Roughly 70,000 tonnes of waste nuclear fuel would be stored at a site somewhere in Northern Ontario for centuries under two plans prepared by Canada's nuclear power industry and made public yesterday.
The site would begin receiving radioactive waste by road or rail by 2023 with more than 2,000 tonnes arriving annually for 30 years.
A third plan would leave the radioactive waste in place at the country's 22 nuclear power reactors and three small research sites. Because only two power reactors operate outside Ontario, 90 per cent of the waste fuel would still be in the province.
Costs of storing an estimated 3.7 million fuel bundles for 300 years range from $15.7 billion to $25.7 billion depending on the method chosen by the federal government. Under federal law that bill has to be paid by the industry but the cost is ultimately passed on to consumers in electricity rates.
The cost estimates were drawn up by the four companies that have used the fuel - Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Quebec, New Brunswick Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., a federal Crown corporation.
They were prepared for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, an industry-financed agency set up in 2002. The agency must recommend by November, 2005 how Ottawa should manage the growing stockpile of waste fuel during the centuries that it remains dangerously radioactive.
In a speech to a Canadian Nuclear Society meeting in Toronto yesterday, NWMO president Elizabeth Dowdeswell said the agency received the estimates last year but was posting them on its website only after a lengthy review by independent consultants.
The delay was criticized by David Martin, a nuclear activist with the Sierra Club, who said prompt release would have let environmental groups corral the extra resources needed to analyze the reports.
The reports say the cheapest option is to leave the waste where it is, under water inside nuclear reactors or sealed in mammoth casks at places like the Pickering and Bruce power stations.
The most expensive option is the long-studied plan of permanently sealing the waste at least a kilometre underground at a central site.
The mid-cost option is retrievable storage at a central site, in containers above ground or in caverns 30 metres deep.
The reports assume the central site will be in the Canadian Shield area of Ontario and lie roughly 1,000 kilometres from both Pickering and the AECL labs at Chalk River, Ont. But the NWMO stresses it is not recommending any of the three schemes - that decision is left to the federal government.