Nuclear Waste in Northwestern Ontario – Why We Should be Concerned

This article by Dodie LeGassick was originally published in the Chronicle Journal's Spring 2018 Northwest Women magazine (click here for entire issue).  Dodie LeGassick is a board member of Environment North.

For the past several years the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has been looking for a burial site in Northwestern Ontario to deposit the highest level, most toxic, most radioactive wastes: the spent nuclear fuel bundles from all of Canada’s nuclear reactors. Ninety percent of the spent nuclear fuel bundles will come from Southern Ontario reactors: from Bruce, Douglas Point, Pickering, Darlington and the Chalk River Plant near Deep River. The remaining ten percent will come from Point LePreau in New Brunswick, Gentilly in Quebec and lastly, from the Whiteshell Research Station in Manitoba .In Northwestern Ontario, they have narrowed down their choices to three potential sites for a DGR meaning a deep geological repository near Manitowadge, near Hornepayne and near Ignace.

The Revell Lake Site, just 30 km. west of Ignace off Hwy. 17 and Hwy. 622 is the most advanced site in their investigations. NWMO’s plan is consent based. So, in 2023 if Ignace votes in favour, if the local indigenous are in support and, of course, if the rock proves to be sound then the NWMO can make the Revell Lake Area the central site for a Deep Geological Repository. This repository will be 500 meters below ground, will take up 600 hectares or 1,480 acres underground and will have surface facilities that will take up 250 acres above ground.

Now, why should we as Northwestern Ontario residents be concerned?

First, we should be seriously concerned about a clause found within their APM- the Adaptive Phased Management Plan which says:
“Provision for optional shallow storage at the central site if needed”
Then it is always followed by:
“Temporary shallow storage at the deep geological repository is optional and not currently included in the NWMO’s implementation plan.”

Here is the problem. This option is a major concern because theoretically if the option is applied as of 2023 we can assume that a temporary storage facility may be built on the central site and may be there for decades before a DGR has been built if indeed it does get built. Once this temporary storage facility is on site the spent nuclear fuel bundles from nine reactor sites could, again, theoretically, be transported to and stored in the shallow storage facility. So, we must be concerned that Northwestern Ontario does not become the temporary storage site for ALL of Canada’s spent nuclear fuel bundles. Imagine the reputation and the negative impact this may have on tourism and our northern economy.

Secondly, the transportation of the spent nuclear fuel bundles from the 9 sites is another serious concern. There are three ways to transport the bundles: by rail, by ship and by truck. Right now, NWMO refers primarily to transport trucks as their preferred method. As of 2014 there were 3 million spent fuel bundles about 50,000 tons. Today, they refer to 4.8 million fuel bundles, about 80,000 tons but in their Triennial Report they project figures up to 7.2 million fuel bundles about 120,000 tons of the most long lived radioactive and toxic waste imaginable.

Concerns about truck collisions and by that I mean the large heavy truck/tractors in Northwestern Ontario prompted me, last fall, to apply to MTO for the right to access their latest available information. I examined the data re. all motor vehicle collisions, all large heavy truck/tractor collisions and the percentages of truck/tractor collisions versus all motor vehicle collisions from Pickering to Ignace as one sample route. The findings are of grave concern because the percentages of truck/tractor collisions are highest in Northwestern Ontario between Nipigon and Ignace. Statistics reveal that, on average, 32 percent of all collisions between Nipigon and Ignace are truck/tractor collisions; between Shabaqua and Ignace 41 percent of all accidents are truck /tractor collisions and recent data from Thunder Bay Police reveals that on average there are 7 truck/tractor collisions per year on Dawson Road up to and including Hwy. 102.

Given the statistics one may argue that the spent nuclear fuel bundles should NOT be transported through Northwestern Ontario. In fact, given the potential for accidents the waste should not be removed from their sites where they are presently, constantly monitored until some method of reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel has been found. Even in Finland and Sweden their plans for a deep geological repository do not involve transporting the bundles very far from their reactors. In Finland, for example, their chosen site is just five kilometers away from the reactors.

To get an idea of what is involved in the construction of a DGR, I recommend viewing “Into Eternity” a film documentary about the construction of a DGR in Finland. To better understand uranium, spent nuclear fuel and the aftermath of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters I suggest viewing the two episodes of the documentary “Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail”.

I have many other concerns about the entire process and hopefully through a series of presentations from Nipigon to Ignace people may become more aware of what is happening in Northwestern Ontario and as residents, parents and grandparents that we each take on a sense of responsibility for our future generations and ensure that our land, our children’s land is protected and free from the most radioactive and toxic waste that is nuclear waste.