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5.0 Safety and Acceptability of the AECL Concept
As a result of this review the Panel will make recommendations to assist the governments of Canada and Ontario in reaching decisions on the acceptability of the disposal concept. . . .
Preparation of the panel's final report addressing:
a) whether AECL's concept for geological disposal of nuclear fuel wastes is safe and acceptable or should be modified . . .
Terms of Reference
5.1 Summary of the Panel's Views
In Chapter 4, the Panel examined the criteria that should be used to evaluate the safety and acceptability of any concept for long-term waste management. The Panel reached the following conclusions:
- Broad public support is necessary in Canada to ensure the acceptability of a concept for managing nuclear fuel wastes.
- Safety is a key part, but only one part, of acceptability. Safety must be viewed from two complementary perspectives: technical and social.
On this basis, the Panel defined the safety and acceptability criteria as follows:
- To be considered acceptable, a concept for managing nuclear fuel wastes must:
- have broad public support;
- be safe from both a technical and a social perspective;
- have been developed within a sound ethical and social assessment framework;
- have the support of Aboriginal people;
- be selected after comparison with the risks, costs and benefits of other options; and
- be advanced by a stable and trustworthy propo-nent and overseen by a trustworthy regulator.
- To be considered safe, a concept for managing nuclear fuel wastes must be judged, on balance, to:
- demonstrate robustness in meeting appropriate regulatory requirements;
- be based on thorough and participatory scenario analyses;
- use realistic data, modelling and natural analogues;
- incorporate sound science and good practices;
- demonstrate flexibility;
- demonstrate that implementation is feasible; and
- integrate peer review and international expertise.
After applying these criteria to the AECL disposal concept, the Panel arrived at the conclusions and recommendations listed below. The rationale for them appears later in this chapter.
- From a technical perspective, safety of the AECL concept has been on balance adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development, but from a social perspective, it has not.
- As it stands, the AECL concept for deep geological disposal has not been demonstrated to have broad public support. The concept in its current form does not have the required level of acceptability to be adopted as Canada's approach for managing nuclear fuel wastes.
- A number of additional steps are required to develop an approach for managing nuclear fuel wastes in a way that could achieve broad public support. They are described in Chapter 6.
- Until these steps have been completed and broad public acceptance of a nuclear fuel waste management approach has been achieved, the search for a specific site should not proceed.
An appropriate process for determining the acceptability of the AECL concept has not yet been developed. Ultimately, broad acceptability will only be demonstrated if and when Canadians agree that deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield is the preferred concept for managing nuclear fuel wastes in the long term. Furthermore, an informed and willing host community would have to agree to accept a facility. A new plan for building and determining acceptability will be required. Chapter 6 outlines the panel's recommendations for future steps.
5.2 Safety of the AECL Concept: Technical and Social
5.2.1 Safety from a Technical Perspective
We present these views of the safety of the AECL concept to clarify the question of safety as seen from a technical perspective, to which the social perspective is a complementary view. Not all members of the Panel subscribe to all of these views, but all think it important to present them.
126.96.36.199 Introduction and Summary
In applying the safety criteria noted in Chapter 4 to the AECL concept of deep geological disposal, we considered three points important from a technical perspective.
First, this is a concept review, not a licensing procedure. We distinguished between the level of knowledge and understanding required for approval of a generic concept, and that needed to meet more stringent "burden-of-proof" licensing requirements.
Second, we are well aware that the nature, and indeed the intent, of any intensive technical peer review process is to uncover many points of lively debate, issues of concern regarding future work, and downright disagreement, as well as to identify points of agreement and consensus. Our challenge has been to form technical judgments based on a balanced view of the many opinions expressed, avoiding undue influence from extreme views at either end of the spectrum of technical opinion. We have been particularly careful to keep in mind the context of any specific technical comment. While we consider any significant technical critique of a specific topic to be important, we have tried to view such a critique within the context of the overall or "on balance" position put forward by the reviewing organization or individual. Many presentations to the Panel included detailed and important technical criticisms, but concluded by giving overall support for moving to the next step, siting. We do not find this to be an unusual result of a detailed technical peer review process.
The overall conclusion that AECB staff have drawn from the technical review of the EIS is that the EIS, by itself, does not adequately demonstrate the case for deep geological disposal for nuclear fuel wastes. However, AECB staff believe that the EIS information, in combination with a variety of generic national and international assessments, has provided confidence that the deep geological concept is safe and viable. Accordingly, Board staff are of the opinion that proceeding to siting is the most appropriate next step and are recommending this option to the Panel.
Atomic Energy Control Board Staff [Atomic Energy Control Board Staff, AECB Staff Response to the Environmental Impact Statement on the Concept for Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste (Ottawa: Atomic Energy Control Board, July 25, 1995, Gov.002), p. 2.]
Similarly, the Scientific Review Group (SRG) identified a number of technical concerns, but also recommended that siting proceed.
There are a number of fundamental shortcomings in AECL's methodology for assessing the long-term safety of the disposal concept. . . . The new information strengthens the SRG's conviction that . . . the multiple-barrier deep geological disposal concept is applicable and acceptable, and would provide the required margin of safety. . . . the site selection process should begin.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 1, p. 5, p. 20.]
Finally, we emphasize that the safety criteria presented in Chapter 4 and reviewed below are closely interrelated. The panel's views on any single criterion should not be taken out of context of the related items. Once again, we view this as a matter of balance. Our overall conclusions are based on a blended evaluation of all seven criteria.
Our overall technical judgment is well reflected in the position taken by the Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada.
With safety as the prime objective, the Joint Committee considers the disposal concept developed by AECL to have good technical integrity, and to be a viable and satisfactory means of managing the accumulation of nuclear fuel waste in Canada.[Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and The Royal Society of Canada, Presentation, Phase I, p. 1.]
To repeat, the Joint Committee endorses the concept on technical grounds, but urges care once the concept proceeds to implementation. [Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and The Royal Society of Canada, Presentation to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Panel Reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement Prepared by Atomic Energy of Canada Research Limited on the Management and Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, Phase III: Public Hearings . (PH3Pub.034, January 1997), p. 2.]
Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada
While important concerns and issues remain to be addressed, as noted by many participants in the hearings and as summarized in Chapter 6, we have arrived at the following conclusion.
From a technical perspective, safety of the AECL concept has been on balance adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development.
188.8.131.52 Technical Commentary on Safety Criteria Applied to the AECL Concept
Our evaluation of the proponent's concept from a technical perspective is discussed below in terms of each of the seven safety criteria previously noted.
a)Robustness in meeting appropriate regulatory requirements
To comply with this criterion, and to allow for uncertainty, the concept should meet appropriate regulatory criteria by a wide margin under a wide range of operating and accident scenarios. Within reason, failure of a critical component of the concept should not eliminate or seriously reduce this margin. Furthermore, the regulatory criteria themselves should provide a substantial margin of safety in terms of the health and environmental risks that a given magnitude of radiological dose poses.
For the EIS case study, under postclosure (long-term) conditions, the proponent argues that reasonable quantitative analyses show that regulatory risk criteria will be met at all points up to 100,000 years. This is well beyond the required 10,000-year regulatory time frame. For the 10,000-year period, based on the arithmetic mean of 40,000 simulations of possible dose releases, reflecting randomly sampled values of all the input parameters, the margin of safety was calculated to be more than 5,000,000 times below the AECB regulatory criteria. Based on the maximum dose rate calculated from the single most severe or extreme of these 40,000 runs, the margin of safety was calculated to be about 1,350 times below regulatory limits. [B.W. Goodwin, D.B. McConnell, T.H. Andres, W.C. Hajas, D.M. LeNeveu, T.W. Melnyk, G.R. Sherman, M.E. Stephens, J.G. Szekely, P.C. Bera, C.M. Cosgrove, K.D. Dougan, S.B. Keeling, C.I. Kitson, B.C. Kummen, S.E. Oliver, K. Witzke, L. Wojciechowski and A.G. Wikjord. The disposal of Canada's nuclear fuel waste: Postclosure assessment of a reference system (R-Postclosure) (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Report, AECL - 10717, COG - 93 - 7, 1994), pp. 198-199.] In this context, "regulatory limits" correspond to a radiation dose that is about 60 times below natural background radiation levels.
The proponent analyzed a second case study, assuming substantially less desirable site characteristics, and, based on 14,000 simulations, calculated that regulatory criteria were met even under these conditions. In this case, the margin decreased to a factor of about 25 times below requirements. Some participants found the second case study presented by AECL convincing.
AECL has done much to demonstrate that, even under conditions that seem to be more severe . . . the concept can still be implemented soundly.
Natural Resources Canada [Natural Resources Canada, Natural Resources Canada's Submission to the Environmental Assessment Panel, Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (Resumption of Phase II: Technical Hearings), (PH2Gov.015, October 18, 1996), p. 1.]
These predictions of performance depend in part on whether the modelling approach used is valid, as discussed under criterion c). The proponent and others argue that an important element of the disposal concept is the use of multiple barriers, the combined effect of which is "a multiplicative reduction in contaminant movement." [B.W. Goodwin et al, R-Postclosure, p. 263.] The primary barriers the proponent identified were the stability and relative insolubility of the used fuel form, the waste container, the buffer and backfill materials, and the rock within the exclusion distance around the vault.
For preclosure, the proponent concluded that the potential effects would be "similar to effects encountered at large civil engineering projects, mining developments, nuclear generating stations, waste management facilities, and other large-scale projects." [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 265.]
In general, the established technical community expressed the view that the ability of the concept to meet or exceed regulatory requirements had been adequately demonstrated to allow it to proceed to the next step, siting. This view was indicated in the previous quotations from the Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada and the SRG, and was reinforced by others.
Our overall conclusion is that the documented work is adequate to allow further steps to be taken toward burial of high-level nuclear waste.
Canadian Geoscience Council [Canadian Geoscience Council, Geoscience Aspects of Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Committee, Review of the AECL Environmental Impact Statement on the Concept for Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste: Final Report (Waterloo: Canadian Geoscience Council, August 8, 1995, Tec.002), p. 4.]
The concept is defensible and robust in its individual components as well as collectively in a disposal system with its demonstrated adaptability to a range of realistic conditions.
