Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry? (1978 Original)

Canadian Coalition
for Nuclear

Regroupement pour
la surveillance
du nucléaire

Nuclear Wastes:
What, Me Worry?

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D.,

President of the
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

This is the original version prepared for
the House of Commons Standing Committee
on National Resources and Public Works

February, 1978

See also the addendum prepared for
the House of Commons Standing Committee
on Environment and Forestry

February, 1987

[ click here for the 1987 Addendum ]

"Society Has to Come to Terms ... "

The long-term commitment to nuclear power involves a commitment --
essentially a commitment to handling
very large inventories of radioactive material;

and society has to come to terms
with that particular operation
and accept
that's the thing
which we are prepared to do.

Unless society is prepared
to accept that proposition
you won't
-- you cannot have --
a large scale implementation
of nuclear power.

-- Dr. Peter Dyne
former head of AECL's Nuclear Waste Program
then head of Energy R&D at Energy, Mines & Resources
in sworn testimony to the Cluff Lake Board of Inquiry
Regina, Saskatchewan, 1977

Irresponsible and Morally Wrong

We are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future.

Nuclear Physicist Sir Brian Flowers
U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
Sixth Report "Nuclear Power and the Environment"
September 1976 -- page 81 paragraph 181

Great Expectations -- but what if we are wrong?

    If everything worked perfectly
    as far as they are concerned.
    if every one of their ideas
    were correct,
    and we were able to proceed
    on a timely basis,
    waste disposal will not be demonstrated ...
    until sometime around 1987.

    We, however, have
    a more fundamental problem.
    We think it probable that
    it will never be demonstrated.

    Excessive optimism
    about the potential
    for safe disposal of nuclear wastes
    has caused backers of nuclear power
    to ignore scientific evidence
    pointing to its pitfalls.

    That's the real crux of what we found --
    that you have to weigh scientific evidence
    against essentially engineering euphoria.

Commissioner Emilio E. Varinini
California Energy Commission
quoted in the Los Angeles Times,
Thursday January 12, 1978


Notice to the Reader

Introduction (1986): "Nuclear Wastes in Canada ~ The Plutonium Agenda"

CCNR: What is it?     [ . . . about The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility ]

EP 77-6: What is it?     [ . . . about "The Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes" ]

Executive Summary   [ . . . of "Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry?" ]

Recommendations     [ . . . from "Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry?" ]




    3.1. First Shortcoming: Sources of Information

            3.1.1. The Canadian Scene
            3.1.2. The International Scene

    3.2. Second Shortcoming: Reprocessing of Spent Fuel

            3.2.1. High Level Liquid Waste
            3.2.2. Commercial vs Non-commercial

    3.3. Third Shortcoming: Decommissioning Reactors

    3.4. Fourth Shortcoming: Uranium Tailings

            3.4.1. Radium Contamination
            3.4.2. Radon Gas Emissions
            3.4.3. Methods of Disposal

    3.5. Fifth Shortcoming: Assessment of Risks

            3.5.1. Overheating of the wastes
            3.5.2. Disintegration of the Waste Containers
            3.5.3. Chemical Reactions in the waste Repository
            3.5.4. Integrity of the Waste Repository
            3.5.5. Pathways to the Environment
            3.5.6. Biological Effects of Escaped Waste
            3.5.7. Retrievability of Nuclear Wastes
            3.5.8. Transportation and Immobilization

    3.6. Sixth shortcoming: Siting a Waste Repository

            3.6.1. Political Problems
            3.6.2. Technical Problems

    3.7. Seventh shortcoming: Assignment of Costs

            3.7.1. Research and Development Costs
            3.7.2. Construction and Operating Costs
            3.7.3. Transportation Costs
            3.7.4. Immobilization Costs
            3.7.5. Security Costs
            3.7.6. Tailings Management Costs
            3.7.7. Decommissioning Costs

    3.8. Eighth shortcoming: Public Participation

THE COUNCIL OF ELROND by J.R.R. Tolkien (Excerpt)

Notice to the Reader

This paper is essentially self-contained, especially section 3. It provides a good introduction to the range of issues involved in the long-term management of radioactive waste.

Originally written as a critique of the Canadian Government's Green Paper entitled "The Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes" (Energy Mines & Resources Report EP 77-6) commonly known as the Hare Report, which appeared in November 1977, the present text does make frequent references to that Government Report.

