Test drilling for the controversial nuclear waste dump near Lake Huron begins

Nuclear industry officials have begun test drilling deep into the bedrock below southwestern Ontario to determine whether the small town of Teeswater, Ontario, a community about 25 miles from the shores of Lake Huron, will be the future home of Canada’s first spent fuel repository could.

Teeswater is one of two potential locations for the proposed underground facility. Geologists are also surveying the northern Ontario community of Ignace, approximately 150 miles northwest of Thunder Bay, where drilling is already underway.

It is planned to bury around 3 million bundles of spent fuel from the country’s nuclear industry, some 500 meters underground, in one of these two communities.

In Teeswater, drilling began on Friday, said Martin Sykes, geologist with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and project manager for the well site.

Over the next nine months, scientists will collect core samples taken from nearly a kilometer underground.

“Drilling wells is a very important first step in our underground studies in the South Bruce area,” he said. “The information we get from the borehole drilling gives us a complete geology picture of the safety and suitability of this geological site.”

The project will cost $ 23 billion in 40 years

What Sykes is looking for in both Teeswater and Ignace is solid and sturdy enough to store approximately 57,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste, which is enclosed in copper canisters and encased in cement.

A diagram shows the vast underground network of chambers in which spent fuel is permanently stored deep underground in a high-tech nuclear waste dump known as a deep geological repository. (Organization for the disposal of nuclear waste)

Once the facility is built, the cement blocks will be lowered 500 meters underground and buried in a network of tunnels and holes dug into the rock. Once full, they are filled with clay and then sealed, says the nuclear industry, safe for future generations for millennia.

The plan will take around 40 years to complete and cost $ 23 billion. Before construction workers can even begin, however, officials from the Nuclear Waste Manage Organization (NWMO) must decide which of the two potential locations offers the best natural barriers to contain what is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous and toxic materials in the world .

Currently, surface waste is stored at operating nuclear reactor sites across Canada, in pools or in containers that have been temporarily stored in some cases over the past 70 years.

What to do with waste is controversial

Given the long-lasting and highly toxic nature of nuclear waste, what to do with it is debatable. While some believe that today’s generation has a moral imperative to ensure a safe disposal facility for the material, others argue that the Teeswater site is not an appropriate place to do so.

Canada’s nuclear waste is currently being stored on the surface in operational nuclear reactors across the country, such as the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant (pictured) near Kincardine, Ont. (John Flesher / AP)

They say the city’s proximity to the lake, which is the source of drinking water for 40 million people in North America, and the historical failures of other similar landfills around the world should lead the NWMO to look elsewhere.

The debate has divided families, neighbors, and communities over whether Teeswater and the surrounding South Bruce region is the right place to dump the nation’s nuclear waste.

The NWMO already believes that the known geological composition of the Teeswater site, as well as its proximity to a number of major reactor sites in Ontario, are appropriate.

“We have historical data from wells and wells from other industries that we can look at, so there is a very good understanding of 3D geology,” said Sykes.

Understand groundwater ‘important’ part of the project

The drilling, Sykes said, is an exercise to make sure the known data matches the actual data down there. It also gives his team the opportunity to understand how the groundwater interacts with the water deep underground and how much and how fast it moves through the bedrock.

This drill site north of Teeswater, Ontario enables geologists with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to better understand the makeup of rocks and water deep underground. (NWMO)

“The groundwater is an important part of our project.”

Drilling is expected to take nine months while testing the core samples and the hole itself is expected to take several months. The crews also plan to open a second test well later this summer, according to Sykes.

According to NWMO, the end game is to prevent used nuclear fuel bundles from building up in reactors across the country and find an ideal resting place for the decades-old toxic by-product.

Sykes said the work of him and his team will ensure the nuclear industry finds the ideal location that is the best natural barrier to keep people safe for centuries to come.

“Safety is our number one priority and we’re just working to understand that,” he said.

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