Technical Advisory Committee [Technical Advisory Committee, L.W. Shemilt, Chairman, Submission to Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Concept Environmental Assessment Panel (November 18, 1996, PH2Tec.035(a)), p. 4.]
The conclusion that current regulatory requirements could be satisfied is adequately justified at present. . .
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste: Report of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group (Ottawa: prepared for Natural Resources Canada, April 27, 1995, Tec.001), p. 20.]
. . . it is possible to safely transport spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive wastes.
Transport Canada [Transport Canada, Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate, Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate Closing Statement Re: Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept Review, (CSS.012, April 15, 1997), p. 1.]
We emphasize that such broad summary positions of technical support do not exclude a number of significant concerns that the organizations involved in the review expressed. Foremost among these is the concern of the SRG that, while "the concept could be implemented safely and effectively," it views the proponent's methodology for assessing postclosure performance as "unreliable and it cannot be used to determine whether the generic concept is safe or is not safe." [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 1.] This concern is discussed further under criterion c). Technical concerns related to specific barriers in the multi-barrier system, and hence to the robustness of the system, were expressed to the Panel. Some of the concerns mentioned were the ability to weld the proposed container, the calculation of crevice corrosion rates, the long-term performance of buffer and backfill materials, the availability of low-permeability rock at an adequate distance to provide waste exclusion, the thermal-mechanical response of the vault and the absence of a unified conceptual model of biological processes.
From a technical perspective, our view is that the proponent's concept is robust enough to provide a reasonable assurance of meeting regulatory requirements at a specific site selected for this explicit purpose. The concept incorporated multiple barriers and defence-in-depth design principles, so that errors or unforeseen circumstances affecting one of the barriers would not be likely to compromise the ability of the facility to meet regulatory requirements. We agree with the SRG that, taken in combination, the following elements provide a reasonable basis for this view: the use of well-engineered containers containing a low-solubility waste form; the likely presence of sparsely fractured, low-permeability plutonic rock containing very old saline groundwater; the presence of a buffer-backfill-seal system to inhibit transport of contaminants; and the ability to build a stable vault. [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 1.]
With respect to the current AECB regulatory documents, we have concluded that these provide an adequate margin of safety for this stage of concept development, in terms of the health and environmental risks that a given magnitude of radiological dose poses. However, we note that, in the first case study, AECL based its methods for converting radiation doses to health risk on recommendations the ICRP made in 1977. It used some of the more recent ICRP recommendations for the second case study. These should be followed in their entirety for any further development of a disposal concept, as discussed in Appendix H. The Panel notes that we have recommended some future steps to ensure that regulatory requirements are appropriate within an evolving societal context (Chapter 6).
b)Based on thorough and participatory scenario analyses
By "scenario analyses," the Panel refers to evaluations of the risk that would stem from the behaviour of the proposed disposal system under possible future conditions or scenarios. In Regulatory Document R-104, the AECB requires that, to meet the specified risk thresholds (health effects), risk must be calculated as "the sum over all significant scenarios of the products of the probability of the scenario, the magnitude of the resultant dose and the probability of the health effect per unit dose." [Atomic Energy Control Board, Regulatory Policy Statement: Regulatory Objectives, Requirements and Guidelines for the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes, Long-term Aspects (Atomic Energy Control Board, Regulatory Document R-104, June 5, 1987), p. 5.]
In other words, three issues are involved: defining the significant scenarios, defining the probability of the occurrence of each scenario and calculating the health consequences. We deal with the first two of these in discussing this safety criterion. The third is discussed under criterion c), which is closely related.
To demonstrate a sufficient technical basis for proceeding with further development of the proponent's disposal concept, we focused on two questions. First, are we persuaded that the number and nature of the scenarios that could significantly affect public and environmental safety have been adequately defined? Second, is there widespread agreement on the probability of the occurrence of these scenarios? In addressing these questions, we remained aware that the issue of risk straddles the boundary of technical and social perspectives of safety. This was repeatedly emphasized during the public hearings.
As noted in Chapter 3, the proponent constructed "significant scenarios" for analysis by combining various events or processes that could occur, as identified primarily by expert opinion. For both preclosure and postclosure, the proponent relied on expert opinion, as well as a variety of methods using relevant historical data, to develop the probabilities of occurrence of the potential scenarios. The approach all of the analyses used was intended to respond directly to the AECB regulatory guidelines. It dealt quantitatively with risk by multiplying the calculated consequences of each scenario by the estimated probability that that scenario would occur.
Many presentations to the Panel focused on possible risks arising from accident scenarios or from unforeseen events. In particular, two broad themes emerged. First, as noted in the SRG report to the Panel and by several participants, the interest of the public is generally more focused on the potentially high consequences of extreme or worst-case events than on the potentially low probability of their occurrence.
. . . probabilities tend to be what the professional experts focus on, and consequences tend to be what citizens and other critics focus on.
Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics and Religion [Anna Cathrall, Mary Lou Harley, Brenda Lee and Peter Timmerman, A Report to the FEARO Panel on the Proposed Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Concept, Volume 2 (The Project Team for the Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics and Religion (CCEER), PH2Pub.021), p. 61.]
Second, the public is vitally interested in and concerned about whether the range of worst-case scenarios has been fully and completely defined, and whether the scenarios reflect the input and views of the public(s) potentially affected. What may be a reasonable worst case to one party may not reflect the concerns and fears of another.
Most people make technological choices based in part on technical and scientific factors, but mostly on societal values.
M. Paez-Victor [M. Paez-Victor, Socio-economic impact assessment of the conceptual system for the disposal of nuclear fuel waste. Support Document A-4 to the Preclosure Environmental and Safety Assessment (Toronto: Ontario Hydro Nuclear, Nuclear Waste and Environment Services Division Report No. N - 03784-939996 (UFMED), 1993), p. 7, cited in Anna Cathrall, Mary Lou Harley, Brenda Lee and Peter Timmerman, A Report to the FEARO Panel, Volume 2, p. 45.]
A number of technical reviews raised concerns regarding the proponent's scenario analyses.
In the opinion of the SRG, the selection of the scenarios and the scenario analysis performed by AECL are problematic. . . . Moreover, the SRG notes that non-expert stakeholders are not mentioned as part of the group that initially developed and then screened factors. . . . The SRG is also concerned about AECL's decision not to consider worst-case scenarios.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 78.]
Specific criticisms of the selected scenarios concerned such issues as the size and nature of the "critical group" and changing climatic, geological or socio-economic conditions. [Maurice Elzas and Raymond Vles, Review of the AECL Post-closure Assessment and Related Documents for the Scientific Review Group of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Panel on the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (Thornhill: M.T.C. Inc., April 25, 1995), p. 21.] Many of these areas are candidates for future development of significant scenarios.
As noted above, the issue of "scenario analysis" as a basis for assessing risk cannot be cleanly divided into separate technical and social components. This contrasts with the rather narrow view of the AECB.
If the concept assessment does demonstrate the likelihood that deep disposal in a pluton can satisfy thetechnical requirements for health, safety, security and environmental protection, the AECB will consider this concept to be acceptable.
Atomic Energy Control Board; emphasis added [Atomic Energy Control Board, Regulatory Document R-71, p. 6.]
From a purely technical perspective, we are persuaded that the generic scenarios evaluated during this concept assessment stage are sufficiently broad and severe to provide reasonable confidence that a site-specific design is not likely to encounter significantly worse scenarios. Therefore we conclude that, on balance, the concept is based on scenario analyses that are sufficiently complete for the short-term purpose of proceeding with further developmental work. However, we are not persuaded that there is widespread agreement on the probabilities that the selected scenarios might occur, nor that these scenarios are thought to adequately represent "worst-case" conditions. Thus, the concept is not based on thorough and participatory scenario analyses. Further work must be undertaken as a priority during further developmental stages, as noted in Chapter 6.
c)Use of realistic data, modelling and natural analogues
Any predictions of environmental and human health effects over time periods of tens of thousands of years will be subject to debate, criticism and differences of opinion because it is not possible to validate them directly. Thus, computer models play an important role in judgments concerning the long-term safety of the concept. Inevitably, models will simplify reality by capturing and focusing on the important factors and mechanisms, while ignoring factors judged or demonstrated to be irrelevant or minor. As noted to the Panel, the behaviour of the model must not be confused with the behaviour of the real system. [Maurice Elzas, Nuclear Fuel Waste Review Public Hearings June 18, 1996, MTC Findings - Performance Assessment: Criteria, risk and uncertainty (PH2Tec.018, June 18, 1996), p. 2.]
In evaluating the technical adequacy of predictions based on models, particularly mathematical models, three questions arise. First, do the models consider all of the mechanisms that may be important? Second, are the methods of solution the models use correct and reliable, and is there confidence in the validity of the input data? Third, has output from the models (i.e. the predictions) been adequately compared to observations, experience, other test results or relevant natural analogues, so that there is confidence that the predictions are unlikely to be misleading? In assessing the proponent's conceptual-stage, generic design, the Panel faced additional complexities arising from the lack of site-specific designs and data.
The proponent's preclosure and postclosure assessments depended on the use of modelling. In the latter case, the individual elements of the model (VAULT, GEONET and BIOTRAC) are linked together in a probabilistic analysis program called SYVAC. Within each element of the models, input data regarding the shape of a probability density function (PDF) for any given parameter are defined probabilistically on the basis of expert judgment. In the EIS case study, using random selection techniques, a total of about 40,000 analyses were then undertaken, each run representing some different combination of parameter values. The proponent concludes [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 317.] that its approach has met the AECB R-104 requirement that the predicted risk be "sufficiently low so as to allow for uncertainties in exposure scenarios and their consequences." [Atomic Energy Control Board, Regulatory Document R-104, p. 5.]
Virtually all submissions to the Panel on this subject emphasized the need to critically review and update the predictive models the proponent has developed and used over the last 20 years. There was also broad agreement that real, site-specific designs and data would be needed to produce final calculations of risk and safety. There was general agreement, too, that all predictions would have to be constantly and iteratively validated through ongoing tests and observations. Beyond these points of general agreement, debate, disagreement and a range of opinions exist on the issue of modelling validity.
Modelling these complex processes over the time periods involved is an ambitious undertaking, stretching the boundaries of technical capability and public credibility. On the one hand, the Panel was advised that, in its field, the AECL approach represented an internationally recognized, state-of-the-art approach.
