7 ̶ Love It, Don’t Ship It
As I said, at the town hall meeting in Geraldton on November 12, the audience suggested two alternatives to deep geological disposal: reprocessing of used nuclear fuel, and near-surface disposal. Mike, the NWMO rep, rejected both out of hand.
Neither our federal government nor the Nuclear Waste Management Organization will consider anything other than deep burial. You might begin to suspect that there is no dialogue occurring here. Decisions have been made. We just have to concur.
You might also suspect that NWMO is not always honest. NWMO promises “an open and transparent consultation process”. Well, they are openly declining to consider alternatives. To “consult” transparently means to “inform”. NWMO says “you may become engaged in the decision-making process”. Right. All you have to decide is whether to agree.
There is, they believe, somewhere out there in the Canadian Shield, one “willing host community”. They are openly offering mind-boggling financial incentives. If they weren’t open about it, we’d be tempted to call them bribes. There’s a rumour going around that communities still in the selection process are getting heaps of money already.
I am concerned about the possibility of any centralized deep geological repository anywhere in this country. It is not acceptable that one community can succumb to their blandishments and commit us, and generations to come, in perpetuity, to this mind-boggling mistake.
“The used fuel will also be retrievable at all times.” Right. And if you believe that, there is a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
“Postclosure monitoring . . . presents a unique challenge . . . “ Total honesty there. It can’t be done . . . effectively . . . meaningfully . . . for hundreds of thousands of years. Not in a deep geological repository.
Of the five criteria that would govern the process (listed in Chapter 2), one survives the honesty test: “Centralized location”. Bad idea. But honest.
I do not doubt NWMO’s sincerity. And I very much admire their focus on the long-term. They stress the process is “a multi-generational approach”. A purely political approach would not look beyond the next few election cycles.
The site selection (the search for a willing host community) will wind up by 2025. For the next ten years, the facilities will be constructed. Then come the operational phase (40 years), the extensive monitoring phase (70 years), and the decommissioning and closure phase (30 years). Then comes eternity.
And the funding will be in place, provided by the waste makers. One booklet says “$16- to $24-billion”. Mike said it could be $32-billion. The “waste owners” are making regular contributions to a trust fund.
At this point, all eyes are on the one community that will step up. The one willing to become the Nuclear Waste Capital of Canada for all time.
But, folks, the nuclear waste is sitting now in interim storage, and it will continue to accumulate.
Why not, you ask, leave it in interim storage? Think: Fukushima. Such repositories are not designed for the long-term.
Why , you ask, plan for the long-term? Let future generations worry. Well, that’s not a nice thought. Shame on you.
Do you want to go down in history as a citizen of The Age of A-holes? The “A”, of course, stands for “adaptive”, as in the name Adaptive Phased Management, which is NWMO’s term for this process. “Adaptive” means the process will be adapted to changing conditions. If something doesn’t work, it will be corrected. No, “adaptive” does not mean “corrective”. Everything that is done, or will be done, is already the correct thing. “Phased” means 140 years of phasing out. Then eternity. That’s good management.
A lot of bad things can happen to interim storage if left for the long term: tsunamis (think: Fukushima), “glacial events”, social breakdowns. “Social breakdown” is not mentioned in the literature I read, but Mike mentioned it. Think: apocalypse.
Think of rising sea levels, of nuclear war, of a lethal global epidemic, of a giant asteroid striking Earth . . . You’ve heard of all the scenarios. There will come times when no one will give a passing thought to temporary nuclear waste repositories, assuming they even know of their existence and location. They certainly won’t be monitoring them.
If a deep geological repository is out, what is left? I don’t know a thing about reprocessing, so I looked at near-surface storage. This usually means on-surface storage, or storage a few tens of metres below the surface (shallow geological disposal).
Through a process of deep geological thinking, I have formulated a superficial (but serious) plan for permanent disposal.
You know, right now, as you read this, very few people are thinking anything about nuclear waste. In Nakina and in Geraldton, 7 people attended the town hall meetings. In Longlac, 6 attended. Mind you, Greenstone is not a candidate community, but still, who wants a Nuclear Waste Capital of Canada within 5,000 kilometres of here?
At one point, Mike and Bruce burst into laughter. It seems that someone at the Nakina meeting suggested lining up the waste containers on either side of the 401 in Southern Ontario. That way, millions of eyes would be on them, monitoring, daily, for eternity.
I merely grinned, because I take the proposed solution semi-seriously.
I do believe in continuous monitoring. I propose that each of the waste owners finds a prominent hilltop near their station. Ensure that the foundation is solid and safe from surface water and flooding. Locate all the station’s used fuel bundles in sturdy, corrosion-resistant containers (maybe the same ones planned for rail transport). Space them so that people can walk between them. Maybe have some wide open spaces for special events or purposes. And build a glass dome over the works.
If an act of man or an act of God compromises the integrity of the containers, they can be repaired immediately. Or relocated. If a catastrophic event threatens the repository in that location, the contents can be relocated. If an ice sheet approaches from the north, say, the containers can be transported quickly to the south. (In that scenario, Canadians would be fleeing south too.)
If, in fifty or a hundred thousand years, the containers become too corroded, replace them with new ones. Besides, there’s a very good chance that advances in science and technology will have found ways to neutralize the radioactivity.
Two more things required: continuous monitoring, and permanent markers.
l take Mike at his word that one can safely put his hands on such a container and merely experience a pleasant sensation of warmth. There’s no safety issue. So my plan calls for people ̶ especially children and adolescents (train them early, eh?) ̶ to migrate to and under the glass dome, 24-7. They will want to go there. And stay as long as they can. They will beg to go there. And in some cases, have to be forcibly removed.
Because. The Dome will be a mecca for intellectual development, for physical exercise, and for spiritual comfort. The life of the community might even revolve around it.
How, you ask, will the Dome accomplish that? Well, use your imagination. I can imagine a computer café and video arcade. I can imagine regular parkour competitions. I can imagine an arboretum, thriving in the continuous warmth and bouts of sunshine, with furry creatures hanging out.
One last thing: no one must ever forget the location and primary purpose of that repository. I’d say stucco neon signs all over the Dome, but some day the power may go out. Permanently. I’d say carve the messages in stone monuments and surround the Dome. But, over time, monuments crumble.
My suggestion is to run ads on CBC television. Continuously. Supplement the ads with documentaries. Partner with film companies to produce films featuring Bruce Willis engaged in fire fights under the Dome. CBC is the solution.
Because. If the CBC ever ceases to exist . . . so will Canada. And then truly, no one will care. For eternity.
Now, smile a little.
You can live with nuclear waste.
And love it.
(P.S. Do you know how seriously Canada’s parliamentarians are taking the proposal to dump all of the country’s nuclear waste on one little community? There is only one parliamentarian who is concerned: Bruce Hyer, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay-Superior North. He is the only parliamentarian trying to get a public debate going. And once he knows how we, his constituents, feel, he will take a position on the issue. Weare making history here. Other countries are looking into alternatives. We can be world leaders here ̶ for better or for worse. Yes, each one of us can make a difference.)