As we all know a major and very emotional issue these days is how and where does a country dispose of its radioactive nuclear waste.  Just a couple of weeks ago we had the mass protests in France and Germany as a shipment of nuclear waste from France was sent by rail to a storage facility in Germany. For years the United States has grappled with its nuclear waste problem and debated whether or not to bury it at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

In short, the storage of nuclear waste is the ultimate NIMBY problem (Not In My BackYard). Inevitably the waste remains on site at nuclear plants around the world, awaiting a new home, as the New York Times reported:

Right now, worldwide, most spent fuel waste is stored on the site of the facility that produced it, in spent-fuel pools and, after it eventually cools, dry casks. Experts say dispersed storage is expensive and that central storage would be more secure.

Few countries , apart from Sweden and Finland, have moved forward on centralized disposal sites, deep in the earth, designed to hold the waste permanently.

France is evaluating a permanent disposal site for spent fuel , near the remote northeastern village of Bure. The country gets roughly three-quarters of its power from nuclear plants and reprocesses its fuel, a technique that reduces the quantity of waste but is expensive and also creates plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

Japan also hopes to choose a site and build a geological disposal facility in the coming decades.

In almost every case, when a country does try to find a permanent solution, a particular location is chosen to be the lucky burial site and that is that. To the chagrin of the unlucky citizens of the region and their leaders who believe they have been condemned to Hell.

So how do we get an area of a country to buy into being the place where the waste will be deposited for all time?

Canada, it turns out, is trying a unique experiment. Let the market decide. That is, instead of imposing a solution from the top, let local communities decide for themselves through a competitive process.

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has established criteria to be a waste site, including having the ability to safely store the material 500 meters below ground. In addition financial incentives are being offered including the prospect of thousands of jobs for the winning community. To be selected the chosen community must show a compelling demonstration of support from its citizens. In this way the hard fought battles will be decided among the local population long before any decision is made by the NWMO regarding that location’s ability to host the waste disposal site.

Now communities are vying to take that waste. So far nine communities have applied according to the National Post and more are considering applying says The Owen Sound Sun Times. Initially it was thought that only mining communities in northern areas of the country might be interested, but a recent application by a tourist destination in southern Ontario has caught the public by surprise.

Next year the NWMO will stop accepting community applications and begin the short-listing process. The objective is to narrow the list down to two potential sites, which will then lead to some very in-depth site analysis to choose the winning application.

Scenes like that pictured above are unlikely to occur with Canada’s lengthy self-selecting process. Unless, of course, they choose to bury the material under a hockey rink.

 

UPDATE

The Globe and Mail reports that as of mid-January 2012 nine communities have applied to host the nuclear waste facility. The towns, scattered across Saskatchewan and Ontario, are a mixture of of native reserves, old mining and lumber towns and cottage retreats. Many have spent the past decade watching their populations shrink and economies crater, and are desperate for an economic boost. It appears that another five communities are considering applying for the waste dump.

 

 

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