|Canada looks to solve nuclear question
Jim Algie - Owen Sound Sun Times
Wednesday, October 30, 2002 - 08:00
Local news -
Three months after U.S. President George W. Bush approved central storage for U.S. nuclear waste deep beneath Yucca Mountain, Nevada, Canada remains at least three years away from a decision about long-term plans for its high-level radioactive trash.
Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act comes into force Nov. 15 and spells out a financial and legal outline for the thorny problem of long-term storage of reactor wastes.
It’s the environmental Achilles heel of nuclear power production and one of the most politically charged issues to solve.
Highly radioactive spent fuel rods from nuclear power reactors are among the most toxic substances on Earth. They remain hazardous for hundreds of years, requiring perpetual storage isolated from the environment and contact with living things.
The technical and political issues remain daunting enough, but the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the bold wave of terror which followed gives new significance to the public risk from potential sabotage to nuclear fuel. Ontario Power Generation manages a storage facility on the Bruce site near Tiverton.
The new federal act creates a Nuclear Waste Management Organization which recently appointed former UN environment program executive director Elizabeth Dowdeswell as its founding president. Dowdeswell, whose appointment was announced last week, has been on the job for about a month and has established a four-person office in Toronto.
Canada has lots of company among nuclear nations in the search for solutions, Dowdeswell said.
“Most of the countries that have facilities that generate fuel waste are going through the same discussion right now,” she said, citing similar developments in Sweden, Finland, France and Switzerland.
“We’ve already lived with the benefits of nuclear power generation for some time,” she said.
“We can’t afford to leave this problem for our children to deal with. It’s becoming an issue that we have to deal with in the shorter term.”
Financed mainly by electricity consumers in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, the new Canadian waste management organization operates with a board of directors appointed by the major utilities. It has three years to develop and recommend a plan for handling the mounting volume of spent fuel and other radioactive wastes from the country’s 22 reactor sites.
The path to a solution includes several obvious hurdles including widespread controversy among leading environmentalists about thestructure of the agency and its assignment.
Some residents in the Tiverton area maintain that government and utility officials have ignored their objections to the growing volume of waste in storage near their homes.
Eugene Bourgeois, a local shepherd with long-standing complaints about his atomic neighbour, said he has little confidence in the federal government’s assurances about nuclear safety. A founder of a new area lobby group, Friends of Bruce, Bourgeois also doubts the new agency’s independence from nuclear industry economic interests.
“We have our experience that doesn’t give us any confidence,” Bourgeois said in an interview. “Every step along the way has been double speak.”
Sierra Club nuclear analyst Dave Martin questions the structure of the new Waste Management Organization.
“By accepting this appointment as president of the waste management organization, she has bought into a completely biased and prejudiced plan for radiation waste management,” Martin said.
“It’s an insane proposal and I think it will set us on a path of horrible environmental conflict in the years to come,” he said.
The plan is bound to set communities which host nuclear power production sites against other communities, he said.
“Given the biased nature of the nuclear waste organization it seems very unlikely to me that any other community would be willing to accept high level radioactive waste in good faith,” Martin said.
Dowdeswell’s specific assignment is to explore three potential solutions:
• Deep geological disposal.
• Central storage.
• Continued storage at existing sites.
Dowdeswell said she is not far enough into her reading to map out a plan for further research but remains open to other options.
The law requires her to study the three specified options but “that doesn’t mean those are the only options,” she said. Despite many similar exercises on other nuclear power nations, no long-term waste handling consensus has appeared.
“I don’t come to this with any particular agenda,” Dowdeswell said. “I don’t know enough yet about any of the three options to even have a view on it at this stage.”