How do you solve a problem that lasts 400,000 years?

In our latest newsletter, we examine the questions surrounding Canada’s plans for disposing nuclear waste — including from the two Ontario regions that could play host

Three million fire log-sized bundles.

That’s roughly how much nuclear waste Canada’s utilities have generated in the 60 years since we started turning to nuclear as a power source. By 2100, when all of our country’s nuclear power plants are expected to be decommissioned, we’ll be dealing with nearly 5.6 million bundles. Oh, and this stuff stays toxic for 400,000 years.

The trouble is, we don’t know where to put any of it.

Our current strategy involves placing the radioactive materials in temporary storage near existing reactors, but there are plans to find a more permanent solution in the form of a cave buried deep in the Great Lakes basin. 

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (no, not a Bond villain syndicate) is eyeing the towns of South Bruce, two hours northwest of Toronto, and Ignace, north of Lake Superior, as two candidates. But first, it’ll need to work to convince the municipalities, 10 First Nations and two Métis councils that the benefits outweigh the risks. Those groups are waiting on dozens of studies to be completed.

“If anyone thinks they’re informed today, I kind of question it,” Dave Rushton, a project manager for the Municipality of South Bruce, told The Narwhal’s Emma McIntosh. “We’re not fully informed because we haven’t got this information yet.”   

So, is it safe? While modelling suggests underground disposal can be done safely, this would be Canada’s first attempt at testing those models. Finland just started excavating the first tunnel for its own underground effort, which is set to be the first project of its kind for high-level waste that remains radioactive for a looong time.

Critics, meanwhile, argue the underground concept is reckless, since we have no way of knowing what the world will look like in 400,000 years. (What if there’s an ice age? Or major shifts in rock formations?)

For more on this complicated problem, and what locals think about Canada’s proposed solution, go here to read Emma’s deep dive.

Take care and mind your radioactive waste,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

The Narwhal behind the scenes

Wet'suwet'en hereditary Chief Madeek
Chief Madeek. Photo: Matt Simmons / The Narwhal

This month, northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons had the chance to spend the day on Wet’suwet’en territory with hereditary chiefs.

Over fresh bannock and moose soup, made with game harvested from the territory, Matt got the chance to hear from chiefs Na’moks, Gisdaway and Madeek about their fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline project.

The conflict is a complex one that has divided communities and families, with elected members largely supporting the project and the promise of jobs, while others have expressed concerns about how it might change their territory and way of life.

“One of my biggest takeaways was just listening to the chiefs talking amongst themselves about divisions, the need to come together and the importance of the land and water to their existence,” Matt says.

“There was so much laughter in the face of what is obviously a massive issue that’s dividing their community. I admire the ability to laugh and be joyful while still tackling the challenges they face.”

Stay tuned for more coverage from Matt on the Wet’suwet’en and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

This week in The Narwhal

The biggest land use plan in the world: how Nunavut is putting mining and conservation on the map

Boys fish at the shore of Arviat, Nunavut

By Rhiannon Russell

In the works for 15 years, the territory’s plan will plot the future of 21 per cent of Canada’s land mass. And it’s almost ready — hopefully. Read more.

Why Imperial Metals surrendered its mining rights in B.C.’s Skagit headwaters

A clearcut patch of forest is seen on the site of a snowy green mountain

By Judith Lavoie

After the mining company accepted $24 million from a coalition of groups in exchange for releasing mineral claims to the province of B.C., conservationists and First Nations are celebrating the end of potential exploration in an area known as the Doughnut Hole, an anomaly of unprotected land about half the size of the city of Vancouver that is completely encircled by Manning and Skagit provincial parks. Read more.

Canada is leaving communities in the dark about the risks and costs of climate disasters

Prabhjot Kaur Dhillon hugs her friend in the aftermath of B.C.'s devastating floods

By Ainslie Cruickshank

A new report finds the federal government isn’t doing enough to act on or disclose detailed information about the growing hazards of a warming climate, including extreme temperatures, flood, fires, landslides and drought. Read more.

What we’re reading

New Yorker: the tallest known tree in New York falls in the forest
Globe and Mail: Global conservation goals are insufficient to avoid mass extinction event, report finds

GIF of dog digging up sand

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