Costly cleanup could sink industry

Tom Spears
The Kingston Whig-Standard
February 20, 1999

Canada’s nuclear industry risks running short of cash for the $11-billion job of disposing of its nuclear waste, a federal cabinet memo says.

The memo warns the federal government not to set up its own agency to manage the waste, because the government itself could then get stuck with the bill, or with the waste itself.

Instead, the memo written in October warns, the federal government should leave industry to deal with the radioactive waste problem itself, under government rules.

That’s what happened in December: The cabinet announced it wouldn’t set up a Crown agency.

Instead, it said a new body made up of nuclear industry members, including Ontario Hydro and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., would manage the waste.

The waste in question is used uranium fuel from Canada’s 22 commercial power reactors – 20 of them in Ontario, and one each in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Used fuel, which is highly radioactive, is stored for now at each nuclear plant. But there’s nowhere in Canada to dispose of it in the long term.

Last year a federal panel examining one possible solution – to bury old fuel deep in the Canadian Shield – said the federal government should create an agency to be in charge of radioactive waste in the long term.

But the memo to cabinet, written by officials at Natural Resources Canada, warns this “would significantly raise the risk of federal financial liability” if Ontario Hydro and other nuclear station owners run out of cash.

Ontario Hydro, which owns some 90 per cent of Canada’s nuclear waste, is $30 billion in debt.

“The government thinks it’s a real enough risk that they need to protect themselves,” said Norm Rubin of Energy Probe, an anti-nuclear group.

Ontario Hydro says it’s confident it can handle the job.

“It is something that forms part of our business plan, which is under review right now,” said Hydro spokesman Terry Young. “There’s talk about setting money aside, but I can’t give you a figure right now.”

In the meantime, the waste keeps building up as temporary storage sites are filling up.

 

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