Canada to reprocess other nations' nuclear waste
SHAWN MCCARTHY, Globe and Mail, Sept. 5, 2007
Canada will eventually get into the business of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said yesterday as the government considers an invitation to join a major international effort to promote nuclear technology worldwide.
As he headed to a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Australia yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was expected to face questions on whether Canada will join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a group of major nuclear powers dedicated to spreading nuclear technology into developing countries.
U.S. President George W. Bush - who is leading the GNEP process - has suggested that, as a price of entry, major uranium-producing countries should agree to accept and dispose of nuclear waste from countries to which they sell the uranium for reactor fuel.
Canada is the world's largest uranium producer, followed closely by Australia , whose government has already indicated an interest in joining the nuclear partnership.
"We're very seriously looking at our options but a final decision has not been made on it yet," Mr. Lunn said yesterday. "There are some benefits that we would want to be looking for, but I believe there could be some advantages for Canada to be an official member of the GNEP."
He said the newly formed group is reviewing its own principles. He said that it is not practical to require producing countries to accept nuclear waste from their customers, particularly those that have adequate storage facilities of their own. But he would not comment on whether Canada would sign on if it was required to accept nuclear waste from other countries.
The minister recently announced that the government had approved a plan for long-term storage of nuclear waste, in which the spent fuel would be kept at the reactor site for 30 years, then moved to a centralized storage facility for eventual burial deep underground.
Yesterday, he suggested some of that spent fuel will eventually be reprocessed and used again.
"At this point in time, reprocessing spent nuclear waste from a Candu reactor is not something done now, but there is no question that as the technology evolves, it's something we'll see in the years ahead," he said.
The domestic industry is eager to expand its role and get into the business of processing imported reactor waste and enriching domestically produced uranium, Murray Elston, president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said yesterday.
He said that as a result of rising raw uranium prices, reprocessed reactor waste and enriched uranium will be "the fuel of choice worldwide." To take advantage of that market, Canada needs to join the GNEP group, which is working out standards for the safe handling and processing of spent fuel.
Mr. Elston said nuclear military powers have been reprocessing and transporting nuclear waste for years, and have proven it can be done safely.
But Norm Rubin, a nuclear industry researcher at Toronto-based Energy Probe, said the reprocessed fuel is far more dangerous than the solid spent fuel rods that are now stored at reactor sites around the world. He noted that a nine-year federal assessment of Canada 's nuclear waste disposal options never dealt with the proposed importation of high-level waste.
"When you reprocess it, you are taking one of the most stable forms of nuclear waste - it's still nasty, but at least it is stable - and ... you end up with a corrosive liquid that contains all of the nastiness that you were thinking of disposing of in the first place," he said.
The APEC summit
What is APEC?
Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation is an intergovernmental summit to negotiate voluntary trade agreements among Pacific Rim countries. Since it formed in 1989, the group has grown to include 21 members stretching across the Pacific Ocean from the Americas to Australia and Asia . They account for 48 per cent of world trade.
Who belongs to it?
Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
Canada 's goal
A senior government official told The Globe and Mail that Canada will push for tougher initiatives on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions. It is unclear how much influence Canada holds on climate-change issues, given its Kyoto record.