Canada said Thursday it had approved the idea of burying nuclear waste from its power plants deep in the ground at a single location, a proposal that green activists immediately condemned as too risky.
OTTAWA -- Canada said Thursday it had approved the idea of burying nuclear waste from its power plants deep in the ground at a single location, a proposal that green activists immediately condemned as too risky.
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said that, although the idea was not perfect, he felt it was the best way to store spent fuel rods from Canada's 20 functioning nuclear reactors.
The 36,000 tonnes of waste produced so far is stored above ground at nuclear power stations, which generate about 15 percent of the country's electricity.
Lunn said the planned depository would cost billions of dollars but said the cost would be borne by the nuclear industry.
It would take 60 years to find a location, build the facility and then transport in the used fuel.
"This is a safe, long-term approach," said Lunn, telling reporters that the waste would be monitored continually. It would also be buried in such a way that it could be retrieved if need be.
"I think there's a strong likelihood in the years ahead that they'll be able to reuse the spent fuel and recover more energy out of it," he said.
One likely location for the depository is somewhere in the Canadian Shield, a vast layer of solid bedrock that covers much of northern Canada.
The United States has also decided to bury nuclear waste from its power plants at one location -- Yucca Mountain in the state of Nevada. Residents fiercely oppose the plan.
Lunn has repeatedly said he favors building more nuclear power stations to help meet Canada's energy needs and enable the shut-down of polluting coal-fired plants.
Environmental activists said the plan to bury the waste is too risky because it was inevitable that radioactivity would leak out during the centuries that the waste remained active.
"Deep rock disposal is essentially digging a hole in the ground, putting the waste in it and walking away from it and it accepts ultimately the dispersal of radioactive waste into the environment," Greenpeace Canada energy specialist Dave Martin told Reuters.
Initial political reaction from opposition political parties was also negative.
"It's not the right approach to take ... This nuclear waste will have to be monitored and protected and guarded for hundreds and hundreds of thousand of years," said Jack Layton, leader of the left-leaning New Democrats.