In fact, all unattributed quotations in the present text are verbatim quotes from the Government's Green Paper -- henceforth referred to as the "EMR Report" or the "Government Report".

The present text is here reproduced exactly as it originally appeared except for

Gordon Edwards
CCNR President
CP 236 Snowdon
Montreal H3X 3T4

Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry?

Executive Summary

The Authors of the Government Report     [ go to text ]

Dr. Archie Aikin is the only one of the three authors of the government report having any previous experience with radioactive waste or with the Canadian nuclear industry. Since he was, until recently, Vice President of AECL  [ Atomic Energy of Canada Limited ] ,  both the independence and the expertise of this government-appointed panel is open to serious question.

The Purpose of the Government Report     [ go to text ]

The "educational" purpose of the government report is seriously compromised by a strong political bias in favour of continued nuclear expansion, which completely ignores contrary views expressed at the highest levels in Canada and elsewhere.

Shortcomings of the Government Report

  1. Sources of Information     [ go to text ]

    The study group obtained all its information either from the nuclear industry directly or from other agencies which are strongly committed to nuclear expansion programs. Technically competent groups and government agencies which are opposed to or critical of nuclear expansion -- in Canada and elsewhere -- were simply not consulted.

  2. Reprocessing of Spent Fuel     [ go to text ]

    No mention is made of the extraordinary dangers associated with the high level radioactive liquid wastes which result from reprocessing irradiated fuel, even though reprocessing is explicitly accepted as one of the options prior to "disposal". The government-appointed study group obscures the issue entirely by maintaining an artificial distinction between "commercial" and "non-commercial" reprocessing. Moreover, there is an inner inconsistency between the study group's conclusions number 1 and 10 on this topic.

  3. Decommissioning of Nuclear Reactors     [ go to text ]

    Decommissioning is an expensive and dangerous procedure which will contribute substantially to the volume of waste to be disposed of and to the overall expense of long-term radioactive waste management, yet the report scarcely mentions it at all.

  4. Disposal of Uranium Tailings     [ go to text ]

    The voluminous radioactive wastes left over from uranium mining and milling pose an immediate as well as a long-term hazard to human health and to the environment, due to perpetual radon gas emissions and radium contamination of surface waters and/or ground water. Any demonstration of long-term geological storage should begin with these wastes, which -- though less intensely radioactive than irradiated fuel -- are more of a present danger.

  5. Assessment of Risks     [ go to text ]

    By failing to catalogue the technical problems associated with the long-term management of radioactive waste, the government report gives an overly optimistic impression of the risks that may be involved. The report studiously ignores numerous mechanisms which could result in

    • overheating of the wastes,     [ go to text ]
    • disintegration of waste containers,     [ go to text ]
    • chemical reactions,     [ go to text ]
    • lack of integrity of the repository,    [ go to text ]
    • unexpected environmental pathways.     [ go to text ]

    There is no clear discussion of
    • the biological hazards associated with
      escaped radioactive wastes,    [  go to text  ]
      or of
    • the environmental and occupational dangers
      associated with immobilization and transportation
      of the wastes,    [  go to text  ]
      or of
    • the advantages and disadvantages
      of retrievability.     [  go to text  ]

  6. Siting a Waste Repository     [ go to text ]

    Powerful political opposition to the siting of radioactive waste dumps has been observed frequently throughout the world. Technical blunders on the part of nuclear proponents, coupled with over-stated and empty promises, have angered and alienated citizens and politicians alike. Given the enormous capacity for miscalculations of all kinds, it is extremely unlikely that a waste repository will be sited on schedule.

  7. Assignment of costs     [ go to text ]

    The cost of long-term radioactive waste management has got to be reflected in the price of nuclear electricity, starting now. This includes not only the actual cost of emplacing and managing the irradiated fuel in a fully prepared repository, but also the cost of building and operating those repositories, plus research and development, long-term monitoring, ancillary security, and of course transportation and immobilization, not to mention decommissioning of radioactive structures and the long-term management of uranium tailings.

  8. Public Participation     [ go to text ]

    The government-appointed study group was so busy describing the nuclear industry's "technological euphoria" about radioactive waste "disposal" that they neglected to seek out the sober criticisms of less easily convinced individuals. In other words, they neglected "public participation" -- for it is only as members of the public that these individuals can come forth and make themselves known. The nuclear industry is not alone in being a self-serving industry which has shown considerable ineptitude from time to time. All reasonable criticism of the industry should not only be tolerated, but invited, and even encouraged, in view of the seriousness of the problems that it spawns.

