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Keep nuclear waste accessible, says report

Canadians don't want it buried and forgotten
Ottawa to hear from `citizen dialogues' today

Toronto Star - August 26, 2004
by Peter Calamai

OTTAWA — Canadians want the radioactive waste from their nuclear reactors stored within reach, not dropped down holes deep into the rocky Precambrian Shield and forgotten.

And they don't trust government, industry or existing regulators with the job.

These two stark messages will be delivered to Ottawa today by an agency that the federal government set up to recommend how to handle the 3.6 million bundles of used fuel eventually produced by the country's two dozen nuclear power reactors.

Nearly 90 per cent of the existing used fuel — enough to fill five hockey rinks to the top of the boards — is now stored in temporary facilities in Ontario, at sites like the Pickering nuclear power station. The waste remains dangerously radioactive for centuries.

The overwhelming public rejection of geological disposal deep in the Canadian Shield is a striking rebuff for the federal government which has been pushing that approach for more than 30 years and financed costly studies at an underground lab in Manitoba.

The messages were driven home by more than 450 adults who took part in day-long consultations early this year in Toronto and 11 other cities. People with connections to the nuclear industry were excluded from these "citizen dialogues."

"They tell us what values Canadians believe should govern our decisions regarding nuclear waste," said Judith Maxwell in a prepared statement.

Maxwell is head of the Canadian Public Policy Research Networks, which organized the public consultations for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, an industry-financed body set up under federal law.

The waste agency must pick a long-term solution by November, 2005, choosing among deep disposal in the Canadian Shield, accessible "mausoleum" storage at a central site or several mausoleums at existing reactors. It must also recommend to the cabinet the general location for this long-term waste management.

Despite a steady stream of reports and public hearings about nuclear waste, most participants said they had heard little or nothing and were shocked to learn that no long-term plan was in place before Canada opted for electricity from nuclear power.

"How, they argued, can society manage these issues for centuries to come if nobody knows what is going on?" says a report on the consultations.

The report says most people want the spent fuel bundles to be accessible because they believe new technology will come up with better ways of handling radioactive waste.

Widespread distrust of existing agencies led Canadians to call for a new independent, non-partisan oversight body to keep tabs on how both government and industry handle nuclear waste.

This message means that top elected officials in Ottawa and the provinces must "revisit the mandates of existing oversight bodies in the nuclear field," concludes the report. Bodies like the federal regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, will need to have a "very public face."

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