Attention should be drawn to the pioneering step forward taken by AECL in the development of the SYVAC code and the probabilistic approach to safety assessment. SYVAC has a high profile internationally and has been used in a number of other programmes (e.g. Sweden, UK); the emphasis on the PSA (probabilistic safety assessment) approach is, however, stronger in the Canadian programme than in most other programmes.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 13.]
However, the Panel was also advised that the AECL modelling approach had a number of weaknesses. These include the complexity and lack of transparency of the probabilistic methodology; a lack of sufficient participation by modelling practitioners from other, allied fields; the use of statistical methods at or over the limit of their applicability; the need for significant updating; and disagreements concerning the conceptual basis of the geosphere models.
The SRG expressed major concerns.
. . . AECL's postclosure performance assessment of the concept, using its SYVAC technology and hypothetical reference case studies . . . is unreliable and cannot be used to determine whether the generic concept is safe or is not safe. There are a number of fundamental shortcomings . . . but among the foremost is that it relies upon an inadequate conceptual model of the geosphere. . . .
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 1.]
The Canadian Geoscience Council, representing 13 professional societies, disagreed.
. . . the EIS is adequate and sufficient in regards to the geological aspects of the concept. . . . The models used by the AECL teams are typical of modern codes and understanding of processes . . . the characterization and modelling reported in the EIS are sufficiently reliable to be accepted for the intended purpose, i.e., for showing that a satisfactory performance likely can be achieved in a site in the Canadian Shield.
Canadian Geoscience Council [Canadian Geoscience Council, Geoscience Aspects of Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Committee, Review of the AECL Environmental Impact Statement, pp. i-ii, p. 5.]
The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) also concluded that the development of SYVAC had reached an appropriate stage for concept assessment and that it could be used to produce a reliable performance assessment. [Technical Advisory Committee, L.W. Shemilt, Chairman, Fifteenth Annual Report of the Technical Advisory Committee on the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management Program (Hamilton: submitted to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited October 1996, TAC-15, PH2Tec.035), p. 27, p. 29.] The TAC referred to its difference of opinion with the SRG as a matter of judgment on the "extent reasonably achievable" for a generic research program. [Technical Advisory Committee, L.W. Shemilt, Chairman, Final Submission to Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Concept Environmental Assessment Panel (March 27, 1997, PH3Pub.207), p. 10.]
Many of the technical submissions to the Panel noted that site-specific data were essential, and that "further study would be hampered by not knowing the exact geological conditions of the candidate site." [Canadian Geotechnical Society, An Overview of AECL's Environmental Impact Statement on the Disposal Concept for Nuclear Fuel Waste for Canada, Submitted to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for Presentation to the Environmental Assessment Panel (Rexdale: August 1995, Pub.020), p. 8.]
The SRG supported this overall view, despite its concerns regarding modelling.
The SRG confirms and reiterates its conclusion that AECL's multiple-barrier concept for the disposal of Canada's nuclear fuel waste is potentially acceptable and applicable, but this needs to be demonstrated for each individual site. Therefore the site selection process should begin.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 2.]
Several participants expressed concern about whether the computer programs the proponent wrote and used had been independently reviewed and were reliable-that is, whether they had been verified. Others questioned whether the underlying conceptual models had been validated by testing their predictions against known results or against other well-validated predictive models. The role of natural analogues in providing valid observational data was widely discussed, providing confidence to some participants while being unpersuasive to others.
In our judgment, uncertainties in any predictive modelling process will continue to exist. The question is whether or not these modelling uncertainties are large enough to critically reduce or eliminate the margin of safety by which the proponent has calculated that a deep geological repository meets the regulatory risk criteria. On balance, we think that the models the proponent used are sufficiently well developed to demonstrate that its concept of deep geological disposal can be used as the basis for designing a site-specific facility that is likely to meet regulatory requirements. There is general agreement that a final conclusion would require site-specific data and performance analyses that are based on site-specific designs.
However, the Panel also recognizes in Chapter 6 that the models must be critically reviewed and updated, and that this process must include significant and transparent external input. For instance, concern was expressed that the system model used would not be applicable to any other type of concept. In the event that models based on new knowledge and on site-specific data ultimately show that the proponent's current risk calculations and predictions were misleading or in error, it will be the responsibility of the licensing authority to review the results of the new calculations at the appropriate time. In summary, we consider that there is a sufficient basis of confidence in the modelling process to proceed with further technical development of the deep geological disposal concept on a site-specific basis.
d)Sound science and good practices
The major technical reviews submitted to the Panel commented positively on the overall quality of the scientific and engineering work underlying the develop-ment of the proponent's concept.
AECL has conducted extensive, high quality, world-class research on the technology for nuclear fuel waste disposal in plutonic rocks of the Canadian Shield.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 17.]
The EIS documents and the supporting reference documents reflect an excellent understanding of the scientific issues involved corresponding to the internationally recognized state-of-the-art in the field.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 23.]
It is the consensus of the CIC that AECL's proposal is comprehensive and well thought out, and the people involved are to be congratulated on the high level of scientific and engineering expertise that they have been able to bring to bear to resolve this complex issue.
Chemical Institute of Canada [The Chemical Institute of Canada, Assessment of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Environmental Impact Statement on the Concept for Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste (Ottawa: The Chemical Institute of Canada, August 1995, Tec.005), p. ii.]
We believe that the overall concept . . . is clearly based on extensive and sound scientific principles and research.
Risk Assessment Society [Risk Assessment Society, Saskatchewan Division, Review by Saskatchewan Division, Risk Assessment Society, August 7, 1995 (Regina: August 7, 1995, Pub.021), p. 2.]
Based on these comments and our own analysis, we are satisfied that the proposed technologies are realistic from a scientific and engineering viewpoint, yet have chal-lenges that must be overcome. Particular challenges lie on the periphery of the proponent's in-house expertise, such as modelling techniques and quality control processes, canister design and fabrication, and the field of neotectonics.
In terms of the preclosure period, technical consensus exists that environmental impacts would be equivalent to those of other major nuclear projects.
The preclosure project activities and environmental impacts of the reference case study are equivalent to those of a major nuclear project of comparable magnitude and duration . . . not likely to have unacceptable adverse environmental impacts provided environmental regulations and good engineering practice are followed.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 4.]
Parallels for a conventional project of comparable scale during the postclosure period might include a large underground mining project, a nuclear power plant or a toxic waste disposal facility. Our view is that the overall health and environmental impacts are expected to be no worse than those achievable for conventional projects of comparable scale, providing best available technologies and industrial safety practices are used during implementation.
We draw particular attention to the critical importance of good management practices to avoid the types of problems that have beset other parts of Canada's nuclear power program. Current nuclear industry experiences notwithstanding, there appears to be no fundamental reason why the concept could not be managed safely throughout its implementation and postclosure stages.
One of the realities of underground construction is that conditions cannot be fully foreseen, and that a "design-as-you-go" or flexible approach is therefore necessary. Several presentations to the Panel commented on the inherent flexibility of the approach the proponent put forward.
The flexibility of the Canadian (and Swedish) proce-dures for developing a program for disposal of high-level waste has been cited favourably by the Board of Radioactive Waste Management of the U.S. Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources for the integration of technical concepts into flexible planning.
Canadian Geoscience Council [Canadian Geoscience Council, Geoscience Aspects of Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Committee, Review of the AECL Environmental Impact Statement, p. 10.]
The concept is flexible, applicable to a variety of potential vault sites and capable of adaptation to unforeseen circumstances which may arise during and after site selection.
Technical Advisory Committee [Technical Advisory Committee, L.W. Shemilt, Chairman, Final Submission, p. 2.]
The disposal concept reduces the burden on future generations whilst being sufficiently flexible to allow a significant element of choice to immediately future generations (e.g. in allowing retrievability). . . .
The concept appears, therefore, sufficiently flexible to allow the matching of various designs to the geological features of any site that would be geologically suitable for a repository.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 20 and p. 23.]
The proponent indicated that there was a substantial ability to vary the design elements of the proposal to meet the particular constraints of a real site. This was shown in part by its second case study, which assumed poor quality conditions in the rock mass.
We note that the underground vault system is inherently flexible in its ability to be mined incrementally. Any specific excavation could be stopped or started, depending on the conditions encountered, the waste volumes or new knowledge. Several expert reviews identified potential problems related to localized rock fracturing around canisters emplaced using the in-floor approach. This concern will require careful review within the context of the characteristics of a specific site, once identified. The proponent's second case study showed that an in-room emplacement approach could be used to provide the flexibility necessary to use a range of sites. The proponent emphasized that the observational method would guide operations. Furthermore, there would be virtually limitless flexibility to delay decommissioning and final closure to accommodate whatever extended monitoring stages future generations might desire. [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 167.]
On the basis of our review, we consider that the proposed deep geological disposal concept incorporates a significant and appropriate degree of flexibility throughout the stages of development, siting and implementation. In the panel's view, this concept of flexibility must be maintained as an important attribute of any disposal system.
f) Feasibility of implementation
If there were uncertainty that the concept could in fact be built and operated in a practical manner, without demanding extraordinary technological advances or commitment of human and financial resources, then confidence in the safety of the final facility would be jeopardized.
One element of feasibility is whether technically acceptable sites are likely to exist, and to be widely distributed, across the Canadian Shield. The proponent argues that this situation is likely, as the concept itself is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a wide range of site conditions. Furthermore, the concept was demonstrated to be suitable for the conditions assumed in its two case studies. While a number of reviewers agreed with this view, others were not satisfied that AECL had done sufficient work to demonstrate this.
Based on generic understanding of crystalline rocks it is considered very likely that suitable sites will exist in the Canadian Shield.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 21.]
It is plausible, although not documented, that similar bodies of low-permeability rock may also exist at other sites in the Canadian Shield.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), p. 1.]
There was also debate as to whether or not the current state of technology is adequate to provide confidence in the ability to search for and characterize potentially suitable sites.
AECL has not provided reasonable confidence that it is feasible to collect the types and quantities of information for a site that would be required to demonstrate safety.
Atomic Energy Control Board Staff [Atomic Energy Control Board Staff, AECB Staff Response, p. 19.]
