What is it?
High level radioactive waste (also known as irradiated or spent fuel) is the used uranium fuel from nuclear power and research reactors. Each fuel bundle from a power reactor weighs about 24 kilograms, and at the end of 2002 there were 1.7 million fuel bundles at Canadian nuclear facilities (about 40,000 metric tonnes). Without an early nuclear phaseout, an additional 2 million fuel bundles (about 45,000 metric tonnes) will be produced. Thus total production could mount to 3.7 million fuel bundles weighing about 85,000 tonnes.
Why is it dangerous?
High level radioactive waste contains over 100 different radioactive isotopes. Even low doses of radiation emitted by the waste can cause cancer and other health problems. The waste is lethal and must be strictly isolated from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. If the wastes leak into the environment, the radioactive elements will circulate through the soil, water and air, causing widespread contamination.
The nuclear industry position
High level radioactive waste in Canada has been produced by Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Québec, New Brunswick Power, and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL). The nuclear industry supports deep geological disposal of radioactive waste -- burial in the Canadian Shield.
What has been done?
A ten-year environmental assessment (the Seaborn Panel) reviewed a generic proposal from AECL for deep geological disposal of radioactive waste. In March 1998 Seaborn said the AECL concept was not acceptable and recommended that an independent agency be formed “at arm’s length” from the nuclear industry to consider waste options. The Chrétien government ignored this advice and passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act giving complete control of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to the nuclear industry. The NWMO has a three-year mandate to choose between (a) “deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield”; (b) “storage at nuclear sites”; and (c) “centralized storage, either above or below ground”. It must recommend its preferred option to the federal government by November 2005.
What Does Nuclear Waste Watch Support?