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The federal government is paying close attention to public opinion in the ongoing search for a nuclear waste site - and it detects some favourable signs in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) kicked off a process last spring to find a community willing to host an underground complex that would serve as a storage dump for all the country's nuclear waste.

Though the selection process could take as long as a decade, federal officials at Natural Resources Canada reviewed the initial phase of the process several months ago.

Obtained by The Canadian Press through Access to Information laws, the document summarizes public opinion in the four provinces that have nuclear-related industries and are the most likely sites of the underground repository.

The document noted that the Ontario government had yet to speak publicly about the selection process. It detected more vocal opposition in Quebec.

"In Quebec, the National Assembly adopted a motion on Oct. 30, 2008, banning the storage in Quebec of nuclear waste that comes from other provinces," it said. "There is also public resistance to siting such a facility anywhere in (Quebec)."

But the report cited a more receptive climate for the multi-billion-dollar project in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

The document said, with respect to New Brunswick: "Media reports have been largely supportive of the NWMO's proposed siting process and little public resistance to the NWMO's process has been encountered."

It went on to say of Saskatchewan: "The Government of Saskatchewan issued a (2009) news release saying it was reserving decision on supporting Saskatchewan communities interested in hosting a waste management facility. Media reports and public comments, however, have been generally supportive."

The NWMO, a non-profit group mandated by Ottawa to come up with long-term solutions for the country's nuclear waste, wants to build an underground mausoleum for millions of spent radioactive bundles that power nuclear plants in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario.

Though Saskatchewan doesn't have a nuclear power plant itself, it is also being considered as a potential location because of its large uranium industry.

The NWMO says seven communities across the country have formally expressed interest in hosting the underground repository: Creighton, English River First Nation and Pinehouse in Saskatchewan, and Ear Falls, Ignace, Schreiber and Hornepayne in Ontario.

But these communities have only just reached the second stage of a nine-step process that will ultimately decide the repository's location. At this point, they are entitled to receive information about what the project entails and are then vetted for suitability.

NWMO officials stress that communities can drop out of the process whenever they like.

"We've got to take the time to do it right," said Mike Krizanc, communications manager at the NWMO.

"It is a decision that will be taken many years from now. Nothing is imminent."

Wherever the repository is ultimately built, it is sure to transform the local economy.

The construction phase alone could bring as many as 1,000 jobs to the rural, sparsely populated communities that have expressed an interest so far.

"There would be a huge impact on a smaller community," Mr. Krizanc said. "There are going to be social issues that have to be addressed."

But before moving forward, officials will check the suitability of communities against criteria that could rule them out - including the presence of groundwater, fault lines or natural resources.

Studies in the past have cited the Canadian Shield as the ideal type of geological formation for housing a nuclear store.

Mr. Krizanc also acknowledged that a community wouldn't be chosen without the support of its provincial government.

He said the siting process was designed to incorporate as much input as possible from a wide variety of sources. This includes towns through which nuclear waste would pass on its way to the repository, and aboriginal groups whose treaties may be affected by the repository's construction.

"While the host community has an absolute veto, the question becomes how much say do other stakeholders have, and at what point do they have it," Krizanc said.

The decision to build a centralized storage site for Canada's nuclear waste was made by the federal government in 2007. Estimates put the price tag from $16-billion to $24-billion over the life of the facility, which could last 100 years.

Construction will be financed by a trust fund, currently worth $2-billion, which Canada's nuclear energy providers have been paying into since 2002.

Waste from the country's nuclear facilities is now being stored at seven separate sites.

Mr. Krizanc says it makes sense to store the waste - which amounts to two million highly radioactive bundles - at a single site.

Not only does it make monitoring easier and more secure, it also allows for the bundles to be retrieved if scientists in the future find ways to tap their residual energy.

But Mr. Krizanc adds that it is an ethical concern above all that drives the desire to streamline Canada's nuclear waste management.

"This generation has to take responsibility for the waste it produces," he said.