Sierra Club of Canada Media Release


BACKGROUNDER: NUCLEAR FUEL WASTE MANAGEMENT


November, 2001


Nuclear fuel waste, also known as spent fuel or high level radioactive waste, is the used uranium fuel from nuclear reactors. It consists of hundreds of different by-products of the splitting of uranium, including hazardous radioactive substances which must be isolated for millions of years to protect all living things.


Each company that runs nuclear reactors, including Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), Bruce Power, Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power and Hydro Quebec, currently stores the nuclear fuel waste at the reactor sites (either in water-filled pools or dry storage cement canisters). AECL - the federal crown corporation which markets and promotes nuclear technology, was given the mandate to research the nuclear fuel waste burial option in the late 1970's.

A full Panel Review was conducted from 1988 to 1997 on AECLs generic (non-site-specific) deep rock burial concept (using the federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process Guidelines Order, EARPGO), under Chairman Blair Seaborn. The Seaborn Panel report, released in March 1998 concluded that the AECL concept was not acceptable, and identified many technical problems with the burial concept as presented by AECL and Ontario Hydro.

The Panel recommended that an independent agency be formed at arms length from AECL and the nuclear utilities, in order to manage the programs related to long-term nuclear fuel waste management, including detailed comparison of waste management options. Other Seaborn Panel recommendations included: initiating an Aboriginal participation process; conducting an effective public consultation and review of the regulations governing nuclear fuel waste management; developing a comprehensive public participation program; and developing an ethical and social assessment framework.

The federal government responded to the Seaborn Panel report in December 1998 with a report that said there was broad agreement with the Panel in many areas, but in effect, rejecting most recommendations. One area where general agreement does exist is in funding for waste management: the fuel waste owners will be required to fund the Waste Management Organization and the implementation of whatever management plan is approved in the end.

The federal government introduced legislation (Bill C-27) in April 2001 that could lead to federal approval of the burial of nuclear fuel waste in the Canadian Shield without due consideration of all management options. If passed in its current form, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act will establish a nuclear industry-controlled Waste Management Organization (WMO), with a mandate to review nuclear fuel waste management options including Canadian Shield burial, leaving the waste at reactor sites for the long-term, or consolidating it at one site for long-term above ground or near-surface storage. The WMO will have a three year schedule to select its preferred option for long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, and the federal Cabinet will then decide whether to approve the WMOs recommendation.

Bill C-27 can be viewed at the following government web site:
http//www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-27/C-27_1/90140bE.html

The Standing Committee considering Bill C-27 has a web site located at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/InfoCom/CommitteeMain.asp?Language=E&CommitteeID=139&Joint=0

For further information contact:
Irene Kock, Sierra Club of Canada - Nuclear Campaign
(tel/fax) 905-852-0571
(e-mail) nucaware@web.ca