Canadian waste organisation completes borehole programme

08 April 2022

Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has completed its deep borehole drilling programme to understand the subsurface geology in the two areas that will potentially host a deep geological repository for the nation's used nuclear fuel. The programme will help inform the final selection of a site.

A geoscientist examines core samples extracted from bedrock in South Bruce (Image: NWMO)

The NWMO is charged with implementing Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used fuel, known as Adaptive Phased Management, and launched the site selection process in 2010. The selected site must have the support of "informed and willing" hosts and NWMO is working to ensure that the chosen location will be safe and secure.

By 2012, 22 communities had expressed an interest in learning about the project and exploring their potential to host it. Eleven of those communities went forward to the second phase of the NWMO's preliminary assessment process. By the end of 2019, the list of potential host communities had been narrowed down to two: one in the Wabigoon-Ignace area and the other in the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON)-South Bruce area. Both locations are in Ontario.

Drilling and testing of boreholes to depths of up to 1000 metres below the surface advances understanding of the subsurface geology in a study area and helps ensure the site will meet regulatory requirements. The process involves making a small diameter hole using drilling equipment and retrieving cylinder-shaped rock samples called core.

Drilling of two boreholes at SON-South Bruce began in April last year. Drilling of six boreholes at Wabigoon-Ignace - where work began on the first borehole in 2017 - was completed in November 2021, following a suspension during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NWMO has now announced the completion of the last borehole at the SON-South Bruce potential site, bringing to an end some five years of intensive field studies during which about 8 km of bedrock samples have been recovered from the two locations.

Deep geological repositories are internationally recognised as the safest way to manage used nuclear fuel over the very long term, NWMO Vice-President of Site Selection Lise Morton said. "Completion of this drilling programme is a significant step forward in our geoscience work. In addition to informing the safety case for the project, the resulting data will also provide important insights to the communities that are considering hosting the project in their area," she added.

Once the site has been selected, detailed site characterisation, federal impact assessment and licensing processes will begin. NWMO said it remains on track to complete the site selection in 2023. Construction of the repository is currently anticipated to begin in 2033, with operations beginning between 2040 and 2045.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News