. . . back to [ TABLE OF CONTENTS ]

Nuclear Wastes: What, Me Worry?


  1. In view of the many uncertainties that exist, no substantial program of R&D into nuclear waste disposal methods should be approved in Canada until there has been a thorough public inquiry to answer all fundamental policy questions related to this matter.

    Such an inquiry could take the form of an extended symposium, fully publicized, as suggested in the EMR report (page 51). Persons from other countries who are knowledgeable about nuclear waste disposal should be among those who are invited to participate -- particularly if they are critical of the policies proposed in the EMR report.

  2. Since uranium tailings pose a greater threat to human health and to the environment than any other form of nuclear waste at the present time, Canadian nuclear authorities should demonstrate the principle of geological storage by burying these tailings deep underground in a suitable repository before attempting to employ geological storage for the far more toxic, but presently less threatening wastes arising from irradiated nuclear fuel.

    The Canadian Government should make use of its international marketing arrangements with other uranium-producing countries to achieve international cooperation along these lines, so that a permanently satisfactory global solution to the uranium tailings problem may be achieved, without any one country paying an undue economic penalty in terms of higher uranium prices.

  3. No licenses should be issued for any nuclear facilities in Canada until financial provisions have been made by the licensee to cover the full cost for the permanent safe disposal of all radioactive wastes resulting from the operation of those facilities.

    In the case of uranium mills, sufficient funds should be set aside to cover the cost of geologic storage of the tailings, in case no satisfactory surface method of long-term storage has been demonstrated by the time the mill has closed down. In the case of nuclear power reactors, the full anticipated cost of decommissioning the reactor, of research and development into long-term nuclear waste storage methods, of the construction and operation of a geological waste repository or two, of the necessary security and regulatory measures, and of the transportation and immobilization of irradiated fuel -- all of these costs should be internalized in the initial capitalization and/or the annual operating costs of each individual power reactor.

    The cost of waste disposal should be over-estimated rather than under-estimated; any portion of the funds not actually required for waste management can be refunded to the licensee with accrued interest.

  4. In view of the special hazards associated with the reprocessing of irradiated fuel and the management of the high level radioactive liquid wastes which result form such reprocessing, no approval should be given for the construction of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Canada until the safe long-term storage of high level nuclear waste has been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.

    This prohibition should apply to demonstration plants as well as to commercial plants, since the waste management problems are the same in either case. Research into advanced fuel cycles should be halted, or continue on a limited laboratory scale only, until the major research and development efforts in the long-term management of nuclear waste have been satisfactorily completed.

  5. Because of potentially serious political and technical problems in siting a nuclear waste repository, leading to a major slippage in the schedule laid out by the EMR report, there should be no substantial expansion of the nuclear power program in Canada until a geological repository for nuclear wastes has been successfully sited.

    Otherwise, there is a real danger that uranium supply problems will force Canada into the commercial reprocessing of irradiated fuel before a satisfactory long-term waste management method has been demonstrated, thereby contradicting Conclusion 10 of the EMR report.

  6. When selling CANDU reactors to other countries, the Canadian Government should insist, as a condition of sale, that financial arrangements be made to cover the cost of decommissioning the reactors and safely managing the irradiated fuel in a permanently satisfactory manner.

    Otherwise, we run the risk of saddling less affluent societies with an enormously expensive and difficult problem many years in the future, long after all the benefits from the reactor have been dissipated. The present policy of neglecting these future costs could result in a dangerous accumulation of nuclear wastes around the world, for which no adequate provision for long-term storage has been made.

  7. The problem of safely storing nuclear wastes is here now, and it will not go away, whatever we may do about it. It is a problem which must be faced, whether or not Canada's nuclear program is allowed to expand. However, as long as there is a reasonable doubt that a fully satisfactory solution can be found, nuclear expansion plans should be sharply curtailed.

    It would be both foolish and irresponsible to magnify the problem unnecessarily by adding to the wastes before a permanent solution is known to exist.

  8. Representatives of the general public and of public interest groups concerned with nuclear policy, such as the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), should be represented on the Board of Directors of AECL [ Atomic Energy of Canada Limited ] and AECB [ Atomic Energy Control Board ].

