March 13, 2006

CNSC rules OPG's waste storage EA report complete

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has concluded that a proposal by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) to build and operate refurbishment waste storage buildings at the Bruce nuclear plant's Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) is unlikely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, provided identified mitigation measures are implemented. The Commission has also decided not to refer the project to the federal Environment Minister for referral to a review panel or mediator.

The WWMF is used for the storage of low and intermediate level radioactive waste produced at the Bruce plant near Kincardine; it also accepts these wastes from other nuclear generating stations in Ontario. OPG is proposing to increase the WWMF's storage capacity to accommodate radioactive wastes generated during the refurbishment of the Bruce A unit, and possibly from the Pickering and Darlington plants, as well as wastes resulting from the continuing operation of these stations.

The Commission's decision was based on its consideration of an environmental assessment (EA) screening report prepared for the project in accordance with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). Pursuant to a hearing held on February 15, the CNSC determined that the report is complete, i.e. the scope of the project and assessment have been appropriately determined and all the required assessment factors have been addressed.

The report includes mitigation measures intended to minimize as far as possible any adverse environmental impacts of the refurbishment waste storage project. CNSC staff determined that the main potential impacts would be permanent loss of vegetation and small releases of radioactivity and radiation. These impacts, however, would not be significant and the Commission found that the mitigation measures would be adequate to address them.

Among other things, the screening report also considered the effects of the environment on the project, such as severe weather, flooding and seismic events. The design of the proposed project has incorporated features to deal adequately with such impacts. The EA process also took into consideration guidelines concerning climate change and concluded that the project is not sensitive to potential changes in climate.

The Commission's decision on the EA screening report clears the way for its consideration of an application by OPG for a licence, under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, for the proposed expansion.

Meanwhile, OPG has also notified the CNSC of its intention to apply for regulatory approval to prepare, construct and operate a deep geologic disposal facility on the Bruce nuclear generating station site at Tiverton. As the first step, OPG has begun a Comprehensive Study environmental assessment (EA) of the proposed project, in accordance with the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This is required before the CNSC can make any licensing decisions for the facility.

The proposed deep geologic repository (DGR) would be used for the disposal of low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes currently stored on the Bruce site. It would also hold waste produced from the continued operation of OPG-owned nuclear generating stations at Bruce, Pickering and Darlington, Ontario.

Low-level waste consists of industrial items that have become contaminated with low levels of radioactivity during routine cleanup and maintenance at nuclear generating stations. This can include mops, rags, floor sweepings, clothing and tools. Low level waste may be safely handled by workers using normal industrial practices and equipment without any special radiation protection.

Intermediate-level wastes are radioactive to a level where shielding is required to protect workers during handling. These wastes typically include ion exchange resins, filters and irradiated core components.

The DGR project includes the site preparation, construction, operation, and long-term performance of above-ground and below-ground facilities, which are expected to be located within the boundaries of the Bruce site. Operations would involve those activities required to operate and maintain the DGR facility, remove wastes from the WWMF on the Bruce site, receive wastes from the WWMF and nuclear generating stations, emplacement of the wastes into the repository, including the closure activities and monitoring of the repository.

The next steps in the EA process for this proposal include the development of EA guidelines (the scoping document) and the submission of a report to the federal Environment Minister regarding the project scope and other factors. If the Minister directs the proponent to continue the EA as a Comprehensive Study, subsequent steps will include completion of the study and preparation of a report, public consultation, and submission of the Comprehensive Study report to the Minister.

More information is available on the CNSC Web site, www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca.

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