Back in December we posted that Canada is trying a unique means of disposing of its nuclear waste. (See How to Dispose of Nuclear Waste.) Rather than deal with the inevitable protests that result when a specific site is chosen by a country for nuclear waste disposal, Canada decided to let communities self-identify. This way the battles are fought out at the local level before a decision is made to have the community host the nuclear burial site.

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.

As of January of this year 9 communities had applied for the $16-to-$24-billion project with another 5 considering the idea. While most of these are a mixture of of native reserves, old mining and lumber towns and cottage retreats, one summer vacation destination joined in as well.

This number has skyrocketed to 20 and NWMO will be ending the application process at the end of this month.

A nine-stage selection process will take place with any community free to exit at any time.  It may take a decade to find the willing community, locate and evaluate a specific site, and work through the formal process to grant it a license.

NWMO hopes to have narrowed the field to one or two communities by 2015, then spend until about 2020 deciding on a specific site within the chosen community. After that, it will take three to five years to do an extensive environmental assessment of the site. The proponents will also have to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that their plan makes sense, and obtain a license to construct and operate the facility. Then, it will take six to 10 years to build. The NWMO doesn’t expect the first nuclear waste bundles to be stored until 2035.

For more read The Toronto Star, Nuclear waste seeks a home.

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