PINAWA — A single dental X-ray is 100 times more radioactive than the leakage would be from an entombed Whiteshell Reactor No. 1 (WR-1), the company charged with decommissioning the nuclear reactor said Wednesday night.
That's the radioactive dosage to someone subsistence farming or harvesting fish, wildlife and berries downstream of the entombed reactor for a year, said Brian Wilcox, director of project delivery for Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).
The dosage amounts to 1/10,000th the legal allowable level. CNL's modelling "essentially concluded exposure level is extremely small," Wilcox said.
CNL is proposing burying WR-1 here in a concrete grout. It wraps up its final round of public forums next week before it submits an Environmental Impact Statement to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Sept. 1.
That Environmental Impact Statement will then be posted online, and the public will have 75 days to respond. A round of public hearings will be held by the safety commission in 2018, likely in Winnipeg, with a final decision in December of the same year.
About 20 people attended the Pinawa meeting, including a large contingent of retired nuclear energy employees. Questions from the floor were sometimes technical, and there was a high level of familiarity with the scientific terminology.
CNL's staff are virtually all former scientists from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which ran the nuclear research site up until three years ago.
The Whiteshell nuclear reactor is about 500 metres from the Winnipeg River. CNL estimates it will take about 100 years for groundwater to move from the entombed reactor to the river.
However, there will be little radioactivity then as the reactor will be entombed in a concrete grout. It is when modeling ground behaviour over thousands of years, and deterioration of the concrete encasement, that calculations become very advanced.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories is a conglomerate of international interests charged with disposing of the nuclear reactor by the federal government. Members of the conglomerate have handled the decommissioning of other nuclear reactors around the world but this is the first case in Canada.
WR-1 operated near Pinawa, about from 1965-85 as a research tool to develop the Candu reactor.
The original plan was to dismantle the reactor and store it in a facility at the Chalk River nuclear research facility in Ontario.
However, CNL says moving the nuclear material is far more dangerous than simply burying it. It would be safer to simply fill in the five-story basement that currently houses the nuclear reactor.
Peter Baumgartner, a retired AECL scientist, insisted that encasing nuclear reactors above bedrock runs the risk that sometime in the next 10,000 years continental glaciers will dig up and distribute the nuclear materials.
"Sitting in soils it will be bulldozed (by glaciers). It's that simple," he said.
Canada has spent at least half a billion dollars researching embedded nuclear waste in bedrock, and that's the direction CNL should go, Baumgartner said.
Another former AECL scientist argued the need for an independent assessment in addition to the ones by the applicant and the regulator. However, Canadian law does not require an outside assessment.
Pinawa Mayor Blair Skinner called CNL's proposal "a safe option," but stressed he was only giving his opinion. Skinner said the community is comfortable with nuclear energy and wants to lure nuclear industry to the community to fill the void once WR-1 is sealed. WR-1 is supposed to be sealed by 2024, which will cost the community about 300 jobs.
One industry being targeted is the manufacture of small modular reactors for remote off-grid communities and mining sites, Skinner said.
CNL's next to last public meeting is being held in Lac du Bonnet next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to allow cottagers to attend.