The announcement to refurbish four reactors at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station is being heralded as a colossal failure in governance by groups concerned about the large volume of highly radioactive wastes that will be generated.
Rebuilding the four aging reactors to allow an additional 30 years of operation will cost the province’s ratepayers many billion dollars – the Minister refused to estimate the total cost – and will add to the growing stockpile of highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste and refurbishment wastes.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a consortium of nuclear utilities led by Ontario Power Generation, has been working on a plan to construct a deep geological repository for Canada’s reactor fuel wastes for over twenty years, but is still at the “concept” stage and has yet to secure a site for the proposed used fuel processing facility and the underground complex of tunnels where the waste would be placed.
“There was not a single word of acknowledgement that this refurbishment will generate large volumes of high-level radioactive waste which will require care and containment into the far, far future. The Mayor of Pickering professed that his municipality is a willing host for the refurbishment project, but there is no willing host for the wastes it will generate,” commented Brennain Lloyd, a spokesperson with the northern Ontario based environmental coalition Northwatch.
The NWMO is currently investigating two “candidate” sites for its proposed deep geological repository project, one in northwestern Ontario between Ignace and Dryden, and one in southwestern Ontario in the municipality of South Bruce.
The NWMO has not produced a detailed plan for its DGR and key parts of the project are still at the “concept” stage, but the NWMO’s plans to date have been premised on the current fleet of reactors without the refurbishment of the four reactors at Pickering.
“Refurbishing four reactors at Pickering has a large impact on the NWMO’s plan, and should send the NWMO back to square 1 in terms of informing the potential host regions about the NWMO project and its timeline and impacts. It significantly adds to the length of operations and the radiological burden that will be imposed upon those along the transportation route and in the area of the proposed facilities”, Lloyd added.
Over the 30-year operating period an additional half-million radioactive fuel bundles would be added to the inventory the NWMO has been estimating to be 5.5 million. That additional volume would mean an additional 2,265 truckloads of highly radioactive waste and add more than 900 days of operation to the used fuel packaging plant, which is expected to release radionuclides into the local environment.
Since 2021 the NWMO has been projecting that the last shipments of waste would leave Pickering in 2050, but the refurbishment would mean radioactive waste would still require interim on-site storage until at least 2105, pushing it past the 2088 date for final receipt of waste at the NWMO’s DGR site.
Residents along the transportation routes and in the vicinity of the two sites being investigated are concerned about the low levels of radiation that will emanate from each of the 2-3 truck shipments per day, the risk of transportation accidents, the radioactive releases from the processing facility and by ventilating air from the underground facility unfiltered to the surface, and releases from the underground repository to ground and surface water. The NWMO has acknowledged in its own reports that the used fuel containers will fail over time.
Northwatch is a regional coalition of environmental organizations, community groups and individual members in northeastern Ontario.
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