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Nuclear waste is not a dirty secret

March 19, 2023

To the Editor:

Here in South Bruce, as we continue to explore whether we will become a willing host for Canada's Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for spent nuclear fuel, I'd like to share my perspective on nuclear waste. 

Some people see nuclear waste as the proverbial Achilles heel of the nuclear power industry - a dirty little secret that we don't want to talk about. As a 20-year veteran of the nuclear industry, I see it differently.

In contrast to every other industry, Canada's nuclear power generators have consistently captured and stored all their radioactive waste, since commercial power production began in the late 1960s. Low- and intermediate-level waste is continuously compacted and incinerated down to minute quantities of radioactive ash for long-term storage.

High-level waste, the spent fuel from the heart of the reactors, is stored under water until most of the radioactivity has decayed away, then transferred to robust dry storage containers, which are stored in warehouses. All of this waste is safely stored at generating sites under the watchful eye of nuclear operators and security guards.

I suspect the nuclear industry is unique in this respect, as every other industry sends its waste to landfills or tailing ponds, releases it into streams or emits it into the atmosphere. So, nuclear waste in Canada is actually a great industrial success story.

For more than 50 years, Canada's nuclear stations have produced massive amounts of electricity to power our schools, homes, hospitals and factories, while emitting virtually zero greenhouse gases, and containing all of the radioactive waste.

The other thing most people don't realize is how little radioactive waste is actually produced. It is estimated that, if an average Canadian got all of his or her electricity from nuclear for an entire lifetime, all of the radioactive waste produced from this lifetime of electricity production would fit in a single pop can. That's pretty impressive, but on top of all that, the Canadian government has been collecting a very large amount of money from nuclear generators over the past couple of decades, with the express purpose of creating a permanent solution for radioactive waste.

A large part of this multi-billion-dollar nest-egg lies in the hands of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), to produce the DGR, which will safely encase the spent fuel back into the earth's crust, where it will be safely isolated from the environment in perpetuity.

It's a big decision we face in South Bruce, but I'm encouraged by the past success of the industry in consistently and conscientiously caring for its nuclear waste.

Tony Zettel
RR 5, Mildmay

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