Posted Thu, 09/17/2009 – 00:00
By the time you read this the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) will have held its by-invitation-only, Saskatoon meeting, to help find a “host community” to take nuclear wastes from across Canada. I’ve heard the NWMO pitch and it sidesteps the vital technological, ecological and ethical questions. Why, for example, is Saskatchewan even being considered as a nuclear waste dump, when all nuclear power plants are elsewhere, mostly in Ontario? Why is the NWMO promoting the risks and expense of transporting such wastes to one centralized site in Western Canada? Most fundamental: why has the industry been allowed to continue producing these toxic wastes, radioactive for tens of thousands of years, when, for six decades, they’ve had no credible nuclear waste disposal plan?
The NWMO is a nuclear industry group, federally empowered in 2002 to address the nuclear waste build- up. It was created after the eight-year running Seaborne panel concluded that the Canadian public “did not support” AECL’s proposal for deep geological disposal. AECL spent $700 million of our money on this rejected plan.
Canada has accumulated 2 million spent fuel bundles – 40,000 tonnes of nuclear wastes stored above-ground at nuclear plants. The NWMO wants to encapsulate 300 of these highly radioactive fuel bundles per container for deep burial. To just address existing waste would involve transporting nearly 7,000 of these containers across Canada, through southern Saskatchewan to the north. The NWMO wants to build tunnels one-half KM underground in a 6 KM square area to store these containers; and, after 50 years, retrieve the spent fuel. Protection of groundwater, stable geology and social acceptance are said to be the main criteria, but it will come down to willing politicians and successful economic bribery.
The industry knows full well it has little chance of animating a “nuclear renaissance” unless the public is convinced that a solution to nuclear waste build-up is in the works. In internal documents it’s even called this a “public acceptance” strategy. The NWMO hopes they can get a “host community” to accept what the Canadian public wouldn’t accept. While they talk as though this will be a “willing” community, it’s no accident that they are targeting impoverished, northern First Nations and Metis communities.
After $10 billion more taxpayer’s money down the nuclear sinkhole since 1987, President Obama pulled the plug on the centralized, nuclear waste disposal project at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Among other things, environmental scientists found that groundwater was circulating through the proposed waste site. (A similar thing was found in Manitoba, and it’s naïve to think that, in this world of constantly recycling natural systems, they’d find otherwise.) Nevada’s people and government stringently opposed the plan, and we should ask why there isn’t vociferous opposition from Premier Wall and his government to bringing nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan.
The NWMO targeted the Cambrian Shield in Northern Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan. Manitoba isn’t even on the list because, after the AECL botched millions on nuclear waste research there, the province passed legislation banning nuclear wastes. Last year the Quebec legislature passed a similar law. With most of Canada’s 22 nuclear plants in Ontario it would be too hypocritical to ban nuclear wastes; but opposition to nuclear wastes in Ontario’s north remains steadfast. When the NWMO went to Sudbury, the local member of the Legislature called for out-rightly rejecting NWMO’s proposal.
Not so here, where the Sask Party-appointed UDP recommended we take nuclear wastes from afar. This comes as no surprise when you look at the industry-dominance of the UDP, with Bruce Power, Cameco and Areva all members. The UDP, like the NWMO, is an industry-promoting body; and the government (we hope temporarily) seems to be in the industry’s pocket.
The objectives of Sask Party’s UDP are quite transparent. It supports “the NWMO consultation and siting process, given the potential benefits of a geological repository…” It also supports “any willing host community that comes forward through this process” and, furthermore, supports” the development of the deep geological repository IN THE CONTEXT OF A BROADER NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY.” And it says nuclear research here should include “advanced fuel cycle technologies”, which involve reprocessing nuclear waste to retrieve plutonium for future reactors.
Reprocessing creates a liquefied, more mobile waste and makes plutonium more available for weapons. But this isn’t primarily about nuclear waste disposal. Ontario is looking for a way to try to contain its low and medium radioactive wastes near Bruce Power’s Ontario plant. But Bruce Power wants to expand to Western Canada, and a high-level nuclear waste storage site here is part of the plan. Even if Bruce Power is forced by public opposition and rising costs to cancel its proposed nuclear plants near Peace River, Alberta, and on the North Saskatchewan River, its co-owner, Cameco, has for over a decade endorsed bringing nuclear wastes to Saskatchewan as a lucrative business venture.
The NWMO isn’t talking about how centralizing nuclear waste is part of the industry’s plan to profitably retrieve and reprocess these wastes for future reactors. They’d rather talk about “economic opportunities” for a prospective host community. But the economics are as bad as in any other area of the industry. The NWMO says the costs of its “plan” will be from $16 to $24 billion, up from $13 billion not long ago. Based on past industry cost-overruns, for which the public pays dearly, you can likely double or triple this. But to encourage a community to come forward the NWMO stresses that $200 million a year will be spent for 30 years; a clear bribe to businesses, or Indigenous communities looking for economic opportunities for their impoverished community. This “consultation” breaches the Duty to Consult, which says “There shall be no monetary inducement involved”.
If we want to help halt the production of nuclear wastes and move towards a sustainable, renewable energy system, we’ll need to clearly and loudly say “no!” to bringing nuclear wastes here. If our government truly cares about our and our children’s collective wellbeing they’ll do the same thing as Manitoba, Quebec and Nevada. Saskatchewan’s grass-roots now need to give the government some encouragement to do the right thing.