OWEN SOUND, Ont. — Critics of Ontario Power Generation’s plan to store radioactive waste deep below ground at the Bruce County nuclear site noted Tuesday that similar facilities have failed.
But OPG says the material, facility and practices proposed for the Kincardine, Ont., project are different.
The first day of a new round of joint review panel hearings into the Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) plan focused on two incidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico earlier this year —a heavy vehicle fire inside the repository for nuclear weapons waste, and a radioactive release suspected to be caused by a chemical reaction in a container at the site.
Errors, plus a lack of safety routines and proper regulatory oversight, contributed to accidents at the WIPP in New Mexico, representatives of OPG and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission told the panel.
"We at OPG take the events of the occurrence at WIPP very seriously," OPG’s Laurie Swami said. "OPG will continue to learn and monitor WIPP and incorporate any changes into our design and operating procedures."
OPG has sent staff to WIPP to learn what is being done by the U.S. Department of Energy so the company can "stay abreast of all new developments" and look at the incident as a "case study for all staff," the panel heard.
The low- and intermediate-level waste that would be stored at the DGR — which does not include high-level used reactor fuel — is different from the weapons-based nuclear waste at the WIPP, OPG representatives said.
OPG staff outlined that its waste is well-documented, with "no evidence of strong chemical reactions."
The waste under consideration for the DGR has "no strong oxidizers," which is suspected in the chemical reaction that led to the radioactive release.
But many are unconvinced. They noted other facilities have failed and unforeseen things can happen.
John Mann of Saugeen Shores, Ont., said WIPP was once said to be "state of the art" and comparable to the Bruce site, but since the incident, OPG has "thrown WIPP under the bus."
Kincardine, Ont., resident Jutta Splettstoesser compared the DGR with two German nuclear repositories that are leaking and shared her concerns it could happen in Bruce County.
"I’ve knocked on the doors at municipal households and hundreds of households are very concerned," said Splettstoesser. "I have no confidence in the validity of the DGR project."
She asked the panel to deny the licence application for the DGR.
Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s Angela Bischoff said Kincardine’s DGR stands the risk of becoming a leaking repository like the ones in Germany, or Yucca Mountain in the U.S., if unforeseen circumstances occur.
"It’s a high-stakes risk with the DGR," said Bischoff.
Her group recommended hardened on-site surface storage at the Bruce site as an alternative, as its "retrievable" and would involve "rolling stewardship" to watch over the waste over the decades and centuries it remains radioactive.
She also recommended a "complete nuclear phase-out" of Ontario’s reactors as they reach their end of life.