Underground nuclear safety lab shut down

Excerpts from two newspaper articles about the closure of the Whiteshell nuclear safety lab in Manitoba.

Whiteshell closure announced

Full article Closing of $40-M lab shocks Pinawa area.

May. 19, 2003
PINAWA, Man.—The imminent closing of a $40-million underground research laboratory has shocked residents of this community east of Winnipeg.

“This came right came out of the blue,” Pinawa Mayor Len Simpson said Saturday. “We thought AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.) would make a serious attempt to keep this thing.”

AECL, a federal crown corporation, has announced it will close the underground lab at its Whiteshell complex at the end of June unless a last-minute buyer or tenant comes forward.

Layoff notices have been issued to 25 employees.

AECL would not say if there will be additional layoffs, but more are rumoured. About 45 people work in the lab.

The lab was used to study the structure and properties of granite rock found deep in the ground, and how groundwater might flow through it, to determine whether it could be safely used to store nuclear waste

Problems with Whiteshell cleanup

Full article: Province pushes for $500-M cleanup

October 4, 2004
THE province is demanding Ottawa speed the cleanup of radioactive waste left behind at the Whiteshell Laboratories in Pinawa, in what would be the largest nuclear cleanup in Canada.

AECL is moving as fast as it can, given there is no permanent disposal site anywhere in Canada to put the Whiteshell material, Kupferschmidt responded.

AECL shut its Whiteshell facilities, including an underground research lab, a year ago in June.

The Whiteshell operation opened in 1962 as one of two nuclear research labs in Canada and the only one in Western Canada. The other research lab, at Chalk River, Ont., remains open and contamination on that site is well documented.

The Whiteshell’s underground lab was built to explore safe disposal methods for nuclear waste, which ultimately failed. The lab oversaw the sinking of deep shafts into granite bedrock — the deepest was 420 metres, about the height of the CN Tower. All the holes flooded naturally with ground water and were unusable.

Critics say 28 metric tonnes of high-level radioactive waste is sealed away in concrete canisters that resemble miniature silos. Other low-level waste is buried in holes in the ground, a method dating back decades.

“This is the most toxic stuff in the world. If anything goes wrong, we’ve got the Winnipeg River and it runs into Lake Winnipeg. Try putting radioactive waste in that river and see what happens,” said Dave Taylor, an environmentalist with the Concerned Citizens of Manitoba group.

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