The chief of the Canadian Nuclear Association open to having waste either above or below ground.
The chief of the Canadian Nuclear Association says he’s “agnostic” about whether nuclear waste should be stored above or below ground.
John Barrett said in an interview that he’d like to have more discussion about the best place for Canada’s growing stockpile of radioactive waste.
Barrett’s words, following a speech Monday, come as two projects are already seeking to store waste from nuclear generators deep underground.
That waste is currently stored in containers on the surface at Canadian nuclear plants.
Barrett said there’s no consensus either among the public or in the industry itself about the best place to store nuclear waste, some of which remains dangerously radioactive for hundreds of millions of years.
“The question really becomes: Do you need to put this together in one or two places, and do they need to be above or below ground?” he said.
“Which is the safest? Well, we’re already saying it’s safe,” he said. “I guess it’s a question of what addresses best the public’s concern.”
Some people want such waste kept within sight on the surface, while others want it buried, he said. “Frankly, I don’t even know where I stand on it. I’m more interested in the absolute safety of the treatment now, as we speak, and of that I am confident and assured.”
Public opinion has evolved over the years, he said. “Finding a real consensus is a bit of a moving target.”
Asked what the industry’s consensus is, he said, “I think that’s what we want to look at a bit more. An integrated waste strategy is to try to focus that more.”
Barrett said that speaking for himself, the best form of waste storage remains an open question.
“I’m okay with it the way it is now, because I’m assured of its safety,” he said.
“If it helps for people’s acceptance to see it safely stored underground, personally I’m open — maybe agnostic is the word — because I think the safety’s been taken care of.”
Two proposed nuclear waste projects are both firmly committed to underground storage.
Ontario Power Generation wants to put all of its low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in caverns carved out of a limestone formation 680 metres below the surface at the Bruce nuclear plant near Kincardine, Ont.
A federal panel is considering the plan and will likely report next year. Some groups and individuals who appeared before the panel questioned whether it’s possible to guarantee that an underground site will remain secure for many thousands of years.
At the same time, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization is looking for an underground site for storage of high-level waste — spent fuel. It is considering sites in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
The underground storage question became sharper early this year when an underground facility in New Mexico known as WIPP, which stores waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, leaked radiation to the surface. It remains closed.