Site characterization technology is readily available and sufficiently developed to allow the commence-ment of implementation.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 20.]
On balance, we consider that, given the flexibility of the concept, it is likely that a significant number of technically suitable sites could be identified in the Canadian Shield. However, this remains to be demonstrated.
A second key element of feasibility is that the concept be based on known or readily achievable technology. This factor is closely related to criterion d), which deals with sound science and good practices, as previously discussed.
There is international consensus that the technology needed to safely dispose of nuclear fuel waste in a variety of media . . . currently exists . . . . Thus there is no general need to delay until major technological advances are made, even though some advances may be needed for particular components of some designs.
Atomic Energy Control Board Staff [Atomic Energy Control Board Staff, AECB Staff Response, p. 4.]
We concur with this view.
Finally, adequate human and financial resources will have to be available to implement the concept safely. We are convinced that appropriate human resources currently exist in Canada, as demonstrated by the involvement of world-class scientists and engineers in developing the concept, and by the ability of Canada to safely build large conventional projects. Thus, the core question is whether adequate human resources will continue to exist in the future, and whether sufficient financial resources will exist to ensure that they can be applied to this project. It is important to note that a specialist's technical skills are expensive and time consuming to develop. They can easily be lost if society does not value and use them. The special skills needed will be available only if the further development and implementation of an acceptable project for managing nuclear fuel wastes is not unduly delayed.
It is important to note that if decisions are not taken, Canada will run the risk of becoming dependent on outside technical skills to solve its own problem of managing nuclear fuel wastes.
Like many of the participants, the Panel remains unconvinced that sufficient financial resources are currently being collected and protected. Differences are apparent in the levies various utilities apply for this purpose. No independent audit has been conducted to provide confidence that sufficient funds are and will continue to be available. We recognize that the funds required will depend on many variables, not least of which are which waste management approach Canada will use and when. Nevertheless, we are not satisfied that this portion of the feasibility criterion has been adequately addressed at the current stage.
The other issue that I think is extremely important, and may totally dwarf that first question, and every other question, is whether in fact Ontario Hydro has anything like $13 billion or $20 billion or whatever, or whether they really have $1 billion to put toward this effort. I think that this is a discussion that we have just scratched the surface of.
Norm Rubin, Energy Probe [Norm Rubin, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 29, 1996, p. 168.]
On balance, our view is that the proposed concept would be feasible to implement, provided that adequate human resources and funding are available.
g) Peer review and international expertise
Peer review throughout the past 20 years of concept development has been based on open and unimpeded access to all technical reports, extensive publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and the use of numerous expert panels, task forces and technical review groups. Strong collaborative efforts exist within Canada between AECL and consulting engineering firms, universities, federal departments, industrial entities and utilities. AECL has also collaborated extensively with other interested scientists, governments and utilities internationally through conferences, bilateral research agreements, working and study groups, and co-operation with organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/NEA).
Foremost in providing peer review to AECL was the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), formed in 1979. Eight of Canada's leading professional societies select TAC's members. Many of Canada's top scientists and engineers have been included as TAC members, and we have given due weight to the technical opinions of this knowledgeable peer review group.
We are satisfied that the proponent has actively and continuously sought out technical peer review, both nationally and internationally, and has incorporated the results of such reviews into the development of the concept. During future work, additional peer review steps will be required in areas such as updated modelling techniques, canister design and fabrication, and neo-tectonics, to keep Canada in the forefront of these important fields.
5.2.2 Safety from a Social Perspective
We present these views of the safety of the AECL concept to clarify the question of safety as seen from a social perspective, a complementary view to the technical perspective. Not all members of the Panel subscribe to all of these views, but all think it important to present them.
In applying the safety criteria in Chapter 4 to the AECL concept of deep geological disposal, we take a different approach than if we were applying them strictly on a scientific and technical basis. We have three concerns.
First, some components of high-level nuclear wastes will pose a serious hazard to human health and the environment for hundreds of thousands of years. Hence, more so than for most human activity, we have to think of potential repercussions far into the future. This leads us to take a very cautious approach to any decisions on safety flowing from judgments made now. Society must be confident that human institutions will have the knowledge and capacity to manage a risky situation and to change direction to deal with things that might go wrong.
Second, we are very concerned about the number, nature and importance of the scientific uncertainties that are inevitable in such a new field over such a long time frame. Few precedents guide us, but we do have previous historical and community experience with similar undertakings to inform our view of safety. We are also concerned about the specific shortcomings in the AECL proposal that many eminent scientists identified. We are not greatly reassured that these same scientists nonetheless suggest that the concept is suitable for proceeding to the next stage.
Whatever the claims of some technical experts to the contrary, in the public mind and in the mind of many risk experts any risk assessment which has to take into account the behaviour of natural and technological to say nothing of social and political systems over spans of time far exceeding those of recorded human history will be dogged by high levels of uncertainty.
Dr. Conrad Brunk, University of Waterloo [Conrad Brunk, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 13, 1996, p. 98.]
Third, we recognize that the public tends to be concerned less about the probability of extreme events than about their potentially negative consequences and the magnitude, the reversibility and the extent over time of these consequences. For the public, safety is not a matter of probabilities and meeting standards and regulations. It is, rather, the opposite of danger; it is protection from harm.
These three basic concerns, which we share with many members of the public, are critical to our analysis of safety from a social perspective. They are reflected in what we have to say about each of the safety criteria, and are vital to the following overall conclusion.
From a social perspective, safety of the AECL concept has not been adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development.
184.108.40.206 Social Commentary on Safety Criteria Applied to the AECL Concept
Our evaluation of the proponent's concept from a social perspective appears below in terms of each of the seven safety criteria previously noted.
a) Robustness in meeting appropriate regulatory requirements
In addressing this criterion, various questions arise. Can AECL's concept assure the same level of protection to generations living far into the future as it does to current generations? Do AECB standards represent what Canadian society deems to be acceptable risks to human health and the environment? Our view on this criterion relate to two points. One is the lack of confidence in the methodologies and some of the critical scientific tools AECL used to demonstrate that its proposal will meet the regulatory criteria. The other is the adequacy of the regulatory requirements.
The presentations to the Panel show that the scientific community's opinion is divided on the issue of robustness. Many experts expressed confidence in the safety of the concept. They based this confidence on AECL's state-ment that its concept would meet the regulatory requirements by a wide margin of safety (three to six or seven orders of magnitude for the first case study [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 319.] and one order of magnitude for the second one [A.G. Wikjord, P. Baumgartner, L.H. Johnson, F.W. Stanchell, R. Zach, and B.W. Goodwin, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste: A Study of Postclosure Safety of In-room Emplacement of Used CANDU Fuel in Copper Containers in Permeable Plutonic Rock, Volume 1: Summary (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Report, AECL - 11494 - 1, COG - 95 - 552 - 1, 1996, Part of Undertaking 58, Additional Information 60), p. 25.] ). Others criticized the adequacy of AECL's scientific tools, particularly the modelling systems, and the rigour and comprehensiveness of the demonstration of safety. They expressed reservations and doubts about the validity of the safety results obtained through AECL's research because of the shortcomings and weaknesses found in the methodologies, and the use of arguments based on unsupported assumptions, to draw conclusions on safety.
AECL has claimed, on the basis of its probabilistic and deterministic risk characterization, that impacts are well below the AECB guidelines, both in terms of the total annual radiation dose and of chemical toxicity effects. This claim, however, assumes that the reference system functions as intended, that the models and data used are valid and that the underlying assumptions are justified or conser-vative. The SRG review of the postclosure assessment document shows that many of these assumptions are not acceptable and that AECL's risk characterization does not convincingly demonstrate compliance.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 14.]
Later in its report, the SRG concludes that the results of the assessment of postclosure performance are not reliable. Some of the reasons for this conclusion are that the uncertainty analysis is not convincing; the choice of input parameters, initial boundary conditions and source terms for the model are not satisfactory; and the modelling of the exposure of human and other living organisms to contaminants passing through the biosphere does not accommodate the likelihood of environmental or ecological changes over a 10,000-year period. [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 16.]
The AECB staff statement to the Panel presented five main deficiencies. The following is the first of these statements.
AECL does not attempt to demonstrate the overall safety of the deep geological disposal concept. The postclosure safety assessment is intended only to demonstrate how the assessment tools could be used at an early stage of concept implementation.
. . . Demonstrating a methodology to assess safety falls short of demonstrating the overall safety of the disposal concept.
Atomic Energy Control Board Staff [Atomic Energy Control Board Staff, AECB Staff Response, pp. 13-14.]
AECB staff also submitted the following statement.
It is not clear if the 6 to 7 orders of magnitude between the predictions and the risk limit is ade-quate considering the possible large variation in predicted results and when, contrary to what is stated in Section 1.3.5 (Postclosure PRD, p. 13), the postclosure assessment appears to be neither conservative nor realistic.
Atomic Energy Control Board Staff [Atomic Energy Control Board Staff, AECB Staff Response, p. 33.]
Given the criticisms expressed by technical reviewers, some participants found it difficult to have confidence in the safety of the concept.
The public at the end of phase II [technical hearings]was left with a feeling of grave unease. The best that could be said in favour of AECL's concept was stated by the SRG-that it could, might, should be do-able.
Provincial Council of Women of Ontario [Provincial Council of Women of Ontario, The Provincial Council of Women of Ontario Presentation to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept Environmental Assessment Panel, Phase III Hearings (February 26, 1997, PH3Pub.130), p. 5.]
Scientific bodies expressed an overall confidence in the safety of AECL's concept and recommended a move to siting. However, several of them used very careful wording.
. . . in principle, the concept could be implemented safely and effectively. . . . this needs to be demonstrated for each individual site.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, An Addendum to the Report of the Scientific Review Group (1996), pp. 1-2.]
The Committee considers the concept, as set out in the several concept documents, to be sound in principle and achievable, and . . . endorses it.
Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada [Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada, Presentation to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Panel Reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement Prepared by Atomic Energy of Canada Research Limited on the Management and Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, Phase II, Technical Aspects of the Concept of Geologic Disposal, Engineered Barriers and the Vault System (May 1996, PH2Tec.010), p. 2.]
NRCan believes that, while the assessment methodology developed is adequate to demonstrate the feasibility of the concept, it should not be used in its current form for future site-specific assessments.
