DGR Process


written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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CNSC Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

JRP Joint Review Panel

OPG Ontario Power Generation


The Low and Intermediate waste DGR process moves glacially forward, hardly noticed by the casual local observer. Some politicians in the United States have all of a sudden recognized that the Great Lakes have a lot of Nuclear waste in temporary storage.  Many of them seemed unaware of the locations of the nuclear power plants that charge their phones.

Locally, we have area real estate prices reaching near record levels and builds increasing too.  We have infrastructure and recreation projects now appearing to deal with the growth.  This indicates a healthy local economy 'fueled' by news of more non-DGR jobs at the largest nuclear power plant in the world.

The closer one is to Bruce County the more is known about the DGR project, which is understandable and predicted by the experts months ago during the Joint Review Panel hearings.  They cited other areas and other projects.  The more the public knows, the more they are for long term storage solutions.

The No Nuclear Dump signs have been tucked away for the moment or discarded in our landfill.

What will the final decision be?  I don't know.  It's now in Ministry hands and is subject to the pulls and tugs of hidden forces.

I do know that the Joint Review Panel's 238 page report is a strong testimony to the process undertaken long ago.  The JRP came down on the side of the Kincardine site with emphasis on moving forward sooner rather than later.

I followed, like many, the long JRP hearings.  Every day there was a TV recording and a Internet readable transcript.

I was impressed with the social and scientific information presented and the quality of the expert witness presenters.  There was a feeling that nobody was paying attention, but that was not so.

I still carry a deep impression about certain 'experts' on the 'No' side, who gave vague and fact poor presentations.  They were painful to watch.

I began with no bias, but over time what I saw made me scrutinize the people presenting and the veracity of what they said. 

I developed a bias fueled by the facts presented or avoided.  Were they even talking about the same problem?  In many cases I had to say: No!

Some 'no experts' came with information totally off the subject.  One 'expert' from the 'No' side sent in a summary of what he was to present that turned out to be a stack of papers on another subject altogether.  What an embarrassing moment for an international organization.

The Panel caught the guy in his lazy approach and gently told him that the information required was serious and should be submitted as asked. 

The JRP required this to do their homework so they could probe for new and better ideas from the presenters.  He had none to offer. The man and the disorganized international 'organization' he represented took a dip in credibility, certainly with the JRP.

There was much to inquire about.  In many cases the 'No' side wandered aimlessly in their presentations and content.  This man did too.

I closely examined the man's demeanor and information.  Both were poor.  An audience will root for a speaker, if they think that the speaker has worked to prepare. 

This man failed.  He thought it was just another panel discussing a problem he had talked about many times in the past in other forms and other places or so he thought.  He thought the audience must be 'hicks' and captured by the powerful nuclear power industry.  He was wrong.  Ears and eyes were paying attention.

He came off as lazy and ill-informed.

The Light Dawns!  Are we playing on the same course?

Ontario Power Generation, NWMO and CNSC were working on understanding and solving a problem. They were commissioned to solve it.  The problem was:

How can we safeguard nuclear waste for thousands and more years unattended? 

The 'No' side was not playing the same game on the same course.  In golfing terms the 'No' side is trying to play from the forward tees with an unlimited supply of 'Mulligans'.

The 'No' side was struggling on another problem.  They were out to convince us that the present storage methods could serve as a basis for an on-going storage of some type or other.  They were asking us to believe in some scientific solution in the future. In golfing terms, they were trying to improve their lie.  Notice that the JRP did not buy this at all.  They concluded in their executive summary the forceful statement:

"The Panel is of the view that the risk of waiting until technologies are available to eliminate the hazards associated with longer-lived radionuclides outweighs the benefits."


Click the orange arrow to read the second column

Early on the 'No' side held on to something called "Rolling Stewardship".  This meant careful monitoring, repair and handoff to the next generation of the waste until science can reveal a better answer.  The JRP disagreed and made it part of their summary.  They did not want all to depend upon a breakthrough that was as yet not known.

In the rolling phase the 'No' side would repair and improve the existing storage methods that are above ground, train and hand-off to the next generation by rolling foreword what they have done. Some organization would take care of all this.

Another short term solution they called "The Gold Standard" was never clear or defined, but seems to be a first cousin of above ground reinforced concrete pill box like structures.  Again, roll this expertise foreword.

I've spent some time thinking about this project.  Starting off I felt I had to think about what OPG was asked to do.  OPG is working in the thousands and millions of years not in units of 50 or so years.  So the rules and outcomes have to flow from the problem definition. 

The Nuclear Industry was given a problem that required a long term solution.  The 50 to 100 year solution, they already have, but it is not what they were asked to produce.

Why do I prefer the solution proposed?

Above all the solution is simple and based upon facts.  Canada knows how to dig holes. The geology is excellent. The research plentiful.

Canada is a mining rich nation.  You can look no further than Sudbury. The Nickel mine is over 8000 feet in depth.

Once the geology was established every effort was  made to make the process as simple as possible.  It is a process problem not a scientific problem now.  So no breakthroughs are required, just good process engineering.  The 'No' side should have concentrated on the process to understand its risks relative to the solution.

Concentrating on the science was not their forte. They had to be corrected and guided to the facts over and over again.  They made mistake after mistake in that game.

Most people never encounter large engineering projects in their day to day lives.  These big projects are process driven.  Examining the work flow and simplicity is the key to understanding the safety.

So who were the JRP panel members?  Let's recall that they were:

  • Stella Swanson (chair) PhD radiation effects on lakes and streams.

  • Gunter Muecke PhD Geology

  • James Archibald PhD Mining Engineering.

For more depth on the panel Read More

These were the people seeking the information that came out at the long and detailed hearings.  These were the people who called the hundreds of witnesses to speak and answer thousands of questions asked by experts and non-experts.

Here was their executive summary:

"Underground Disposal Has Lower Risks than Surface Storage

The Panel agrees with the current international consensus that deep geologic disposal of radioactive waste is the preferred option for containing and isolating radioactive waste from humans and the biosphere.

The Panel concludes that placing the L&ILW in an appropriately located underground repository would pose a lower risk to human health and the environment than surface storage. Compared to a surface facility, the additional protection of hundreds of metres of rock in a difficult-to-access location with limited or no exposure to natural surface phenomena reduces the likelihood as well as the consequences of both natural and human related hazards.

Natural hazards such as flooding, tornadoes, and earthquakes would have a higher probability of causing effects to humans and the environment when the waste is on the surface. Malfunctions, accidents, and malevolent acts would also be more likely to result in environmental effects if waste is at the surface.

The DGR Should be Built Now Rather than Later"

The Panel is of the view that the sooner the waste is isolated from the surface environment the better. The Panel notes the importance of reducing and, if appropriate, reusing and recycling the waste. However, it recognizes that current technologies to alter the waste to render it no longer hazardous are limited, particularly for intermediate level waste that contains radionuclides with longer half-lives. The Panel concludes that the likelihood and consequences of an event resulting in the release of radionuclides from surface storage are greater than they would be for a DGR. The Panel is of the view that the risk of waiting until technologies are available to eliminate the hazards associated with longer-lived radionuclides outweighs the benefits.

Click Here for the full 238 page report.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017