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Nuclear Wastes:
What, Me Worry?


This report was commissioned by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources to provide the government and the public of Canada with the views of an independent expert group on the subject of nuclear waste disposal.

Alastair Gillespie, Foreword,
The Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes,
EMR Report EP 77-6, p.iii

The Government's Green Paper on the Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes -- commonly known as the Hare Report, henceforth cited as the "EMR Report" -- was written by a study group of three men in about three months. The three authors are: A.M. Aikin, J.M. Harrison, and F.K. Hare.

Dr. Hare has testified to the Porter Commission on Electric Power Planning (January 12, 1978) that neither he nor Dr. Harrison had any previous expertise or skill in the field of radioactive waste management. Accordingly, said Dr. Hare, the study group would have been unable to carry out their assignment were it not for the leadership and expertise of Dr. Aikin, who is the only one of the three authors with previous experience related to the nuclear industry. Dr. Hare made it quite clear to the Porter Commission that they should not be considered as "a panel of experts" since they had less than three months to familiarize themselves with the subject.

The report provides no biographical data on the authors. Until quite recently, Dr. Aikin was vice-president of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Dr. Harrison was formerly head of the Geological Survey of Canada and served as senior Assistant Deputy Minister in the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. Dr. Hare is Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto.

In view of Dr. Aikin's long-standing association with Canada's nuclear program, and Dr. Harrison's close association with the government department that is mandated to promote nuclear power, the "independence" of this panel is highly suspect. In the fall of l976, when Dr. Aikin was still vice-president of AECL, he assured the University Women's Club in Ottawa that the waste management problem is "not a technical problem, but a public relations problem". Less than a year later, Dr. Aikin finds himself in the enviable position of being the principal source of technical advice to a study group on the management of Canada's nuclear wastes. This background should be borne in mind when reviewing the report: is it a technical document, or is it a public relations document? If it is a bit of both, which takes precedence?

All three authors have declared themselves as being enthusiastically pro-nuclear.

. . . back to [ TABLE OF CONTENTS ]

go to [ 1987 Addendum ]


The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources established in April 1977 a study group whose terms of reference were to carry out a study on the safe long-term storage of radioactive waste and to submit a report that would contain information of a quality and scope sufficient to serve as a general document for wide distribution, both within government and to the public, in order to facilitate a better understanding of the waste disposal problem.            (EMR Report, p. i).
As stated here, the purpose of this document is educational rather than political. However, its educational function is seriously impaired by a consistent political bias in favour of continued rapid expansion of the nuclear industry in Canada. Indeed, technical information is so intermingled with political opinion that it is often difficult to separate them.

The political orientation of the study group is clearly revealed in the very first sentence of the Introduction:

The urgency of the national energy question, the importance of nuclear-powered electricity generation as a contribution to Canada's future energy supply, and the increasing public concern regarding the overall safety of nuclear power, have made it essential for the government of Canada to formulate policies for the long-range management of the radioactive products of nuclear powered generating stations.

(EMR Report, p.1)

In other words, the EMR Report is politically motivated. None of the reasons offered have anything to do with the technical considerations which make radioactive waste disposal a necessity -- namely the toxicity of the wastes and their exceedingly long lifetime.

Even more political is the first conclusion of the Report, which states that

We see no reason why the disposal problem need delay the country's nuclear power program ... (EMR Report, p.6)

The Report gives no indication of the highly inflammatory and controversial nature of this, their first conclusion, as indicated by the following facts:

  • There is now a court-imposed moratorium on nuclear power in Germany pending a satisfactory resolution of the waste disposal problem.

  • Legislation has been enacted in California which will prevent the licensing of nuclear power plants in that state unless a method of safely disposing of the wastes can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the California Legislature. On January 11, 1978, the California Energy Commission released a report saying that it was not "prudent to continue siting nuclear power plants based on the optimistic assumption that ... technology to handle nuclear waste will be developed and scientifically demonstrated." The Commission concluded, after an exhaustive investigation, that there is as yet no safe method for disposing of nuclear power plant wastes, and it is questionable whether one will be developed in the foreseeable future.

  • In the fall of 1977, the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Environmental Quality unanimously recommended a moratorium on any further nuclear expansion until the waste disposal issue has been resolved.