Natural Resources Canada [Natural Resources Canada, Natural Resources Canada's Submission to the Environmental Assessment Panel, Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (Phase II: Technical Sessions) (June 5, 1996, PH2Gov.001(a)), p. 21.]
Many participants again felt a sense of unease, based on their judgment that the case for safety had not been made.
CCNR considers that the recommendations of the AECB and the Scientific Review Group to proceed to siting are based largely on the belief that the problem will be solved because it must be solved, despite the fact that the scientific evidence is not at all conclusive, convincing or complete.
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility [Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Summary Argument Submitted to the FEARO Panel on the Management of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste (April 18, 1997, CSS.031), p. 4.]
The AECL "concept" should be rejected; AECL has failed to demonstrate safety and acceptability.
Northwatch [Northwatch, Northwatch Final Submission to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Review Panel, (North Bay: April 18, 1997, CSS.029), p. 3.]
Some participants questioned how the scientific and technical community could conclude that the AECL concept was safe after it had expressed major caveats. Furthermore, they questioned how a concept designed for the Canadian Shield could be judged safe by relying significantly on work done in other countries.
For more than 15 years the proponent has researched a concept recommended 20 years ago, and made a significant investment of $575 million to verify its safety. Nevertheless, we believe that the methodologies the proponent developed to demonstrate safety have not yet gained sufficient recognition as valid and robust tools to enable the public to gain confidence in the safety of the disposal concept.
Also, participants during the hearings criticized the adequacy of the current AECB standards because they felt a wider range of Canadian society should help establish acceptable levels of risk. The standards did not adequately address social concerns related to human health and ecological integrity, as discussed in criterion d).
Regulatory Document R-104 does not require quantitative analysis to determine when estimated doses reach their peak if this occurs more than 10,000 years after closure of a facility. AECL's studies acknowledge that the estimated dose rate does not peak before 10,000 years and is still increasing at 100,000 years. [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 309.] Where there may be an increase in risk to humans and the environment over time, the peak dose and the peak risk should be used as references to develop assessment scenarios and eventually to verify compliance.
The primary problem with it [R-104] is the clause which states that: "The period for demonstrating compliance with the individual risk requirements using predictive mathematical models need not exceed 10,000 years." The US National Research Council (NRC) in its recent (1995) report on a proposed used fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, found no scientific basis for so limiting the time period of an individual risk standard, and noted that some potentially important exposures might not occur until after several hundred thousand years from now.
Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics and Religion [Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics and Religion, A Report to the FEARO Panel, Volume I, p. 30.]
In its analysis, the OECD/NEA Review Group mentioned that "large portions of dominant radionuclides remain in the waste form and container over time periods longer than 100,000 years." We agree with this group in advocating that the presentation to the public should have emphasized what happens over long periods to this remaining inventory and its almost unchanged hazard potential. [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 14.]
Furthermore, Regulatory Document R-104 fails to reflect the new and still evolving standards that the ICRP recommended in 1991 and subsequently. Yet, AECL fol-lowed Regulatory Document R-104. [For AECL and AECB staff points of view on whether it was appropriate to follow R-104, see Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, June 17, 1996, pp. 55-56 and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Response to Request for Information, p. 83-84.]
For all these reasons, we recommend in Chapter 6 that the public be allowed greater input into the development of AECB standards.
We think that major scientific uncertainties about the long-term safety performance of the disposal system have not been adequately resolved and shortcomings have not been addressed. The impacts of miscalculations or mistakes are potentially grave for future generations and the environment. It is therefore better to delay decisions than to approve a concept that could generate serious negative consequences, even if some might consider the margin of safety adequate.
In summary, it is our judgment from a social point of view that the demonstration of safety should be much more robust to justify selecting this disposal concept as Canada's approach for managing nuclear fuel wastes. Moreover, we believe that robustness in meeting appropriate regulatory requirements to protect human health and the environment has not been convincingly demonstrated.
b)Based on thorough and participatory scenario analyses
In presenting its most reasonable case scenarios, AECL failed to address a wide enough range of different possibilities about which participants expressed concerns. It did not, for example, deal adequately with the consequences of cumulative minor accidents, with the handling of emergencies or with major unforeseen events. It did not identify the extent of the consequences of scenarios at various points in time. Nor did it seek wide public input when developing scenarios.
Compliance is judged by risk rather than by extreme consequences. This, however, does not mean that it is without interest to know the size of extreme consequences and the associated probabilities.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 13.]
Moreover, where firm predictions were impossible, the proponent ignored or downplayed issues of interest.
. . . in the face of this uncertainty [on the future impact of human activity on the biosphere] , any attempt to predict the effects of humans on the evolution of the biosphere would have been futile. Accordingly, we have assumed that future human activities, whether for better or worse, would not alter the biosphere in any fundamental way over long periods of time.
R-Biosphere [P.A. Davis, R. Zach, M.E. Stephens, B.D. Amiro, G.A. Bird, J.A.K. Reid, M.I. Sheppard, S.C. Sheppard and M. Stephenson. The disposal of Canada's nuclear fuel waste: The biosphere model, BIOTRAC, for postclosure assessment (R-Biosphere) (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Report, AECL - 10720, COG - 93 - 10, 1993), p. 57.]
Following the direction it received from Regulatory Document R-104, AECL did not make any "attempt in the model to incorporate temporal changes in man's cultural or social behaviour, in his physiology, or in the changes in the biosphere caused by anthropogenic effects." [P.A. Davis et al, R-Biosphere, p. 20.] Although we recognize the difficulty of making long-term predictions, we believe that the sensitivity of the safety results to the nature of these assumptions should have been more extensively tested and discussed. For the sake of completeness, AECL should have called upon other disciplines in a co-ordinated way to contribute ideas about future developments that would have led to the assessment of other or modified scenarios. Examples of these other disciplines would be economics, demography, sociology, history, anthropology, ethics and nuclear medicine. [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 78.]
If we accept that the future will be like the present, the model seems reasonable. But is it reasonable to think that the future will be like the present?
Raymond Vles [Raymond Vles, in Appendix A of Maurice Elzas and Raymond Vles, Review of the AECL Post-closure Assessment and Related Documents, p. 56.]
The EIS presents three groups of scenarios. There is no mention that any non-expert stakeholders were involved in developing and screening risk factors to be analyzed. The consequences were estimated for limited scenarios. These scenarios do not reflect the full reality of life on the Canadian Shield. One could have legitimately expected to benefit from more scenarios modelling various unexpected events that would have an impact on non-human biota, as well as on different human settlements-that is, rural, urban, remote and Aboriginal communities.
There is a need to examine the Concept for both optimistic and pessimistic scenarios for future generations in terms of technical capabilities, resource availability, social stability, etc.
United Church of Canada [United Church of Canada, A Submission from The United Church of Canada Program Unit on Peace, Environment and Rural Life Division of Mission in Canada to the Public Hearings of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Panel Reviewing the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (Toronto: March 1996, PHPub.124), pp. 3-15.]
The SRG and other participants felt that some scenarios were dismissed too easily.
The scenario analysis methodology is not described in sufficient detail to allow a thorough evaluation of the resulting three [groups of] scenarios used by AECL. The absence of detailed screening argu-ments from either the postclosure assessment document or other primary reference documents creates concern that some questionable selection mechanisms might have been used to eliminate factors (events, processes, and features) during scenario screening.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 13.]
From a social point of view, insufficient scenarios have been provided to estimate the range of potential hazards to humans and the environment or to conclude that the concept is based on a thorough and participatory scenario analysis that could adequately protect human health and the environment.
c) Use of realistic data, modelling and natural analogues
In the earlier section on the technical perspective, attention was drawn under this criterion to the shortcomings of the modelling used in the EIS. In this we concur. However, the conclusion was reached that, while considerable improvement and updating would be required for future models, the models the proponent used "are sufficiently well developed to demonstrate that [the proponent's] concept of deep geological disposal can be used as the basis for designing a site-specific facility." We do not share this optimism. We consider that the shortcomings of the modelling make it impossible to say that the AECL concept meets this criterion.
The major problem with this report is a philosophical one: the model is trying to demonstrate that, if reasonable assumptions about the future hold, then there should be no problems. What it should do instead is to demonstrate the robustness of the waste disposal concept: how extreme do situations have to get before they start getting dangerous? In other words, the model should show what has to occur to cause unacceptable exposure, and let decision makers and the public judge the probabilities and therefore the acceptability of the risk.
Raymond Vles [Raymond Vles, in Appendix A of Maurice Elzas and Raymond Vles, Review of the AECL Post-closure Assessment and Related Documents, p. 55.]
It is our judgment that the models used are insufficiently developed to demonstrate that the proponent's concept of deep geological disposal can be used as a basis for a site-specific facility. Considerable improvement and updating of the model would be required before there would be enough confidence to proceed.
d) Sound science and good practices
AECL's proposal deals with a nuclear mega-project that presents a unique social and political challenge. Many communities along transportation routes, or potential host and other communities, might be affected. Clearly, the development of an approach to managing nuclear fuel wastes must be based on sound physical science. While this is necessary, it is not sufficient. The approach must equally be based on sound social science and traditional Aboriginal knowledge. Without these complementary bases, there can be no assurance that public safety issues have been comprehensively identified, nor that they have been adequately addressed in the concept as presented.
AECL has conducted several interesting participation exercises to identify public issues related to the nuclear fuel waste disposal concept. However, this did not satisfy members of the Canadian Coalition for Ecology, Ethics and Religion.
. . . it [R-Public] fails to assess the real content of those concerns, and their actual merit. Public concerns are never matched to those expressed by the scientific community, for example. By failing to present the debate as also a feature of current medical and social scientific analyses, the authors wrongly characterize it as a battle between pro-nuclear experts and anti-nuclear laymen. . . .
Anna Cathrall, Mary Lou Harley, Brenda Lee and Peter Timmerman [Anna Cathrall et al, A Report to the FEARO Panel, Volume 2, p. 47.]
We concur with this view.
Although it is likely that such a project could have the greatest impact on Aboriginal communities, their unique perception of safety was not considered. The Aboriginal community views safety in a holistic sense, in that it considers potential impacts on all elements of the natural world. AECL did not consider the potential risk to the health of Aboriginal people, especially given their health status, which is below average. In addition, incorporating traditional knowledge would bring a different dimension to the perception of safety.
