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Deep Geologic Repository: A Matter Of Science

By: Dr. John Barrett
President & Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

The recent CTV W5 segment on Ontario Power Generation’s proposed Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) in Kincardine, Ontario, left the impression that some opponents viewed the location of the project as a simple act of convenience.

It is not a matter of convenience but a matter of science.

The DGR project intends to store low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste deep underground. In public consultations regarding the DGR, and again in the W5 segment, there is a suggestion that OPG chose the Kincardine site for its convenience, while ignoring concerns that radioactive material might seep through the rock and contaminate Lake Huron.

This flies directly in the face of the 2015 report of the federal Joint Review Panel, which held more than 33 days of public hearings and reviews more than 12,500 pages of evidence. The Panel’s Environmental Assessment called the geology of the area “highly suitable.”

Here’s why.

The host rock under the Kincardine site is four times the strength of concrete, and it would take 1 million years for one molecule of water to pass one metre in this rock.

The rock was formed more than 450 million years ago. It has remained intact despite two mountain formations and nine ice ages. Above the host rock rests 200 metres of impermeable shale.

Taken together, the rocks of this unique formation provide a natural barrier that scientists from around the world agree is perfect for permanently and safely isolating waste.

While W5 painted a picture of a “town divided,” this is actually not accurate.

The DGR actually has broad community acceptance. The Municipality of Kincardine reaffirmed its support for the project as recently as this past February via a resolution passed by the municipal council. Similar expressions of support for the DGR were also passed by Bruce County, which comprises 8 municipalities, including Kincardine, and by Huron-Kinloss and Saugeen Shores.

Much of the low- and intermediate-level waste that DGR will store currently sits above ground at OPG’s Western Waste Management Facility, located at the Bruce Power site at Kincardine. Is keeping it there indefinitely the better choice?

The answer finds its roots in moral responsibility and in evidence-based science.

Since our generation benefitted from the use of nuclear-generated electricity, we also bear responsibility for the waste. Responsibility rests with us, not our grandchildren.
The DGR is based on rigorous science, not “convenience”. It is planned in ideal geology, with world-leading engineering. The federal Joint Review Panel reports states the DGR will perform its job for 1,000,000 years.

The Deep Geologic Repository provides a way to manage our responsibility safely and securely. It will be a lasting solution for the waste, ensuring peace of mind.

Environment Nuclear Safety Waste Management

The Deep Geologic Repository and Canadian Nuclear Safety

By Dr. John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Now that it has closed the record on its extensive public hearings, the Joint Review Panel appointed to examine OPG’s Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) can get on with the final phase of its work – developing recommendations.

The panel faces a difficult task. Should it recommend that the project proceed? Or should it prefer that low- and intermediate-level waste remain stored in concrete trenches and warehouses above ground?

It’s not an easy choice, because either approach yields the same result – safe, secure storage of radioactive materials.

In two appearances before the review panel, the Canadian Nuclear Association expressed confidence in OPG’s proposed repository. The company has developed a credible case for moving its waste underground – a plan developed with input from many specialists from a wide variety of disciplines.

OPG concluded—and I have seen no persuasive evidence otherwise—that the repository will likely not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

It’s significant that three federal departments, as well as the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), all reached the same conclusion upon reviewing OPG’s case.  In short, OPG has more than satisfied the need to assess properly the risks posed by the DGR.

There exist four waste-management options. Two require storage above ground, and two below ground. A review by a panel of independent experts has shown all four options, including the proposed DGR, can be carried out safely and securely. Any one of them would do. The real question is whether any option is inherently better than the others.

The answer finds its roots in our sense of moral responsibility. My generation, and yours, benefitted from the use of nuclear-generated electricity. We also bear responsibility for the waste. We should manage it. The DGR provides a way to do so safely and securely. In the end, the joint panel will assess whether the repository provides a responsible improvement on current practice.

Observers should not fail to note the broader issue – that the nuclear industry, alone in the energy sector, takes full responsibility for managing its waste. We do so safely and securely, using ample detection and alert systems to ensure public and environmental safety.

Could we do better? Certainly. We can always improve safety. At the same time, let us recognize that the Canadian nuclear industry enjoys an impressive safety record.

In fact, the nuclear regulator recently concluded that no fatalities related to radiation safety have ever occurred in the Canadian nuclear industry. How many industrial activities of any kind–let alone of nuclear’s scale and complexity–have this kind of record?