  • Legislation has been drafted in Sweden calling for a nuclear moratorium until a safe waste disposal method his been demonstrated,

  • Sir Brian Flowers, a prominent nuclear physicist and author of a Report on Nuclear Energy for the U.K. Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, recommends that "there should be no commitment to a large program of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive wastes for the indefinite future."

  • Here in Canada, Robert J. Uffen (former chief science advisor to the Canadian Cabinet, former vice-Chairman of Ontario Hydro, Dean of Engineering of Queen's University) wrote an article for Science Forum magazine entitled: "Let's go slowly on a nuclear power program until we've solved waste problems" (October 1977).

The first recommendation of the report, therefore, is a highly political statement, and not "information ... to facilitate a better understanding of the waste disposal problem." The study group could have quite rightly stated that the waste problem is here now, it will not go away, and it has to be faced -- whether we proceed or do not proceed with nuclear expansion plans. However, to suggest that the nuclear program should be expanded is not a legitimate conclusion to be drawn. In fact, as we shall argue in this brief, there are MANY good reasons which can be advanced for delaying the nuclear program until the waste management problem is better understood both within the nuclear industry and among the general public.

A consistent political bias toward nuclear expansion can be observed throughout the text of the report. A discerning reader should have little difficulty in recognizing this and taking it into account while reading the report. However, it is much more difficult to evaluate how the biased orientation of the authors may have coloured the actual content of the report. As we will show below, some of the most perplexing problems in radioactive waste disposal have been systematically ignored by the authors of the report, thereby giving the reader quite a false impression of the nature of the problem.

What follows is a brief discussion of the major shortcomings of EMR Report EP 77-6 in failing to address itself to the practical issues in radioactive waste disposal and how they affect Canada's nuclear program.

. . . back to [ TABLE OF CONTENTS ]


3.1. First Shortcoming: Sources of Information

Discussions have been held with citizens groups, technical experts and the various Canadian public bodies having responsibilities or interests in the area of nuclear power.

. . . back to [ TABLE OF CONTENTS ]

3.1.1. The Canadian Scene

Under cross-examination at the Porter Commission (January 12, 1978), the study group was unable to identify any source of technical information in Canada which they had used which was independent of the nuclear industry and of the federal Department of Energy, Mines and Resources. The study group's consultation with the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility consisted of a morning discussion with three individuals, dealing with general policy matters of a non-technical nature. There were no significant technical discussions with any Canadian citizens' groups that we are aware of.

As Dr. Hare told this committee on December 15, 1977, "we simply visited the principal centers of research, read the literature, and discussed it among ourselves." And, as Dr. Hare commented at the press conference of November 22, l977 when the report was publicly released, "we do not pretend that we have consulted the Canadian public."

We find it surprising that the study group made no effort to engage in technical discussions with the authors of the report entitled "Locating a Fuel Cycle Centre Near Madoc -- A Case Study" (henceforth known as the C,O.R.P. Report). This thoughtful, well-written, thoroughly researched document, which was submitted to the Porter Commission in the fall of l977 by the citizens of Madoc, has been acknowledged by the study group as being a technically competent and accurate discussion of the many serious shortcomings of the Madoc area as a waste disposal site.

We find it equally surprising that the Madoc fiasco is not even mentioned in the report, although the far less appropriate instance of Port Hope is mentioned on page 1. Was this a deliberate omission, for public relations purposes?

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3.1.2. The International Scene

On the international scene, the sources of information seem to be equally one-sided. The study group made no attempt to contact governmental organizations in other countries which are advocating a nuclear moratorium pending a resolution of the waste disposal problem. The study group did not even contact the California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, which published in July of l977 a very substantial Interim Report on Nuclear Waste Disposal and Reprocessing, listing hundreds of technical points of uncertainty and controversy relating to the safe disposal of nuclear wastes. The California Interim Report (as it will be identified henceforth) cited numerous profound inconsistencies in the testimony of nuclear experts on the subject of radioactive waste management, and concluded that "these inconsistencies have been highlighted because they clearly illustrate the degree of confusion and uncertainty which the Commission will be required to resolve before it is able to make meaningful judgments about the status of the reprocessing and waste disposal technologies" (California Report, p. 171).

The study group also made no attempt to solicit the advice of technically competent groups which are known to be critical of nuclear energy, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts, who have published a very useful book dealing in part with radioactive waste disposal, The Nuclear Fuel Cycle (MIT Press, 1975).

