WR-1 decommissioning draft EIS complete, says regulator

20 January 2023

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories' (CNL's) draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed in-situ decommissioning of the Whiteshell Reactor 1 (WR-1) has now passed the regulator's completeness check and entered the final technical review stage.

The Whiteshell Reactor 1 (Image: CNL)

"This significant milestone was reached this week, after an estimated 35,000 hours of work by the team," CNL said. "The 4500-page package of 23 documents, along with over 650 references, has been in the works since 2017, when it was first submitted.

"Since it was first submitted, the project team has been working on responding to information requests from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), engaging with First Nations and the Manitoba M├ętis Federation, and updating the revised draft EIS to ensure a complete resubmission."

The federal environmental assessment of the proposed decommissioning project, which is required under Canadian environmental law, began in May 2016. The draft EIS was open to public comments from 6 October until 20 December 2017. A revised version was submitted in July 2022.

"Over the course of the Environmental Assessment, CNL has learned the key areas of interest and concern from the public, Indigenous Peoples, and federal and provincial agencies," CNL said. "CNL has addressed comments from stakeholders and Indigenous communities and incorporated this feedback into the revised draft EIS."

The document will now undergo its second technical review by the Federal, Provincial, and Indigenous Review Team (FPIRT). CNL noted that there may be a number of further information requests and comments from the FPIRT that come out of this review as well. This technical review process is expected to take about a year to complete, after which the Final EIS will be submitted. The final decision on the project will be determined by the CNSC following a public hearing process.

The WR-1 research reactor, which reached a maximum of 60 MWt, attained first criticality in 1962 at the Whiteshell Laboratories site in Pinawa, Manitoba. The unique reactor had vertical fuel channels, and was moderated by heavy water but cooled by an organic liquid. It was used until 1972 as a test reactor for a proposed organic-cooled Candu power reactor, and subsequently for irradiation, experimentation and heating the Whiteshell site until its closure in 1985.

CNL is proposing to decommission WR-1 using an in-situ technique, an approach which it says will provide a safe, secure and effective disposal solution for the existing contaminated building, much of which is below ground level, while minimising risks to the health, safety and security of the public, workers and the environment. It is proposing a technique which will involve pouring a specially engineered grout into the reactor to lock contaminants in place. A protective cover at the surface will channel water away from the site and protect it from the elements.

Decommissioning of the Whiteshell Laboratories has been under way for more than a decade. In 2003, the site received approval of an overall decommissioning framework, through the completion of an environmental assessment and the subsequent issuing of a site decommissioning licence by the CNSC. Since that time, redundant buildings have been demolished, and new enabling facilities for waste handling have been planned and constructed.

CNL plans to complete the decommissioning of the Whiteshell site by 2027.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News