Nuclear waste recycling studied as testing of storage site commences

In a couple of weeks time, a massive drill will be digging into a farmer's field north of Teeswater, to see if what’s under the ground could permanently house all of Canada’s most radioactive nuclear waste.

“That’s a big part of putting things together to understand the safety and suitability of this site for a potential repository, so it’s a very exciting time,” says Martin Sykes, a senior geoscientist with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO).

As the NWMO spends the next year examining the rock under Bruce County fields to find out if it really could support housing Canada’s first permanent nuclear waste facility, scientists in Eastern Canada will be trying to recycle that used nuclear fuel -- 5.5 million radioactive bundles worth.

“Essentially, instead of putting the waste in the ground, we could take it, get some of the remaining energy out of it and turn it into clean energy, using nuclear power,” says Rory O’Sullivan, CEO of Moltex Energy in New Brunswick.

Moltex and Ontario Power Generation have teamed up to try to recycle Canada’s used nuclear fuel bundles, which are currently stored in above-ground containers at Canada’s nuclear plants, and eventually bound for an underground storage facility either in South Bruce or Ignace, Ont.

O’Sullivan says if their project works, there would still be radioactive waste left over that needs to be managed, but there would be less of it, and it would be less radioactive.

“We can’t get rid of all the waste. It’s not a magic solution, but the aim is to reduce the amount of high-level radioactive waste that goes into the repository."

So why the rush to find permanent storage, ask those in South Bruce opposed to the potential permanent Deep Geological Repository (DGR) in their municipality.

“Technology is advancing at a very fast pace, so why not take a chance with later, and find a technology that really does neutralize this stuff,” says Bill Noll, from the group Protect our Waterways-NO DGR.

For those locals in favour of the $23-billion project, there’s excitement about the borehole drilling getting underway.

“It will be yes or no, we can host it or we can’t. Whether or not the site is suitable comes down to the rock,” says Sheila Whytock, from the group Willing to Listen-South Bruce Proud.

The NWMO will choose between South Bruce and Ignace by 2023 and construction of the underground nuclear waste facility could begin as early as 2033.

O’Sullivan says they’ll spend the next three to four years figuring out if their nuclear waste recycling program will work or not.