Our closest tie to these beings from our earth is from the people who have the traditional knowledge of the land, knowledge passed on to them by the thousands of years of inhabiting this island. The elders are the best indicator of the truth of the harm to our beings from the earth. They are the biologists, the chemists, the archaeologists, and their titles come without diplomas and degrees. Their titles come from the knowledge of generations.
Jamie Leary, Norway House First Nation [Jamie Leary, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, January 16, 1997, pp. 98-99.]
The Panel accepts the World Health Organization's definition of health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." This is an all-embracing definition that requires a very broad review of all the possible implications of developing a high-level waste facility, for both the individuals and the communities concerned. In its assessment of postclosure health effects, AECL used only fatal cancers or serious genetic effects as significant consequences.
At the very least, the risk of non-fatal cancer should be included and there should be a discussion of other effects reported in the literature for exposure to low level radiation. To this should be added the effects of stress and anxiety on a host community and surrounding populations.
Health Canada [Health Canada, Health Canada Submission to the Public Hearings of the Environmental Assessment Panel for the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (June 11, 1996, PH2Gov.011), p. 4.]
The proponent has not addressed the risk and potential consequences of significant social turmoil and opposition, at least at the individual and community level. Experience in Canada and elsewhere in the world indicates, however, that these would be likely.
Although many countries have researched passively safe deep underground disposal, no country has ever implemented it. Many of the operations that will be carried out routinely will be unique to this type of facility. It is therefore very difficult to determine the potential consequences of these operations on the workers, the public and the environment.
AECL did not use case studies appropriately to provide sufficient confidence in decisions to be made on the safety of the concept. The proponent did not demonstrate that the proposed technologies have performed adequate-ly in the past to protect human health and the environment when used in projects of similar size. It gave few concrete references and little systematic analysis or discussion of relevant previous technical and managerial achievements to give us confidence that the proposed technologies will perform adequately in the future.
In our judgment, more sustained and comprehensive use of the social sciences would have provided additional key information to identify and assess societal safety concerns, particularly those related to impacts on Aboriginal communities, conflict situations and significant social turmoil.
AECL was asked to develop a passively safe deep underground disposal concept that would not rely on long-term institutional controls as a necessary safety feature. Both the AECB and the ICRP consider institutional controls to be unreliable beyond a few hundred years. [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Environmental Impact Statement, p. 76.]
We recognize that there is no known precedent for institutional controls being successfully implemented over periods extending beyond tens of thousands of years. However, many participants and groups viewed institutional controls, imperfect as they may be, to be an indication of responsible management, at least for a significant time period. These participants and groups considered such controls to be a greater guarantee of safety than disposal, which was seen as an unsafe "out of sight, out of mind" approach, for which there is also no precedent. Prudence requires that control and verification capability be included and maintained as a safety factor that is strategically as important as technical passive safety capability.
Long-term monitoring is, in many people's minds, an essential safety feature. AECL has considered it mostly as an add-on, to detect radiation, especially at or near the surface, after the disposal system is closed. This is understandable. Built-in intrusive monitoring could easily be seen as contradictory to a passively safe system. Furthermore, AECL confirmed that such monitoring could jeopardize the passive safety of its concept. Nevertheless, along with many other participants in the hearing process, we believe that a system of early detection of failures, inside the vault or close to it, should be built into the defence-in-depth approach.
A management strategy that can adapt to changes is essential. While AECL presented the engineered barriers as being adaptable to a range of site conditions and not fixed in design, it did not clearly define or limit them. AECL also stated that design options included in the case studies were not meant to be standard components of the disposal system and would not necessarily be selected for a final design. There was no definition of the range within which site conditions could vary, or engineered barriers could be flexible, and still conform to concept specifications and safety.
It is clear that there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what constitutes the concept and what constitutes illustrative examples of the concept. . . . The public wants some brackets, some frame within which safety of any example is assured.
Dr. Stella Swanson, Scientific Review Group [Stella Swanson, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, June 19, 1996, pp. 137-138.]
The lack of a clear statement on the limits to this flexibility impinges significantly, in our view, on the ability to foresee the potential consequences of implementing the concept, and its safety performance at a real site. In such a context, the concept becomes an abstraction that can be safely adapted to almost all site conditions. In our view, the proponent should have presented, compared and assessed designs and site characteristics that enhance long-term safety.
Our conclusion is that a system of early detection of failures inside the vault or close to it should be researched further. Such monitoring would provide forewarning and trigger appropriate safety action, including retrieval if deemed necessary, if a series of unexpected events were to thwart the passive safety system.
f) Feasibility of implementation
We believe that a favourable judgment on the feasibility of AECL's concept can be made only if there is reasonable evidence of the likelihood of finding a suitable site on which to implement the concept. We need to know if there is a wide range of potential siting areas in Canada where AECL's safety results could be obtained. This is necessary to develop confidence that a suitable site can be found despite the social and technical constraints.
. . . the case study geosphere model, although hypothetical, is a realistic representation of the site-specific conditions that were known to exist at the URL site. Another site would require the develop-ment of another geosphere model to represent the specific arrangement of features at that site.
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited [Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Response to Request for Information, p. 111.]
. . . an analysis based on the specific properties of one site does leave open the question of the transferability of the safety and engineering feasibility to other sites, with different characteristics, i.e., until a site is chosen only the potential of a concept can be judged.
OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency Review Group, The Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste, p. 4.]
It is absolutely essential that the siting process is seen to be completely open and transparent, a fact recognized by AECL. Therefore the Panel should recommend that prior to any final decision on concept suitability, AECL demonstrate the applic-ability of the safety assessment methodology to one or more other sites. . . .
Philip J. Richardson, for Northwatch [Philip J. Richardson, Site Characterization and Site Evaluation: Comment on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (North Bay: prepared for Northwatch, June 20, 1996, PH2Pub.009), p. 16.]
According to many participants in the hearings, few quantitative data were presented by which the properties of the underground research laboratory's rock mass could be compared with those elsewhere in the Canadian Shield. According to the SRG, AECL's R-Siting does not reflect the information gathered during extensive geotechnical investigations at several sites in the Canadian Shield nor incorporate it in developing methods for site characterization, siting criteria or site ranking. [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), pp. 106-107.]
Another important issue to be addressed is the siting inclusion and exclusion criteria. AECL has failed to describe clearly enough the critical factors and the range of these factors that would allow a site to be considered suitable. On the contrary, to allow for flexibility and community input, it has put forward a strategy where it would apply only a limited number of criteria in the early siting stage. For a significant number of participants, this approach avoids difficult questions, putting them aside for the next phase. As mentioned by the SRG, R-Siting is largely generalized and qualitative.
The document does not indicate how either qualitative or quantitative and defensible criteria for siting a nuclear fuel waste disposal facility will be developed and ranked to determine which sites can be disregarded and which sites merit further evaluation.
Scientific Review Group [Scientific Review Group, Report of the Scientific Review Group (1995), p. 105.]
Clearly spelling out the siting inclusion and exclusion criteria would allow us to estimate whether the socio-economic and technical considerations can be adequately reconciled to guarantee the safety, acceptability and feasibility of the concept.
If the siting process is to be recognized and accepted by the affected publics further down the site screening road, it is crucial that the screening criteria are seen to have been drawn up in an open and transparent fashion. Otherwise the process will be laid open to charges of manipulation.
Philip J. Richardson, for Northwatch [Philip J. Richardson, Site Characterization and Site Evaluation, p. 3.]
For a process to be credible, the proponent has to specify clearly what knowledge it expects to acquire about the technical and social factors that determine safety at various stages in the site selection process, prior to the selection of any site. The proponent also has to indicate how the sites would be compared for priority.
With regard to voluntary siting processes, AECL states that applying the principles of safety and environmental protection, voluntarism, shared decision-making, openness and fairness "could result in a site for a nuclear fuel waste disposal facility that is both technically and socially acceptable." [M.A. Greber, E.R. Frech and J.A.R. Hillier. The disposal of Canada's nuclear fuel waste: Public involvement and social aspects (R-Public) (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Report AECL - 10712, COG - 93 - 2, 1994), p. 195.] But there were contrary views from many participants.
Covering less than two pages, it [ R-Public'sdiscussion on experience with voluntary siting processes]contains virtually no information on what made the successful processes work, what their key components were, what opposition they met, what other problems they faced, or how the siting organization addressed such problems.
Elizabeth Brubaker, Borealis Energy Research Association, for Energy Probe [Elizabeth Brubaker, Siting a Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility: Energy Probe's Submission on the Adequacy of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Environmental Impact Statement on the Concept for Disposal of Canada's Nuclear Fuel Waste (Toronto: Energy Probe Research Foundation, July 28, 1995, Pub.014), p. 2.]
No comments were made about the conflicts that could occur between communities and their neighbours and the implications of these conflicts on the siting process. We realized, especially in discussing the siting process for low-level radioactive wastes with people who participated in its implementation, the complexity and the usefulness of a detailed analysis in judging the feasibility of AECL's concept.
The experience of other countries demonstrates that social processes and financial considerations might dominate the site screening stage. The EIS does not provide any assurance that the current technical characterization and assessment tools can adequately address this contingency. From a social perspective, AECL failed to demonstrate that it had developed an adequate decision-making strategy for successfully selecting a safe site in a cost-effective way.
. . . AECL clearly states that siting is the first stage of implementation of the concept, and the likelihood of abandoning this project gets progressively more remote as new milestones are passed and more money is spent.
Voice of Women [Voice of Women, Presentation to Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel (Toronto: February 26, 1997, PH3Pub.129), pp. 2-3.]
In summary, we believe that the proponent has not provided the Panel with sufficient information, available through the social sciences, as to how it would proceed to site a disposal facility. That comprehensive information would be needed for the Panel to conclude that a site that would be socially as well as technically feasible could be found.
g) Peer review and international expertise
The EIS reflects little peer review by social scientists and ethicists who have thoughtfully studied the nuclear waste question. Nor is much attention given to international experience with the actual siting of disposal facilities for high-level and low-level wastes. We conclude that peer review by social scientists, as well as consideration of international experience in actually siting disposal facilities, could inform the social perspective on safety, and bolster confidence in the entire process.
