An Ontario farm town will vote in October on whether to become Canada’s largest nuclear dump.

A bucolic Ontario farming community will go to the polls in October in a historic online vote that will decide whether its sleepy rural town will be transformed by a multibillion-dollar project that will give Canada a permanent grave for millions of beams of spent, highly radioactive nuclear energy. fuel.

The search for a place to locate them goes back decades, and has now focused on just two Ontario communities: Ignace (246 kilometers northwest of Thunderbay) and the agricultural town of Teeswater (170 kilometers north of London), part of the Township of South Bruce.

On Wednesday, South Bruce municipal officials released the terms of the agreement for city voters to decide in an online referendum taking place on October 28.

If voters say “yes” to burying tens of thousands of tons of spent CANDU reactor fuel far below their community of 5,880, the city will gain hundreds of good-paying jobs and $418 million in subsidies from the nuclear industry. Canada over the course of 138 years. One year project.

If voters say “no,” the city will still take $8 million.

The debate has created deep rifts

For the city, the October vote is the culmination of a 12-year debate that has left deep rifts in the community between those who see embracing radioactive waste as a new kind of prosperity and those who see it as nothing more than a potential danger.

Except, when it comes to storing nuclear waste, there is broad scientific consensus. The type of nuclear landfill that officials have proposed in South Bruce is the best possible solution to the complicated problem of what to do with radioactive waste.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has proposed building a deep geological repository (a 600 meter deep tomb) that would house highly radioactive material contained behind multiple barriers, including copper barrels, bentonite clay, layers of concrete and Finally, the geology itself to keep waste sealed for eternity.

“We know the protection system works and challenges are unlikely to occur that deep underground,” said John Luxat, an engineering professor at McMaster University who holds the senior industry research chair in nuclear security analysis.

“If you want to keep the fuel safe and prevent these canisters from corroding due to environmental impact, the best way is to put it somewhere where it is below the water table.”

A diagram shows the vast underground network of chambers that would permanently keep spent nuclear fuel deep beneath the Earth in a type of nuclear dump known as a deep geological repository that has already been successfully built in Finland and Sweden. (Nuclear Waste Management Organization)

The 600-meter-deep vault is almost three times the 229-meter depth of nearby Lake Huron, far from the water. If they penetrate, the layers of concrete and clay surrounding the waste can cause the copper containers that contain it to rust.

“You have to keep it away from air and water,” Luxat said, adding that the vault is “for all intents and purposes intended to store waste forever.”

Once construction of the facility is complete, the NWMO has said about 30,000 shipments of nuclear waste would begin moving from eight interim storage facilities from Manitoba to New Brunswick to the Ontario landfill through some of the most densely populated areas. populated in Canada.

This map taken from the NWMO’s proposed transportation plan shows the relative geographic position of the interim storage sites and the two Ontario communities that are considered a permanent site to store Canada’s nuclear waste. (MONM)

Even then, Luxat said, the risk is minimal, noting that transportation of spent nuclear fuel already occurs regularly.

Once the nuclear fuel is spent, the rods are moved to cooling pools where they rest for approximately 10 years. After that, they are taken to temporary detention facilities, where they are held in shallow pits or above ground in dense concrete bunkers.

This image, taken from the NWMO transportation plan, details the components of the containers in which the spent nuclear fuel rods will be shipped. (MONM)

Luxat noted that when nuclear waste is moved anywhere, it is packaged and sealed inside a specially designed container that can withstand collisions from large vehicles, such as trains, or drops from great heights.

“They have been doing this by transporting spent fuel to temporary sites for decades and there has never been a
dangerous event.”

Luxat said Canada’s nuclear waste, in some cases, has been in temporary storage for 80 years and the risk of finding a permanent place to bury it is much greater than leaving it where it is.

“It would be a significant increase in risk because they would potentially be exposed to much higher levels of moisture,” he said, noting that both Teeswater and Ignace were chosen because of the “low probability of seismic damage to the rocks.”

Protecting Our Waterways – No Nuclear Waste is a grassroots group that is trying to prevent the community of Teeswater, Ontario from becoming the country’s nuclear waste disposal site. (Michelle Stein)

Now that the terms have been made public and a date for a referendum has been set, all that remains is the vote.

To make the nuclear landfill a reality, the nuclear industry still needs the involvement of the nearby Saugeen First Nation, which has not yet made a decision on the project.

When contacted by CBC News on Wednesday, Chief Conrad Ritchie said he would not comment until the Saugeen band council had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the nearby Ojibway Nawash First Nation on the Bruce Peninsula in late this week.