To the Editor:
I continue to follow with significant interest the local editorial page letters and on-line debate about the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) plans to develop a Deep Geological Repository (DGR) for Canada’s nuclear fuel waste.
In my assessment, many of the opinions expressed on both sides of the discussion seem to either not acknowledge or understate the risks of delaying or not building a DGR. There seems to be an intriguing comfort level and complacency with the status quo.
It is no secret that all of the spent fuel from all of Canada’s nuclear reactors is currently stored in either above ground pools of water, or in steel/concrete flasks located at each of Canada’s nuclear reactor sites, all of which are located on the shores of major waterways. Both sides of the debate, for the most part, paint this as an acceptable low risk practice rationalized by no significant leaks over their 50 year existence. But risk is a very relative concept, and as the time of exposure extends a low risk event can become a statistical certainty.
The existing reactors and storage facilities have a design service life of decades and the robustness of the barriers to protect the environment from their waste streams is orders of magnitudes less than what would be achieved in a multi-barrier DGR designed to last for millennium. Moving all of the spent fuel to a single DGR would also eliminate the obligation and cost of maintaining and securing multiple above ground facilities on the existing waters edge for thousands of years.
Absolutely the design and operation of a DGR will have some residual risks over which we must have extended rigorous oversight and there will be legitimate negative impacts on the immediate neighbours to such a facility that we need to acknowledge and address as best we can.
We continue to enjoy the benefits of nuclear produced electricity but we need to own and manage the waste. The sooner our nuclear fuel waste is secured in a DGR the better our waterways will be protected.
The consequences of not building a DGR are what concern me.