Canadian repository site search moves to second phase

03 November 2015

Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has completed the first phase of a preliminary assessment for the Municipality of Central Huron. The Ontario municipality has been added to the list of communities interested in hosting a deep geological repository for the nation's used nuclear fuel that have been selected for further study.

The assessments form part of the NWMO's selection process to find an acceptable site for a repository for Canada's used nuclear fuel through a long-term program called Adaptive Phased Management (APM). Assessments are carried out at the request of interested communities, but the NWMO points out that its preliminary findings do not confirm the technical suitability and safety of any site. No community is asked to confirm its willingness to host the project at this stage.

Since 2010, the NWMO has been applying a two-phase preliminary assessment process to narrow down progressively study areas from a list of communities that registered interest. With the completion of the Phase 1 study for Central Huron in Ontario, all Phase 1 preliminary assessments have now been completed.

Phase 1 assessments involve desktop studies to confirm whether the area is potentially suitable from a geoscientific perspective and could meet safety-related requirements concerning facility construction, the transport of used nuclear fuel to the site, management of any environment effects and ensuring safety for people and the environment. This phase also involves community learning about the project.

Communities and areas identified for further study through Phase 1 assessments then move to Phase 2, which includes field work, more detailed studies and broader engagement with communities in the surrounding area and Aboriginal peoples. Phase 2 assessments are expected to take several years to complete, and are intended to narrow down NWMO's focus to one or two sites for more detailed site evaluations. Communities may withdraw from the process at any point during the Phase 2 assessments.

In its findings, the NWMO said: "Central Huron is understood to have potential to meet specific technical siting requirements designed to ensure safety. In addition, the community has a longer-term vision and aspirations that may align well with the APM Project. There appears to be potential for sustaining involvement and exploring the project further."

Twenty-one communities, all in Ontario or Saskatchewan, requested preliminary assessments. After the completion of Phase 1 assessments, 11 - Blind River, Central Huron, Elliot Lake, Hornepayne, Huron-Kinloss, Ignace, Manitouwadge, Schreiber, South Bruce, and White River, all in Ontario, and Creighton in Saskatchewan - were selected for Phase 2 studies. The NWMO concluded its studies at Creighton and Schreiber earlier this year after finding geological complexities in both areas that reduced the likelihood of finding a suitable site for a used nuclear fuel repository.

Phase 1 studies were discontinued for two communities after early findings suggested they had very limited geotechnical potential to host a facility, and seven communities for which Phase 1 assessments were completed were not selected for further study. One community - Nipigon in Ontario - withdrew from the site selection process in 2014.

Kathryn Shaver, vice-president of APM engagement and site selection at the NWMO, said that the site selection process aims to identify a single location for a deep geological repository with a "willing and informed" host. Shaver said that Central Huron had played an important role in advancing the project. "Each community that has reached this stage of the process has helped ensure that discussion and learning continues, and that important questions about safety are asked," she said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News