The studies quoted in Chapter 5 of the EMR report (dealing with "Environmental and Health Impacts") are all written by people who have a professional vested interest in promoting nuclear power. Moreover, these studies are not independent of each other. For example, Dr. Newcombe's study draws heavily on Sir Edward Pochin's study, which in turn draws much of its information from the U.S. Rasmussen Report, which has come under heavy attack from the American Physical Society and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for understating the health effects of reactor accidents. As the study group observes: "one thing all these reports have in common is a downplaying of the health implications of waste or fuel storage. It seems to have been generally assumed that the storage and disposal functions of power station operation pose no health problem." (EMR Report, p.26)

Such reassurances are hardly surprising, considering the sources of the information! However, it must be borne in mind, in discussing the potential health implications of stored wastes, that these studies offer assumptions and not facts. It is true that they are lavishly embellished with mathematical calculations and laced with technical jargon, but such hypothetical calculations do not always correspond to reality, as the study group well knows. Indeed, the study group claims that "we have listened to the representations of concerned citizens groups, and read numerous critiques of the calculations on which the arguments are based." (p 30) We find this statement completely insupportable, since there is no evidence whatsoever that the study group undertook such a critical review. Certainly, none of the documents in their bibliography contain any critiques of the kind indicated, and those organizations most capable of supplying such a critique were never consulted.

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[ SOURCES OF INFO --1987 Addendum ]

3.2. Second Shortcoming: Reprocessing of Spent Fuel

Recommendation 10: Fuel processing is not necessary for safe disposal. Either irradiated fuel or immobilized wastes or both can be disposed of in the same repository. However, no commercial fuel processing plant should be approved in Canada until, inter alia, full satisfactory methods for dealing with the associated wastes have been developed.        (EMR Report, pp.6-7)

We commend the study group for recognizing that the reprocessing of spent fuel is not necessary for waste disposal, and for recommending that commercial fuel reprocessing be delayed until the waste management problem has been solved, This is a clear departure from past policy :

The program to develop a permanent disposal method for fuel cycle wastes has proceeded on the assumption that the irradiated fuel would be processed to recover the plutonium and that the wastes would be those arising from such processing. Little detailed attention has been given to the idea of immobilizing and disposing of the irradiated fuel directly.             (EMR Report, p.48)

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3.2.1. High Level Liquid Waste

We are puzzled, however, by the study group's refusal to discuss the special hazards associated with the high level liquid wastes which are produced in reprocessing spent fuel. We are concerned that many Canadians may be misled into believing that the reprocessing of spent fuel is not significantly more hazardous than the disposal of the unprocessed irradiated fuel.

Indeed, Dr. Hare told this committee on December 15, 1977 that "we have no mandate to answer the question: should they be reprocessed? So we addressed both questions: how could one dispose of irradiated fuel, if that was the political decision, and how could one dispose of the waste that would come from reprocessing, if that was the political decision? We took them both and came to the conclusion that it was not a fundamental question for us to answer; but if we could dispose of one we could dispose of the other".

Shortly afterwards, on the same occasion, Dr. Hare contradicted himself by referring to the high level liquid wastes which have been produced as a result of reprocessing spent fuel in Britain: "The Canadian technology has not produced such intractable wastes and within the next 25 years we shall be continuing to produce wastes of the present tractable form; the spent fuel rods that come out of CANDU reactors."

Dr. Hare is quite right in referring to high level liquid wastes as "intractable", though there are no indications of this in the EMR Report. The state of New York is now faced with the prospect of solidifying some 600,000 gallons of high level radioactive liquid waste from a defunct reprocessing plant at a price of over $500 million. Despite the outrageous price tag, no one actually knows a completely satisfactory technique for solidifying these wastes, which are in the form of a highly radioactive neutralized sludge.

High level Liquid wastes have caused great concern in the United States, as millions of gallons have leaked out of steel and concrete containers located at the Hanford Reservation in Washington State -- again, the result of reprocessing operations. Similar leaks on a much smaller scale have been observed at the Windscale reprocessing plant in Britain. It is worth noting that one gallon of this high level liquid radioactive waste is sufficient to ruin an entire city's water supply.

