Legal & Regulatory

DGR Is Preferred Nuclear Waste Solution for Canada, Scary for U.S.

A Canadian joint review panel issued an environmental assessment report on May 6 for a deep geologic repository (DGR) for long-term management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste (L&ILW), concluding that the project is “not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) proposed the DGR, intending to locate the facility at the Bruce nuclear power plant. Bruce is located on a 2,300-acre site on the shores of Lake Huron in Kincardine, Ontario. The station is comprised of eight CANDU reactors, with a combined capacity of 6,300 MW. Bruce was a POWER Top Plant in 2013 after it refurbished and returned Units 1–4 to service.

The DGR would be used to store L&ILW from the Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington nuclear stations. Currently, the waste is being stored at a surface facility on the Bruce site. As proposed, the DGR would be an underground disposal facility for more than seven million cubic feet of L&ILW.

The DGR would be constructed about 2,230 feet below ground in limestone that is part of the Cobourg Formation. The facility would include two shafts, tunnels, emplacement rooms, and various underground service areas and installations. The total surface footprint, however, is expected to be less than 75 acres.

Material stored at the facility would include low-level waste, such as protective clothing, floor sweepings, mops, and rags; and intermediate-level waste, such as used reactor core components, refurbishment waste, and resins and filters from nuclear reactor operations. Storage would be for “the very long term,” but no spent nuclear fuel would be allowed in the facility.

One item that has raised concern, not only in Canada but also in the U.S., is the project’s proximity to Lake Huron—roughly three-quarters of a mile from shore. In April, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) filed House Resolution 194 and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) filed Senate Resolution 134, both co-authored by Republican-party members, expressing “that the President and the Secretary of State should ensure that the Government of Canada does not permanently store nuclear waste in the Great Lakes Basin.”

The Canadian joint review panel was established in January 2012 to assess the proposed project, consider the license application, and obtain information about potential adverse effects of the project. The proposed DGR is unique in that it would be the first of its kind in North America. It would also be the first in the world to use limestone as its host rock formation.

The report concludes, “the DGR is the preferred solution for the long-term management of L&ILW.” Furthermore, it says, “the DGR should be built now rather than later,” suggesting that removing waste from the current surface storage facility would reduce risk to human health and the environment.

The review panel found the geology at the site to be highly suitable for the DGR. The Cobourg Formation is said to have very low permeability and is underneath more than 650 feet of shale-rich bedrock. The report says the host rocks have remained stable for more than one million years, through nine glaciations, with no evidence that glacial meltwater has been able to reach the Cobourg Formation for at least two and a half million years. The panel found that the area is not prone to frequent or large earthquakes either.

The Canadian government will now review the panel’s report before issuing a decision on whether the project may proceed.

Nuclear waste disposal has been in the news recently in the U.S. as well. Last week, Holtec International and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance announced a memorandum of agreement to build an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in the southeast corner of New Mexico. Previous to that, Valhi Inc. announced that it intends to apply for a license to store used nuclear fuel at a facility in Andrews County, Texas.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)

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