Nuclear waste issues cry out for permanent solution

Nuclear energy remains a thorny issue with many Canadians, a power generation option made even more suspect after this winter’s natural disaster in Japan that impacted on a giant nuclear generation plant, causing a release of radiation.

The Ontario and Quebec First Nations communities that border Lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario and the lower St. Lawrence River have vigorously, and successfully, opposed the shipping of radiated industrial equipment to Europe for recycling so concerned are they about any shipping disaster that could, they feel, add nuclear contaminants to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

In a related vein, there is a train of thought on the local wind turbine controversy that goes something to this effect: “if you don’t like wind turbines, you must be OK with nuclear generated power.”

This particular argument’s logic is specious, of course, but nevertheless it underscores the negative connotations associated by many citizens with nuclear generation.

The Ontario government, nonetheless, has given notice that it is not only investing in private sector wind, solar and hydro generation of electrical energy but also plans to add to the province’s array of nuclear generating sites.

Nuclear power is one of those interesting conundrums where we “hate the sin but love the sinner” in the way that we enjoy our electrical energy but (many of us) hate the hazards we feel are posed by nuclear generating plants.

The issue of water transportation of radiated equipment from the Bruce generation station is a case in point. Virtually all First Nations communities located on the Ontario shoreline of Lake Huron oppose the proposed transportation past their communities. One does not, however and that one is the Saugeen First Nation, near Owen Sound, and the closest First Nations community to the Bruce plant. It is this community’s preference to move as much radiated equipment away from its territory as possible.

And so the conundrum goes, especially since there is still no practical way of recycling (or otherwise getting rid of) spent nuclear fuel rods that are maintained, at every nuclear power plant in the world, in giant permanent water baths, in perpetuity (or until a practical way of dealing with the product is determined).

Northern Ontario’s Laurentian shield is mentioned every decade or so with current consideration being given to burying nuclear products in purpose-drilled holes in Northwestern Ontario near Ignace.

Thirty years ago, an area of the shield north of nearby Webbwood was also under consideration but the idea died out under protest as, very likely, will the Ignace plan before too long.

We demand reliable sources of power, of course, and the nuclear method of generation is reliable, but not cheap as the plants require many years’ expensive construction and then there is the problem of the contaminated products to deal with.

If nuclear energy is going to continue to be the primary source of our electrical generation, these problems must be solved to the satisfaction of citizens in countries around the world that share the common dilemma about what to do with materials contaminated by industrial nuclear radiation and used, but still hazardous, nuclear fuel products.

Whoever solves this dilemma will doubtless find a Nobel prize waiting for him/her so that the world can get on with its power requirements without the associated dread or guilt.

These are issues, at the most practical level, whose solutions must be a political priority and Canadians should be encouraging a Canadian-made solution.