Tom Sasvari with files by Robin Burridge
KAGAWONG—A local member of Northwatch is warning residents of Manitoulin Island and the North Shore of the concerns the group has with underground storage of spent nuclear fuel rods being stored in the area. The communities of Elliot Lake, Blind River, Spanish and the North Shore Township are awaiting a response from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) regarding their individual applications to be potential sites for this waste.
“The whole general story nauseates me,” stated Ed Burt, of Kagawong, after attending a Northwatch spring meeting earlier this month, in which this issue was debated. He said the NWMO is to make a decision on the applications made by the North Shore communities. “They are looking to take nuclear waste from all over Northern Ontario and Quebec; Manitoulin Island is only 20 miles away—across from the North Shore—and if they decide to do this it will provide a tremendous social disruption to the transportation routes, and of course potential serious danger if anything goes wrong.”
The repositories used will in essence see “caverns drilled and filled with water, and the material will be stored in copper cannisters which will eventually decay, and they are hopeful it will not spill into water sources, but there are no guarantees,” said Mr. Burt.
Mr. Burt suggests since it is southern Ontario that uses the most power in the province, maybe the spent nuclear fuel rods should also be stored in higher profile areas, namely southern Ontario, instead of in the North. But it seems to be a case of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” by storing these materials in the North. Residents of Manitoulin and the area I think would like to know how much nuclear waste is going to be stored in the area, and the potential dangers that could arise.”
“All four communities have moved forward with the first steps of the NWMO’s deep storage nuclear waste application process,” explained William Elliott, general manager of the Elliot Lake and North Shore Corporation for Business Development (ELNOS), the company which originally pitched the economic benefits of the project to the North Shore communities and is assisting them with the application process. “They are all now in a waiting period as NWMO conducts their initial screening to see if any of the communities are excluded from the process. We expect to hear the results from these screenings in the next three months and then hopefully move forward with the next step in the process,” said Mr. Elliott.
The project would mean a $200-million investment by the government for area research, followed by a $16-24-billion dollar project that could mean hundreds of jobs for the selected community.
In an information brochure from the organization it is explained there are currently enough used fuel rods that, should they be stacked end-to-end, would fill up six hockey rinks to the top of the boards.
At this point, the power companies themselves store the spent nuclear fuel rods, but with the industry still expanding, the government has been exploring solutions, deciding in 2007 to implement the Adaptive Phased Management (APM) program.
“APM has as its ultimate goal centralized containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel rods in a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation,” explains NWMO.
Mr. Elliott explained that ELNOS is confident that at least one of the communities will move forward to the next phase of the process because of the North Shore areas history of uranium mining in the area, Denison Environmental Services, (located in Blind River), and Cameco, the Blind River uranium refinery.
“There are a lot of people in the area who are knowledgeable and confident with the industry,” stated Mr. Elliott.
However, not all people (including Northwatch) are confident that an underground storage site for spent nuclear fuel rods is the best thing for the area. The First Nations of the North Shore Tribunal sent out a press release stating their “strong objection to the prospect of the North Shore of Lake Huron becoming a site for the long-term storage of nuclear waste.”
Mr. Elliott addressed this concern and others by replying that ELNOS is “very respectful of First Nations and their opinions and concerns.”
“I feel it is very much a part of the process to listen to the concerns of the First Nations and all opposed parties,” said Mr. Elliott, “so that we can take these concerns to the NWMO and have their questions addressed.”
“The shipping costs would be enormous,” said Mr. Burt. “Fifty thousand tons of nuclear waste being stored in one area is a frightening amount. The copper canisters will be shipped up the highway, or shipped by water, and lowered in the ground. They have no idea how long these nuclear materials will last in the canisters and what happens if there is a disaster in that time—we have seen other major nuclear disasters in the world and look how much damage was done in these cases, just look at what happened in Japan.”
The NWMO will conduct their screening over the next three months, notifying the North Shore communities of their decision by the summer.