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AECL making plans for new radioactive waste storage system in Chalk River

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has started work on the next generation of above-ground radioactive waste storage systems.

While still in the preliminary-design stage, the New Dry Storage System will be used to safely store spent fuel rods and other waste generated at its Chalk River site until such a time as it can be permanently disposed.

Brodie Whitelaw, project leader, said the project is just getting started, with a preliminary design expected to be completed next year. Ideally, construction for the facility would start in 2013, with it becoming operational in 2015.

"This can be considered an evolution, a new and improved version of our above-ground storage," he said. It will be easier to manage and, with AECL's current waste storage sites in use since the 1950s, the time is approaching when more space will be required.

"Storage is at a premium,"Mr. Whitelaw said, so it is best they get working on this now.

Although the facility will likely look similar to the Shielded Modular Above-Ground Storage (SMAGS) units now in place where low-level radioactive waste is stored, unlike it the NDSS will be heavily shielded, as the material it will contain will be more radioactive.

A 15 to 20-acre site has been selected on AECL property to locate it, although only a small portion of the land will be used for the actual storage.

Tracey Sanderson, a spent-fuel technology specialist with AECL, said what will be stored there are used fuel rods and some byproducts from research sources and from isotope production, including some material from MDS Nordian.

She said currently fuel rods are stored under water for a few years, until such a time as AECL feels it can no longer use it for research and development purposes.

Then they are sent to a dry facility for long-term storage, in the form of below-ground concrete wells.

While above-ground storage isn't new, it is different for fuel bundles, which makes NDSS a new concept in that regard.

"This isn't to put the rods in there to be forgotten forever," Ms. Sanderson said.

NDSS will be designed for long-term storage of 40 years worth of Chalk River operations for up to 100 years until a permanent disposal facility can be made available.

"This is why we must be able to retrieve the waste at a future date," she said.

Shelley Rolland, AECL community affairs officer, said a review is underway for a permanent disposal site.

Until then, facilities such as NDSS are needed.

This project will be subject to a rigorous approval process which will involve public consultation throughout the length of the project.

"The environmental assessment is on going now," Ms. Rolland said, "CNSC (the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) has been made aware of the project and AECL's board of directors has supported this as well."

"This project is for real."