Salmo-area mine unlikely to become nuclear waste site

An old Salmo-area mine is not being considered as a site for nuclear waste storage despite calls from a semi-retired physicist-engineer.

A semi-retired physicist-engineer from Ontario says an old Salmo-area mine would be a good place to store nuclear waste, but a local politician calls the notion laughable.

Dr. Charles Rhodes of Xylene Power Ltd. writes on his company’s website that from a geophysical perspective, “by far the best nuclear waste storage location in Canada is the Jersey Emerald mine property.”

The mine, about 10 km from Salmo, closed in the 1970s after many decades of producing zinc, lead, and tungsten. According to Rhodes, the five million square feet of depleted workings are 200 to 600 meters below ground but still 300 meters above the surrounding water table and the lower portions are in “extremely dense watertight granite.”

He called the mine “likely the most safe and secure facility in North America for nuclear material storage” and expressed frustration the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which is responsible for Canada’s used nuclear fuel, as well as Ontario Power Generation didn’t inspect it last year when the mineral rights were available.

“The failure of both [agencies] to place a $2 million holding deposit on the Jersey Emerald property will likely go down in history as the single worst management decision in the Canadian nuclear power industry,” he wrote.

In an interview from his home in Sharon, Ont., Rhodes said he wrote the article nearly two years ago with some updates since. However, the link only began circulating in Salmo recently.

Rhodes, who says he has 50 years of practical experience in “distributed energy control and mechanical equipment monitoring systems” first brought the Jersey Emerald to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s attention in 2010 when it began looking for a site for long-term management of nuclear fuel.

An initial list of 21 potential sites in Ontario and Saskatchewan has since been narrowed to 14. However, Rhodes believes they are all unsuitable.

Michael Krizanc with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization said the search for a site was community-driven.

“While the expressions of interest phase was open, communities had to invite themselves into the process,” he said. “They had to come forward. We did not solicit them. Salmo was not among the communities which expressed interest in learning about the project and the process for identifying an informed and willing host for the project. Without an invitation from the community, we did not investigate the area.”

He said the Jersey Emerald site would likely have been ruled out based on a number of criteria, including the potential for the mine to someday reopen. Old mines are generally not considered good candidates for such a repository because of fissures in the rock caused by blasting, he added.

Meanwhile, Ontario Power Generation is looking at storing “low and intermediate” level waste such as mop heads, gloves, filters, and reactor components at an underground repository in Kincardine, Ont. But Rhodes suggests the Jersey Emerald and surrounding property could be purchased for “a small fraction” of the cost.

Regional director Hans Cunningham, in whose area the mine falls, only learned of the article this week, and said his initial reaction was amusement.

“I was in Winnipeg when Atomic Energy of Canada took us up their disposal site, which is about a mile underground. They said the water there hadn’t seen daylight in 300,000 years.

“Compare that to the [Jersey Emerald] which is not a mile down. You’ve got an area in an earthquake zone, that has running water in it. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s a wonderful rumor, but it’s really worth laughing at.”

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s short-list of sites has been narrowed to four.)

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