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Nuclear waste: Canada asks its towns if they'll give it a home

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Canada's plan aims to avoid local resistance by requiring communities to ask to be considered as hosts for an underground repository. Volunteers will be given extensive information on the ecological risks and economic benefits of the repository, which is expected to cost between $16 billion and $24 billion. After public endorsement via referendum or other means, the community would become a candidate for extensive technical review.

"The only way that a community will be involved in the process is by it choosing to be involved," says Mike Krizanc, spokesman for the NWMO, the entity charged with finding the site. "It will be an informed and willing community."

Created by federal statute in 2002, NWMO envisions burying the waste deep underground in a stable rock formation within a 2.3-square-mile site far from groundwater or national parks. The depository would be completed in 2035 and designed to allow spent fuel to be retrieved if future generations want to tap its residual energy. As many suitable sites may be on aboriginal land, NWMO studies have been translated into Cree, Mikmaq, Inuit, and other native languages.

No rush to relocate waste

But Darrin Durant, assistant professor of science and technology studies at York University in Toronto, says Canada made a key error in allowing the process to be controlled by the nuclear industry. NWMO is made up of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (which builds nuclear plants), and Hydro Quebec, NB Power Nuclear, and Ontario Power (which own them).

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