2 ̶ Handle It Gingerly

This is a cartoon. Toxic barrel rolling is not a practice in Canadian nuclear plants. - Google image

This is a cartoon. Toxic barrel rolling is not a practice in Canadian nuclear plants. – Google image

The stuff, not the issue.

The two NWMO reps at Bruce Hyer’s meeting were named Pat and Mike. I am not kidding. This is not an Irish joke. The only thing Irish about Pat was that he was taciturn ̶ beyond uttering his name, he uttered nothing. The Irish thing about Mike was that he was garrulous. No, that does not mean he favoured a garru.

In fact, if all you knew was that one was preternaturally quiet and that the other was phenomenally talkative, you wouldn’t even suspect them of being Irish. Which they weren’t, as far as I know.

My point is, Mike was the one who fielded all questions and provided all answers. Hyer moderated the Q & A. And all the information in these posts comes from Mike and the literature he handed out. Well, literature may not be the word. But it was literate stuff, with words like “interim” and “deep geological”. And “repository”. There were a lot of repositories stuffed into sentences. And no, repository is not a synonym of “suppository”.

Back to the question: What is this stuff?

At the centre of this issue are bundles 50 cm long and 10 cm wide, weighing 24 kilograms. Over 2 million of them. A fuel bundle has uranium dioxide pellets arranged in metal tubes called rods. A single bundle in a nuclear reactor can provide electricity to 100 homes for a year. A reactor has oodles of bundles (I don’t want to sound too scientific). When used fuel bundles are removed, they are still highly radioactive, so they are stored in pools ̶ yes, like swimming pools ̶ near the reactor. Water is an excellent barrier. Mike said you can even walk around the edge of this interim repository without lighting up.

A fuel bundle - NWMO image

A fuel bundle – NWMO image

As these used fuel bundles sit in the pools, the radioactivity drops sharply. The level drops 99% in ten years. To make way for more bundles, they are usually relocated to dry storage facilities (more interim repositories) on site. These repositories may be concrete containers or silos or vaults. Concrete is an excellent barrier between you and that permanent glow to your skin. Mike said you can safely place your hand on one of these containers and all you will experience is a mild heat.

The heat is evidence of continuing radioactivity. Radioactivity will continue, and will continue to decrease, over a period of hundreds of thousands of years. To be safe, let’s say a million years.

Now, 2 million bundles is the accumulation to date in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. By the  time a centralized permanent repository is sited, constructed, packed with used fuel bundles, and sealed off, there will be over 4 million bundles.

But. If water is such a good barrier against radiation, why not keep the pools in place forever? Well, there’s the lesson of Fukushima.

You will remember that on March 11, 2011, a tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear generation station. The disaster caused three of the six reactors to melt down, and demolished the pool and dry storage facilities with their used fuel bundles. Three days later, eastern Russia reported radioactive isotopes, and two days after that, the western seaboard of the United States ditto. Ocean currents have carried that deadly radioactivity all across the Pacific Ocean.

That’s not to mention what happened in Japan itself.

The cleanup continues.

We can conclude that interim repositories have, by definition, a short life.

And they are subject to the vagaries of man, God, and nature.

So, the managers of nuclear waste have enunciated certain criteria for a permanent repository:

  1. One centralized location
  2. Absolute isolation of the used nuclear fuel
  3. Search for a willing host community
  4. Continuous monitoring
  5. Retrievability of the waste if conditions change

Mike swore up and down by this strategy. How far would you swear?

To this day, workers in protective gear are cleaning up the Fukushima plant. -Google image

To this day, workers in protective gear are cleaning up the Fukushima plant. -Google image

About EJ Lavoie

Writer and independent publisher with website
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