In 1958, there was a sudden unexplained explosion involving high level liquid radioactive wastes in Russia. As a result of this accident, which is referred to as "the Kyshtym disaster", thousands of people were hospitalized for radiation sickness, hundreds died, and many hundreds of square miles in the Ural Mountains were radioactively contaminated and remain uninhabitable to this day. Over 100 papers have appeared in the Russian scientific literature dealing with the long-term radioactive contamination of plants, animals, soil, and lakes in the region of the accident.

No one knows the precise cause of the Russian explosion, but this incident clearly and graphically illustrates the tremendous hazard that is associated with the storage of high level radioactive wastes. Indeed, a 1976 study done by the Institute for Reactor Safety in Germany calculated the theoretical consequences of a major accident at a reprocessing plant involving high level liquid radioactive waste. According to the study, the consequences of such an accident are potentially even more horrendous than the maximum conceivable accident at a nuclear power plant -- it could cause prompt fatalities due to very large whole-body radiation doses up to several hundred kilometres from the site of the accident! An English translation of this document has been tabled as an exhibit with the Porter Commission on Electric Power Planning in Toronto. Canadian nuclear authorities have disputed the conclusions of the German study, but they have not done their own study to prove their point.

In view of these hazards, which are nowhere mentioned in the EMR Report, we feel that the study group should have recommended that no fuel reprocessing plant of any description should be approved in Canada until fully satisfactory methods for dealing with the associated radioactive wastes have been developed. Unfortunately, the study group inserted the word "commercial" in their recommendation. This is most unfortunate, since the hazards involved in the high level radioactive liquid waste have nothing whatsoever to do with the commercial or non-commercial nature of the reprocessing operation. Indeed, none of the incidents referred to above involved commercial reprocessing plants.

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3.2.2. Commercial vs Non-commercial

It is known that commercial reprocessing will not be economically feasible in Canada before the 21st century, if ever; yet AECL would like to proceed with the construction of a large non-commercial demonstration reprocessing plant in Canada without delay. This plant would be as large as any reprocessing plant that has ever operated in North America. In view of this, and in view of the proposed timetable for waste disposal (to be demonstrated by 1998), Recommendation 10 of the Study group appears to be completely inconsequential: as worded, it does nothing at all to delay "commercial" reprocessing in Canada.

One of the most glaring internal inconsistencies in Report EP 77-6 is that between recommendation 1 and recommendation 10 (pp. 6-7). On the one hand, the study group concludes that no delay is needed in the country's nuclear power expansion program as long as appropriate research and development is undertaken in the field of waste disposal. On the other hand, the study group recommends that there should be no commercial fuel reprocessing plant until the waste disposal methods have been fully demonstrated, which could not be done until l998 at the earliest. However, the discussion on page 14 clearly indicates that commercial reprocessing may become obligatory in 25 years if nuclear expansion is allowed to proceed, whether or not the waste disposal problem has been solved by that time! This in itself seems to be a good argument for slowing down the rate of nuclear growth: rapid expansion now implies commercial reprocessing sooner than would otherwise be necessary.

We believe that the Committee on National Resources and Public Works should drop the word "commercial", which has no bearing on the waste management question, and recommend to the Parliament of Canada that no reprocessing plant of any kind should be built in Canada until the waste management problem has been solved. Research into alternative fuel cycles on a laboratory scale can continue, but there should be no approval for a demonstration reprocessing plant until the waste disposal program in Canada is well established: that is, proven safe and acceptable.

Incidentally, the deferral of reprocessing of any kind is urged on other grounds by the prestigious Ford/Mitre Report (which is referred to in the EMR bibliography on page 58 as item No. 4 under "General studies on nuclear power, including wastes"), After commenting on the dismal economics of reprocessing, the Ford/Mitre Report states:

Our net conclusion is that reprocessing and recycle are not essential to nuclear power, at least during the remainder of this century. In addition, there are potentially large social costs, including proliferation and theft risks in proceeding. A U.S. decision to proceed despite disincentives would induce other countries to follow suit and undermine efforts to restrain proliferation. We believe that the reprocessing of spent fuel, even on a demonstration basis, should be deferred as a matter of national policy, until it is clearly necessary on a national scale. (Ford/Mitre Report, p.321)
In addition to waste management problems, there are many other important considerations involved in reprocessing: nuclear weapons proliferation, domestic security, economics, occupational health, and chronic radioactive pollution of the environment. Some of these will be touched on briefly in subsequent sections.

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[ REPROCESSING --1987 Addendum ]

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