In light of all the foregoing, the safety merits of the AECL concept should be carefully compared with those of realistic alternatives.
5.3 Acceptability of the AECL Concept
In this section, the Panel comments on the acceptability of the AECL concept, following the criteria set forth in Chapter 4.
a) Broad public support
Broad support from an informed Canadian public is a prerequisite to being able to make decisions on the long-term management of nuclear fuel wastes. An agency for managing nuclear fuel wastes must engage the public through a sustained information and communication program. The public must know about the scientific considerations and the social implications of the proposal. It must be aware of, and have participated in developing, the decision-making process, which will include the key points at which safety and acceptability are assessed, who makes the decisions, how disputes are resolved and how the needs of significant minorities are addressed.
. . . there has to be a much more broadly distributed communications strategy to bring home the nature of the kind of issue here because this is an issue that we believe affects all Canadians.
Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and The Royal Society of Canada [David Smith, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 25, 1996, p. 130.]
The AECL concept does not, in our view, meet this criterion. In one of its supporting documents to the EIS, R-Public, AECL describes earlier government attempts to obtain public advice. AECL also describes its own attempts to inform the public about its proposals and to seek the public's views. These have, we think, helped to broaden public understanding of the facts and issues involved, as have hearings of this Panel. But data are lacking that would indicate how widespread this understanding is, let alone what kind of public support there is. Even if there were better understanding of the technical aspects of the question, clear information is lacking as to how and when the broader Canadian public and the provinces would be involved in decision-making related to future steps.
When he put forward his recommendation in 1977 that deep geological disposal was the most promising approach for Canada, Dr. Kenneth Hare called for wide public discussion and broad public support before adopting a national plan for managing radioactive wastes. [F.K. Hare et al, The Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes, p. 51.] When he was asked at our hearings whether, in his view, such consultation had taken place, he replied in the negative.
I don't think it has. I'm not sure that it can. . . . But not to carry it out, or not to attempt it is-and I will use an old-fashioned word-immoral in my judgment.
Dr. F. Kenneth Hare [Kenneth Hare, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, June 20, 1996, pp. 68-69.]
We recognize that it is difficult to determine whether participants in our hearings, both those opposed to and those supportive of the AECL concept, were representative of the larger public. We recognize also that it may be difficult to gauge with precision the extent of support for or opposition to the AECL concept, particularly in the absence of a real site and a real design. We judge, however, that significant numbers of the public are currently sufficiently opposed to the AECL concept that it would be ill advised to proceed with it now.
It is evident from the record of the public hearings to date that the participants in this issue do not represent Canadian public opinion. Presenters are very clearly drawn from extremes and the views expressed indicate a polarization that is difficult to accept exists in the Canadian public.
Risk Assessment Society [Risk Assessment Society, Saskatchewan Division, Submission to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel (Regina: February 28, 1997, PH3Pub.175), p. 5.]
I have counted 144 separate presentations since mid-January by citizens and spokespeople for organizations that either completely reject AECL's proposal or have grave doubts about it. That's 144 people who read up on the subject, consulted their peers, took a day off work, travelled sometimes long distances to the hearing to say their piece. Most of them were not paid for this.
Penny Sanger [Penny Sanger, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 26, 1997. p. 186.]
After 7 years of public hearings, it is obvious to us that the concept is not acceptable to the majority of citizens and interest groups that have participated.
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility [Marc Chénier, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 25, 1997, p. 58.]
These considerations indicate to the Panel that the AECL concept for deep geological disposal has not been demonstrated to have broad public support.
b) Safety from both a technical and a social perspective
As noted in this chapter's analysis of the safety of the AECL concept, conclusions on safety differ, depending on whether they are based on technical or social perspectives. The Panel considers that from a technical perspective, safety has on balance been adequately demonstrated for a conceptual stage of development, but from a social perspective it has not. Safety is a key part of acceptability. Thus the concept cannot be regarded as acceptable if it fails to demonstrate safety from both perspectives.
c) Development within a sound ethical and social assessment framework
In Chapter 4 and elsewhere in this report, we have stressed the importance of reaching decisions on the long-term management of nuclear fuel wastes that are consistent with the predominant ethical and social values of Canadian society. It is difficult to describe these values with precision, both because they vary within a society as diverse as Canada's, and because they vary over time.
The Panel wishes to acknowledge that AECL addressed a number of the aspects of such a framework, either in its EIS or in other ways, to a greater extent than is usually found in technical proposals. In doing so, it drew on work done by the ICRP, OECD/NEA and AECB. It held a workshop in Canada in 1991 on the moral and ethical implications of its concept [See Hardy Stevens and Associates, Moral and Ethical Issues Related to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Disposal Concept. Report on AECL's Consultation Workshop: Toronto, Ontario, Canada: March 7-8, 1991 (Toronto: April 1991, Undertaking 1).] and participated in an OECD/NEA workshop on the environmental and ethical aspects of long-lived radioactive waste disposal. [See Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency, The Environmental and Ethical Basis of Geological Disposal. A Collective Opinion of the NEA Radioactive Waste Management Committee . (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1995).]
In the EIS and R-Public, AECL gave its views on a number of ethical issues, including justification for disposal and its timing, and the responsibilities of present and future generations. In proposals regarding siting, it also put forward thoughts on distributional fairness. We commend AECL for that work, but suggest that it has to be taken somewhat further.
Section 2.3.3 of this report outlines AECL's views on the need for and timing of disposal, and the reaction of participants, many of whom were not persuaded by its reasoning. In brief, these participants' concerns stemmed from considerations such as:
- lack of confidence in technical solutions to cover such a long period;
- confidence in the safety of present storage practices, which could be retained for 100 years or more to allow for development of options and greater scientific certainty;
- discomfort with the lack of monitoring and an "out of sight, out of mind" approach; and
- lack of flexibility and choice for future generations to make decisions in the light of their own social and ethical framework.
In these participants' view, such considerations argued against hasty decisions now and in favour of monitored, retrievable storage, with the greater control this implies, at least for the present.
Given the availability of storage technologies, there is no imperative to proceed with a geological repository until such time as safety can be reasonably assured and public acceptance of the concept has been achieved.
Dr. Michael Kraft,
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay [Michael Kraft, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 27, 1996, p. 114.]
AECL argues that those who have benefited significantly from nuclear power should assume disposal responsibilities, and that the burden on future generations is best minimized by moving now to a passive disposal system. Some participants found this argument unconvincing on the grounds that it denied future generations freedom of choice with respect to monitoring, retrieval, recycling and new technology. This question requires further examination in the context of an ethical and social framework. The panel's view is that, while greater attention should be paid to an enlarged choice for future generations, the present generation should not use this as a basis to justify postponing decisions indefinitely. Specifically, there should be an element of passive safety in any concept in the event future generations should be unwilling or unable to care for a storage or disposal facility.
On the matter of distributional equity, AECL has put forward principles for siting with a view to protecting the interests of host and affected communities. For those principles to be effective, however, they must be translated into safeguards and procedures. Yet even principles and procedures do not deal adequately with some of the larger questions. Do the principal beneficiaries of nuclear power bear an appropriate share of risks and costs? Are risks, costs and benefits distributed equitably among different groups in society, among areas in the country, and between present and future generations? Does the AECL concept provide for a net benefit to society at large and for those directly affected? All of these require more elaboration in an ethical and social framework than appears in AECL's proposals.
Many participants said it was not ethically possible to consider the AECL concept in isolation from other questions related to the nuclear fuel cycle, such as the future of nuclear power in Canada and the importation of nuclear fuel wastes. These may be outside the mandate of this Panel, but they cannot be ignored when looking at acceptability.
Several of the less technical barriers to acceptability are items which are themselves, on their face, outside this panel's mandate. I would submit, on the other hand, that their impact on the acceptability of the concept cannot be totally ignored on that basis.
Norm Rubin, Energy Probe [Norm Rubin, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, November 21, 1996, p. 175.]
On the question of importation, which I know we're not supposed to talk about, but we really can't avoid it if we are going to talk about ethical concerns. . . . this level of uncertainty and, as noted previously, the number of unknown and unknowable variables in this process, are unacceptable for an environmental review in which the public is called upon to give an opinion.
Anne Lindsey, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba [Anne Lindsey, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, April 29, 1996, pp. 40-42.]
Finally, many participants felt the relative lack of systematic input into the EIS by social scientists and ethicists led to an inadequate balance between the technical and social considerations that ought to govern thinking on the AECL concept.
There is really no sort of matching level of knowledge in the social and ethical issues that matches that of the technical side of the report . . . the level of social expertise and ethical expertise seems to us not as strong in the report as the technical. . . .
Joint Committee of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and The Royal Society of Canada [David Smith, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 25, 1996, pp. 130-134.]
Based on these considerations, we have concluded that the development of the AECL concept did not take place within the context of a comprehensive social and ethical framework. In the absence of this framework, the concept cannot be said to have met this criterion for acceptability.
d) Support of Aboriginal people
Any approach to managing nuclear wastes that involves lands inhabited, claimed or used by Aboriginal people will affect them in particularly acute ways. Aboriginal people rely on the land for sustenance and hold deep beliefs about humankind's relationship with and responsibility for the natural environment. Hence their active involvement, consent and co-operation are essential throughout all phases, from acceptance of the concept through its implementation.
This consideration applies strongly in the case of the AECL concept, as the facility is expected to be located on the Canadian Shield, where there is a significant Aboriginal presence. In its guidelines document, the Panel admonished AECL to pay special attention to the viewpoints of Aboriginal people. Yet the EIS gave little indication that AECL had attempted to do this, or of how the traditional knowledge and experience of Aboriginal people might be incorporated into any analysis of the effects of a facility.
Throughout the hearings process, during our visits to Aboriginal communities, and in 20 Aboriginal association and band council resolutions opposing disposal and transport in treaty areas covering virtually all of central and northern Ontario and elsewhere, we heard that Aboriginal participants were mistrustful of AECL's concept. They felt that the proponent-and the Panel-had shown lack of respect for their cultural differences and consultative processes. They said that they lacked the knowledge to reach their own judgments on the concept and they resented what they viewed as the proponent's failure to involve them in dialogue at the concept's inception and during its development.
