care about the proposal for the deep geologic repository – or DGR – even though scores of Great Lakes communities in both Canada and the United States have denounced the plan.

"There is little interest among the general public regarding the DGR project," the report states. "Ontarians are not looking for information on nuclear-waste disposal in large volumes. This topic is not a popular one nor is it generating large volumes of curiosity."

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In May 2015, an environmental review panel approved the project – currently estimated to cost about $2.4-billion – which would see a bunker built at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ont. Hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste – now stored at the site above ground – would be buried in bedrock 680 metres deep about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron.

The federal government has since delayed making a final decision on the plan, instead asking OPG last February to provide information on locating the repository somewhere else.

Moving the location now would add as much as $3.5-billion, OPG says. The money would go toward buying and preparing the needed land, as well as to packaging and shipping the dangerous waste. In addition, the utility says, the current plan to start burying the waste in 2026 would be derailed and in-service date would likely be pushed back to as late as 2055 if another site is chosen.

While the study does not identify any actual sites, it does find that vast stretches of the province, including much of southern and southwestern Ontario, would be geologically suitable for a waste bunker.

Perhaps the biggest risk posed by building somewhere else would be the need to truck the hazardous material as far as 2,000 kilometres at a cost of up to $1.4-billion.

"Relocating the DGR project to an alternate location would require approximately 22,000-24,000 radioactive shipments resulting in over a million kilometres of travel on public roadways throughout the duration of the transportation campaign," the study states.

"The incremental conventional transportation risks are estimated to be between three and 69 road collisions. It would also add a small but incremental risk of exposure to radioactivity to the public and workers."

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Preparing an alternate 900 hectare site, including clearing the area and creating road access, would also hurt wildlife habitat and cause environmental damage, the report says.

Finding another community willing to take the waste – the municipality of Kincardine has been supportive of the project – won't be easy.

"There would be considerable uncertainties associated with a DGR at an alternate location including the time required to develop and implement a consent-based site-selection process and achieve a willing and supportive host community, as well as the consent of indigenous communities," the report states.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will now review and assess the utility's report, allow time for public comment, and come up with its own recommendations to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in the fall. The agency notes the timeline could change if it requires more information.

For its part, however, OPG insists it's time to set aside any criticism and get on with digging the bunker – at the Bruce site.

"Deferring costs to future generations, when a safe, cost-effective option already exists, is not necessarily in the best interests of society," the report states. "OPG therefore concludes that the DGR project at the Bruce nuclear site remains the preferred location."

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