Tories approve plan to search for site to bury nuclear waste

Ottawa has approved a plan to search for an underground storage site to permanently dispose of nuclear waste, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced Thursday.

Ottawa has approved a plan to search for an underground storage site to permanently dispose of nuclear waste, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced Thursday.

"It's important that we set up permanent, long-term, safe, secure storage that's going to ensure the protection of the environment," Lunn said.

Canada's nuclear reactors produce about 85,000 bundles of spent fuel a year. Currently, the waste is dipped into giant pools to cool off for about a decade, then stored in titanium containers.

These practiceshave been consideredonly short-term and medium-term solutions, Lunn said,so now the government wants tomove toward permanent storageat a single site in a deep geological depository.

"It will allow the fuel to be retrieved as technology moves forward and more importantly allow it to be monitored continuously as it's going through the storage process," he said.

The minister said the cost of building a waste facility would be in the billions of dollars, but insisted the nuclear industry would foot the bill. Nuclear operators are required to set aside money for storage, and Lunn said there is already $1 billion in the fund.

But he cautioned it "is going to be a long process"and that itwill take years to find a site and decades to deposit the waste.

"It will be a number of years before there is anything further to announce," Lunn said.

Many environmentalists oppose underground storage because of concern about radioactive leaks or accidents.

"Deep geological storage is delayed pollution," said Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace. "This material needs to be isolated for a million years."

He questioned the government's assumption that it can find a willing community to accept the waste facility, saying the proposal will create social conflict for years to come. Stensil said the solution is to stop producing the waste.

With files from the Canadian Press