AECL has failed to consult with First Nations generally and has made no substantive effort to consider the potential impacts of this concept on our communities. . . . Due to health concerns and our dependence on the land, we will be the most vulnerable group exposed to such a depository. . . If our opinions and knowledge are not valued by AECL, then how can we have any confidence in this process or in the proposal itself?
Chief Earl Commanda,
on behalf of the Union of Ontario Indians [Earl Commanda, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, February 13, 1996, pp. 61-65.]
We believe that the disposal of something so toxic and so dangerous as high level radioactive waste requires this level of commitment to wide ranging and thorough consultation. . . . Yet neither AECL or Ontario Hydro seriously engage in a consultation process with our people. Neither AECL or Ontario Hydro offered to provide us with the appropriate timing or necessary resources to conduct our consultation in a manner respecting our culture, our relationships and our leadership and our rights.
Deputy Grand Chief Brian Davey,
Nishnawbe Aski Nation [Brian Davey, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 11, 1996, pp. 239-240.]
For these reasons, the panel's view is that Aboriginal people do not support the concept as presented. Whether the concept might in future gain that support depends in part on whether governments and their agents are prepared to take the steps we recommend in Chapter 6.
e)Selection after comparison with the risks, costs and benefits of other options
The Hare Report suggested that primary attention be given to plutonic rock but that "careful attention be paid to the work of other scientists in other countries on different rock types." [F.K. Hare et al, The Management of Canada's Nuclear Wastes, p. 44.] The AECB also endorsed plutonic disposal but said that AECL "should maintain a current awareness of studies on other disposal methods." [Atomic Energy Control Board, Regulatory Document R-71, p. 6.] The proponent, in putting forward only one option for the long-term management of nuclear fuel wastes, acted in accordance with the instructions given by governments. AECL was asked to demonstrate whether nuclear fuel wastes could be disposed of safely in deep geological formations, particularly intrusive igneous rock, and its research and the EIS set out to do just that. It was not instructed to make a comparative assessment of options.
We must point out, however, that the panel's guidelines document of 1992 explicitly asked AECL to discuss possible alternatives to its concept, and in sufficient detail to permit a meaningful comparison. [Federal Environmental Assessment Review Panel. Final Guidelines for the Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement on the Nuclear Fuel Waste Management and Disposal Concept (March 1992), p. 12.] We drew special attention to storage alternatives in the guidelines and in requests for presentation during Phase II of our hearings. In spite of these requests, AECL provided little comparative information about alternatives.
The issue is whether the Canadian public wants sealed, walk-away disposal of spent fuel, or would prefer monitored, retrievable long-term storage. In the original 1977 Federal Inquiry report we opted for permanent disposal in a walk-away repository, because the evidence we could gather in the brief period available pointed to a strong public demand for it. But in the early 1990s I heard from several sources that public opinion-where the public had any opinion-had moved towards long-term, monitored and managed storage of the fuel, in most cases because there were doubts as to the wisdom of sealing the chambers until there was assurance that the performance was as predicted. I tended to agree with this view. . .
Dr. F. Kenneth Hare [F.K. Hare, An Addendum by F. Kenneth Hare to the Joint Submission, p. 1, in Albert A. Driedger, F. Kenneth Hare, Jon H.F. Jennekens, J. Terry Rogers, and Leslie W. Shemilt, A Submission to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel on the Environmental Impact Statement by AECL (Oakville: PHPub.150, April 2, 1996).]
It seems to us that the Canadian public no longer finds it acceptable to be asked to make a decision based on one option only. A choice of one is not a choice. People want to know, at least in some reasonably comparable way, the implications of other options; their risks, costs and net benefits; and the implications if deep geological disposal is rejected.
. . . people generally are more likely to judge a risk acceptable if they see all the other alternatives as even more risky. . . . If the deep geological disposal concept appears to reduce most effectively the risk to the values the public takes most seriously this will, of course, come to be regarded as the "safe" alternative, but only because the imposed alternatives are perceived to involve even greater risk.
Dr. Conrad Brunk, University of Waterloo [Conrad Brunk, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 13, 1996, pp. 107-108.]
. . . the situation today is that above ground spent fuel dry storage facilities are accepted by the public, are judged safe, use the very simplest of technologies, require only rudimentary care, are inexpensive and have considerable siting flexibility.
. . . we believe that the ethical arguments for preferring deep disposal to other management strategies are not convincing and that above ground storage should be explored technically to determine if it is an alternative solution.
New Brunswick Power [New Brunswick Power, The Ethics of the Management of High-level Radioactive Waste (PH3Pub.225, March 26, 1997), pp. 2-3.]
AECL has told us there is no urgency to move to permanent disposal. They should be asked to go back and produce a proposal for an extended temporary storage system and for replacement and renewal of such a system as needed in the expectation that it will probably be many decades before it is possible to consider a permanent solution.
Saskatchewan Environmental Society [Ann Coxworth, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 11, 1996, p. 340.]
From the public hearings process and from our study of the subject over a number of years, the Panel now believes that the concept of deep geological disposal could be accepted only if it is placed in the context of other alternatives. In our judgment, the proponent's proposals and concept do not meet this basic criterion of acceptability.
f) Advancement by a stable and trustworthy proponent and supervision by a trustworthy regulator
Trust in both the proponent and the regulator is critical to gaining public acceptance of a concept. Among other factors, a concept will be more acceptable if it is advanced by the same proponent that intends to implement it, and if both the proponent and the regulator are free of conflicts of interest.
The CNA believes that it is very important that the corporate entity which undertakes the siting pro-cess, and in the course of which makes promises and undertakings to the public, should be the same entity responsible, and held accountable, for all subsequent phases of the process. Such continuity, and assurance of funding stability, is necessary if the public is to place their trust in the integrity of the siting process.
Ian Wilson, Canadian Nuclear Association [Ian Wilson, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 29, 1996, pp. 52 -53.]
AECL has made it clear that it expects to have no primary, and perhaps not any, responsibilities in the area of nuclear fuel wastes in the future. To that extent, it cannot be regarded as a "stable" proponent and its concept cannot meet this part of the criterion. Ontario Hydro indicated at our hearings that it was prepared to act as implementing agency and it presumably will continue in existence in one form or another. However, neither AECL nor Ontario Hydro could give details and guarantees that participants sought on how the proponent would proceed in future since the potential implementing organization for the concept has not yet been identified.
Rightly or wrongly, and for a variety of reasons, AECL does not appear to enjoy-at least in some quarters in Canada-the degree of trust the Panel considers essential for any agency responsible for long-term management of nuclear fuel wastes. Many participants complained about AECL's alleged lack of openness and transparency, its insensitivity to a wide range of stakeholders, and its failure in practice to ensure effective public participation. Ontario Hydro received many of the same criticisms. There was, moreover, at least a perception of conflict of interest in that both were said to be looking for a solution to the nuclear waste problem as a means of ensuring either continued sales of CANDU reactors or continued use of reactors in power generation.
. . . the preferred option is neither the utilities running the implementing organization, whether it be directly or through some joint parties that the utilities jointly create-I don't favour that option. I think it leaves too much control with the utilities who will have a vested interest to undertake disposal as cheaply as possible and as quickly as possible. I don't trust the utilities to do this job. Nor do I think that we would necessarily be as well served by the standard federal Crown corporation model. AECL is a federal Crown corporation and look where it's got us.
Saskatchewan Environmental Society [Peter Prebble, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, March 29, 1996, pp. 192-193.]
The whole issue of nuclear energy-and particularly, perhaps, the issue of nuclear wastes-is such a controversial one that a high degree of public confidence in the responsible agency is a prerequisite to acceptability. We doubt whether that degree of confidence exists at present in either AECL or Ontario Hydro.
There were also criticisms of the regulator, the AECB, during our hearings. These criticisms were based on its slowness in adapting to changes in international standards, on its reporting to the same minister as AECL and on its failure to ensure wide public participation in setting standards.
R-104 . . . was developed with a handful of written comments from outside the AECB, almost all of them from government and industry, and clearly was not an attempt to reflect the values of the Canadian public, and clearly did not have the input that this process does in testing the values of the Canadian public, or indeed that the public informa-tion polling and other mechanisms used by the proponents have.
Norm Rubin, Energy Probe [Norm Rubin, in Nuclear Fuel Waste Environmental Assessment Panel Public Hearing Transcripts, November 21, 1996, pp. 174-175.]
We note the importance of this aspect of acceptability. We hope that the changes in the AECB's mandate under the new legislation, passed by Parliament but not yet proclaimed as of the date of this document, as well as the AECB's stated willingness to encourage greater public input, will make it the trustworthy regulator we consider an essential element of acceptability.
Finally, we note that the absence of clear policy statements by governments with respect to the future of nuclear energy in Canada makes it more difficult for the public to develop trust in a proponent and regulator.
- Executive Summary
- 1.0 Outline of the Review Process
- 2.0 The Nature of the Problem
- 3.0 The AECL Concept: Description, Performance Assessment Analyses and Implications
- 4.0 Criteria for Safety and Acceptability
- 5.0 Safety and Acceptability of the AECL Concept
- 6.0 Future Steps
- 7.0 Matters Outside the Mandate
- Appendix A - Terms of Reference: Environmental Assessment Panel
- Appendix B - Members of the Panel
- Appendix C - Terms of Reference: Scientific Review Group
- Appendix D - Memebers of the Scientific Review Group
- Appendix E - Chronology of Panel Activities
- Appendix F - List of Submissions to Panel at Public Hearings
- Appendix G - Bibliography of Key Review Documents
- Appendix H - Radiation Hazards: A Review
- Appendix I - The Federal Government's Radioactive Waste Policy Framework
- Appendix J - Comparison with Management of Other Wastes
- Appendix K - International Experience
- Appendix L - Various Approaches to Long-Term Management of Nuclear Fuel Wastes
- Appendix M - Summary of Siting Steps Presented in the EIS
- Appendix N - Implications of a Facility Based on the AECL Concept
- Appendix O - Details of a Siting Process Proposed by the Panel
- Appendix P - Issues for Consideration during a Public Review of AECB Regulatory Documents
- Appendix Q - Acknowledgements
- Addendum: List of Abbreviations
- Date Modified: