Canada has 57K tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and nowhere to put it
On Thursday, politicians in Bruce County debated whether their community should be home to a place to put that waste, what’s called a deep geologic repository, or DGR; a multi-billion dollar high tech nuclear waste dump that would see the material stored in perpetuity hundreds of metres below the Earth.
At issue in the debate are the ethics of leaving the burden of some of Canada’s most dangerous nuclear material to future generations, the possible development and devaluation of prime Ontario farmland and concerns over the potential safety of the drinking water for 40 million people in two countries.
“I am strongly opposed,” said Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody, whose township includes Walkerton, a place that two decades ago grappled with a tainted water crisis where e. coli killed six people and sickened thousands.
“The proposal is to bury the waste under the Teeswater River,” he told council. “I can’t support that. I’ve got several communities down river that get their drinking water from aquifers along that river.”
Peabody said if a deep geologic repository were to be located west of Teeswater, it would potentially devalue prime farmland and the resulting stigma of burying nuclear waste near his community might affect the ability of local farmers to sell their wares.
“It would make it very difficult for them to market their produce and survive,” he said. “I don’t think the scientific consensus supports burying nuclear waste in class one farmland in Southern Ontario.”
While proponents of the system claim a DGR is a safe way to store nuclear waste, those opposed argue it has a spotty record at best, pointing out that similar facilities in New Mexico and Germany have leaked – and by that token, opponents say a DGR near Lake Huron would potentially put the drinking water of 40 million people at risk.
It’s not the first time the debate has come to the area. Ontario Power Generation recently abandoned a 15-year campaign for a similar proposed facility to store low to intermediary waste at a site not far from the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station.
The failure to move ahead with the project is part of a larger problem of Canada’s struggle to find a permanent home for its growing stockpile of nuclear waste.
As of 2018, it’s estimated Canada had some 57,000 tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and nowhere to put it.
So far, the federal agency tasked with disposing it, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, or NWMO, has identified two potential communities with the right geological makeup; Ignace in Ontario’s north and South Bruce, in Ontario’s Great Lakes Basin.