Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, May 20, 2016

On The Horns of a Nuclear-Waste Dilemma

"You look at parts of the world that seem to go from reasonable governments to chaos, and I don't think you can predict what kind of society will exist hundreds of thousands of years from now."
"When you look at the geological history of the area [Great Lakes Basin, Ontario], it's been so benign in geological activity in the last tens of millions of  years. I don't know how you could find a safer place to put it [nuclear waste]."
Derek Martin, professor, geotechnical engineering, University of Alberta

"It just keeps coming back to that main question. Is it safer where it is right now [hard by the Bruce Power site, buried near the surface]? We had a tornado in a town near here three or four years ago ... and that could've just as easily been in Kincardine. It was a devastating tornado. Wiped out the town."
"Is this stuff [nuclear waste] safer where it is now, or is it safer 650 metres down in rock that hasn't moved in aeons?"
Kincardine Mayor Anne Eadie

"No matter what process is followed, abandoning radioactive nuclear waste in the Great Lakes basin will always be a bad idea."
"If it must be buried, bury it outside of the Great Lakes basin and far from people, far from water."
"One thing is for sure: we shouldn't bury this lethal material beside the source of drinking water for 40-million people in two countries. We will never know if there  has been a leak until it's too late."
Beverly Fernandez, spokeswoman, Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump, Southhampton, Ontario 

An aerial view of the Bruce Power nuclear generating station in Kincardine, Ont., on Aug. 16, 2003. Opponents of Ontario Power Generation's plan to store low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in an underground rock chamber beneath the Bruce facility say the bunker will be too close to Lake Huron.
An aerial view of the Bruce Power nuclear generating station in Kincardine, Ont. Opponents of Ontario Power Generation's plan to store low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in an underground rock chamber beneath the Bruce facility say the bunker will be too close to Lake Huron. (J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press)

Nuclear-derived power is inexpensive, once the cost of building associated nuclear reactors is done with, and upkeep figured in; it is environmentally clean, and it is reliable. But the sheer harnessing of this kind of power involved in nuclear plants and the potential for things to go catastrophically wrong due to technical fault or human error remains a cloud of dark concern hanging over any country reliant on nuclear energy for power generation. 

The disaster that overtook Ukraine when its Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant erupted rendered the city of  Pripyat and the surrounding area unlivable, contaminated by radioactivity, leading to a mass exodus of its population. Japan suffered its own dreadful nuclear disaster when, following a huge earthquake, a tsunami disabled the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 and a similar evacuation was ordered with thousands of people relocated, and the area surrounding the plant off limits.

Those dreadful catastrophes aside, there is the matter of what to do with generations' worth of radioactive nuclear waste. Material  that science well knows takes thousands of years to decay before it becomes non-toxic. Ontario Power Generation, which operates the largest nuclear plant site in the world, is seeking federal government permission to bury its accumulated 50 years-worth of nuclear waste close to the Great Lakes region, in Ontario.

OPG contemplates blasting an area deep in the ground in a geologically stable area to dump and seal low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from the province's three nuclear power plants. That toxic material would, in theory, be placed under layers of rock that have not moved in tens of millions of years, according to geologists. The fact that the planned Deep Geological Repository is located just over a kilometre from the bottom of Lake Huron is what has made it such a controversial subject.

Supported by dozens of scientists some of whom took part in a government-appointed independent review panel which approved the plan, the 680-metre hole would be dug below the water table, into ancient layers of rock, stable for over 50 million years. This is the plan considered to be the best solution available to ensure that the radioactive material is far removed from humans, well into the future. Environmentalists and political leaders on each side of the Great Lakes are not convinced.

Nuclear waste Jan Thomas, of Port Huron, holds a sign protesting a proposed nuclear waste dump site on Lake Huron, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, as participants in the float down pass by during International Rally to Protect the Great Lakes at Pine Grove Park in Port Huron, Mich. (Andrew Jowett/The Times Herald via AP)

Ontario Power Generation speaks with confidence of their plan. "We're happy to respond to them [critics]. We've been open and transparent through this whole process, and we're happy to do what we can to help people understand it", insists OPG spokesman Bill McKinlay. But opposition has only gained momentum with over 180 county boards, city councils and other elected groups close to the Great Lakes in both Canada and the United States having passed resolutions urging a veto.

Some supporters of the plan have pointed out that high-level nuclear waste which takes ten thousand years to become non-toxic, is going to be buried at Yucca Mountain, outside Las Vegas. Michigan Representative Debbie Dingell, responds to that by stating: "This is different. A mountain is in an isolated place, better than water that is 20 percent of the freshwater in the world. If there's a leak or an accident at Yucca Mountain, it's in an isolated area", an observation difficult to find fault with.

Eight of Ontario's 20 nuclear reactors are located at the Bruce Power facility. The Bruce site has stored low- and intermediate-level waste for all Ontario power plants in above-ground bunkers and vaults since the early 1970s, across a concrete area near the reactor buildings. It is now looking for a permanent home for this dangerously toxic material. And its options have been starkly criticized by the fears of people contemplating disaster.

Great Lakes Nuclear Waste
This Nov. 1, 2013 photo shows rows of chambers holding intermediate-level radioactive waste in shallow pits at the Bruce Power nuclear complex near Kincardine, Ont. Ontario Power Generation is seeking permission from the Canadian government to permanently store low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste in a rock chamber that would be built 680 metres underground and 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron. (John Flesher/Associated Press)

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