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Sooner the better for DGR at Bruce Nuclear site, says Joint Review Panel

By: Liz Dadson
May 6, 2015

A federally-appointed Joint Review Panel is recommending approval of Ontario Power Generation (OPG)'s proposed Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) for low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste at the Bruce site.


The panel released its 457-page report Wednesday to environment minister Leona Aglukkaq who made it public that evening.


In the executive summary, the panel states that it agrees with OPG that the DGR is the preferred solution for the long-term management of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste.


“OPG was of the view that permanent emplacement of the waste in a DGR, where it is separated from the biosphere by multiple geological barriers, would be a safer solution over the long-term than the current method of storage at the Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF),” states the report.


“The panel agrees with the current international consensus that deep geologic disposal of radioactive waste is the preferred option for containing and isolating radioactive waste from humans and the biosphere. The panel concludes that placing the low- and intermediate-level waste in an appropriately-located underground repository would pose a lower risk to human health and the environment than surface storage.


“Compared to a surface facility, the additional protection of hundreds of metres of rock in a difficult-to-access location with limited or no exposure to natural surface phenomena reduces the likelihood, as well as the consequences, of both natural and human-related hazards.


“Natural hazards, such as flooding, tornadoes, and earthquakes, would have a higher probability of causing effects to humans and the environment when the waste is on the surface. Malfunctions, accidents, and malevolent acts would also be more likely to result in environmental effects if waste is at the surface.”


The panel states that the sooner the waste is isolated from the surface environment, the better.


“The panel notes the importance of reducing and, if appropriate, reusing and recycling the waste. However, it recognizes that current technologies to alter the waste to render it no longer hazardous are limited, particularly for intermediate-level waste that contains radionuclides with longer half-lives. The panel concludes that the likelihood and consequences of an event resulting in the release of radionuclides from surface storage are greater than they would be for a DGR.”


OPG has presented a strong safety case for the DGR, states the panel, because of:

  • the highly-suitable geology
  • the nature of the waste
  • robust engineering design
  • built-in, long-term safety features
  • good long-term performance under normal conditions, including glaciation
  • acceptable risks under unlikely, ‘what if’ scenarios

And finally, the panel appreciates the importance of the Great Lakes and applauds the efforts of Canadian and American federal, state, provincial, and municipal agencies, as well as First Nation, tribal, Métis, and private groups, as they address the primary risks to the lakes.


“The panel is of the view that the relative position of the proposed project within the spectrum of risks to the Great Lakes is a minor one, albeit one that demands strict attention and regulation.”


In conclusion, the panel states the DGR project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the implementation of the mitigation measures committed to by OPG, together with the mitigation measures recommended by the panel.


Kincardine council was elated when it heard the news during its council meeting Wednesday night.


Chief administrative officer Murray Clarke told council the panel's view is that the DGR is the preferred option and it is recommending approval of the project. He also quoted the executive summary regarding the panel's reference to "the sooner, the better" to have the DGR built.


Mayor Anne Eadie said the municipality must now wait 120 days for the federal environment minister to make her decision.


Councillor Laura Haight noted that there is a federal election coming up during that time.


Meanwhile, in a statement, OPG said that the idea for the DGR project came from the community.


“OPG developed the DGR with one goal in mind: to create permanent, safe storage for Ontario’s low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste,” said Laurie Swami, senior vice-president. “We are pleased with the panel’s conclusion that the project will safely protect the environment.”


The panel's recommendation comes after more than 14 years of study and consultation, states OPG. The panel conducted the most comprehensive and science-based nuclear waste storage review in Canadian history and its report reflects the input of hundreds of Canadians and Americans.


“The DGR will be designed to protect the Great Lakes’ unique natural environment and precious resources,” Swami said. “OPG and a team of scientists will closely analyze the panel’s conditions, many of which reinforce our commitment to the stewardship of the Great Lakes.”


OPG is reviewing the recommendations outlined in the panel's report.


The DGR would be located at the Bruce Nuclear site in the Municipality of Kincardine. It would safely store about 200,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level waste from more than 40 years of operating Ontario's nuclear stations. The DGR would safely isolate and contain the waste deep underground, ensuring protection of the water and the environment permanently. It would be buried 680 metres in stable rock formations that are more than 450-million years old.

If the project were authorized to proceed to the next phase of the permitting process, the decision statement would include conditions related to the project that would be legally-binding on the proponent.


Prior to the federal government's decision on the project, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will invite Aboriginal groups and registered participants to comment on potential conditions relating to possible mitigation measures and follow-up requirements that could be necessary, if the project is authorized to proceed. These comments will be taken into account by the environment minister for the decision statement.


Subject to the federal government's decision, the Joint Review Panel, as a panel of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, would make a decision whether to issue a licence to OPG to prepare a site and construct the DGR.


The completion of the report follows the panel's review of participant submissions and documents related to the Environmental Impact Statement submitted by OPG, as well as the public hearing held by the panel in the project area.


The panel held public hearing sessions from Sept. 16 to Oct. 11, and Oct. 28-30, 2013, in Kincardine and Port Elgin, Ontario. Additional public hearing days were held in Kincardine from Sept. 9-18, 2014.


During the review, the panel received written submissions and oral presentations from the proponent and participants, including Aboriginal groups, federal and provincial government agencies, local governments, environmental groups, individuals and organizations.

To read the entire Joint Review Panel report, click here.


Comment on this story? Click here.


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