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NWMO looks for option to purchase land in Huron-Kinloss

By Pauline Kerr

NWMO (Nuclear Waste Management Organization) is looking to Huron-Kinloss landowners for expressions of interest in the next step of the process to select a site for storing the country’s spent nuclear fuel. Huron-Kinloss is one of five municipalities still in the running for the proposed deep geological repository. The only other one in southern Ontario is South Bruce. The remaining three are located north of Lake Superior on the Canadian Shield. Mahrez Ben Belfadhel, NWMO’s vice-president in charge of site selection, addressed Huron-Kinloss council Monday, May 8, to provide an update as NWMO embarks on the next step in the site selection process. Only Huron-Kinloss and South Bruce are involved, since most of the land in the municipalities is privatelyowned, explained Belfadhel. The three northern sites have Crown land that’s available for studies to proceed. What NWMO is looking for is expressions of interest from landowners. They aren’t asking for any commitment from the municipality just yet, only for people to contact NWMO and pick up a landowner’s package. Should the landowner be interested, NWMO will want an agreement that will permit further exploration, to ensure future selection of a safe site. Safety is, of course, the highest priority for the site that’s ultimately selected. However, community engagement is high on the list – the facility must enhance what’s described as “community well-being.” So is the ability to safely transport spent nuclear fuel to the repository. There’s no set time for the field studies to be conducted. Belfadhel said the evaluation process should begin in June. The actual site won’t be selected until 2023. NWMO will also be looking for an option to purchase the land, to be exercised if the community is willing to host the repository and the site is selected. Property owners will be compensated for both access and any lost production due to the exploration process. Belfadhel told council the amount of land required isn’t huge – 600 hectares (1,500 acres, about two kilometres by three kilometres) to allow for the size of the underground repository, with the surface facilities requiring about one square kilometre (100 hectares, or 250 acres). It could belong to one or more property owners, who would have the option of leasing back most of it for decades to come. In other words, the land would continue being used as it presently is, until at least the early 2040s. Once the repository is in operation (expected in 2043), land use would depend on regulatory and safety criteria. While it’s part of the general exploration process that’s been underway for quite some time, this is a key step, said Belfadhel. If an appropriate parcel of land isn’t available for further exploration and eventual purchase, there’s no sense moving forward with the site selection process in the municipality. “Accessing land will allow us to complete important studies in the area,” Belfadhel said. “Working with landowners through the land access process will allow us to ensure we can gather sufficient land for a repository site …” He explained the studies could include environmental monitoring, borehole drilling and other site investigation work. Belfadhel stressed that this in no way indicates NWMO has selected a site. “It’s about working with landowners, municipalities, Indigenous communities and others in the area to determine if we can identify and assemble an appropriate site for a repository that can be considered with the community and be a foundation for a partnership agreement in the future.” While the preference would be to sign option agreements with landowners, NWMO would consider immediate purchase if requested by a landowner, on a case-by-case basis. Belfadhel spoke to council about figures that were “market value and a bit above.” He noted in an interview after the meeting that land to the west of Highway 21 is not being considered, at the request of the municipality. The information package indicated each landowner going through the land access process will receive “$10,000 to cover the costs of professional fees such as appraisal, legal advice or an accountant, plus 10 per cent of the fair market value of the property as an option payment. … If the option is exercised in the future, the NWMO will purchase the land for fair market value, plus a 25 per cent premium.” If the landowner prefers immediate purchase, the numbers will be, of course, somewhat different. Both he and council stressed that “several more years of work are required before a single preferred site can be identified.” Selection of a host community will require a strong statement of approval from that community – NWMO wants a “willing host.” And neither community involved in the present process is anywhere near the point where it’s prepared to do that, or even to be asked to do that. Belfadhel told council one of the first things that will be done once the preferred site is identified is break ground on a Centre for Expertise. The centre and its location will be based on community input. “It will reflect the objectives of the community,” Belfadhel said. Deputy Mayor Don Murray, who chaired the meeting on May 8, said, “This is part of the process. If landowners are interested, they should pick up a package.” He pointed out the process is still in an early, learning stage. “Find out what they (NWMO) have to say,” he advised. In response to a question about the possibility of a future referendum on the matter of becoming a host community, Murray said, “We’re still a ways from deciding.” He noted Huron-Kinloss “has many people who work at the Bruce” and expressed the hope “more people come out to learn about (the repository and site selection process).” There will be another symposium held, likely sometime in August, Murray said, that he hopes will attract an even larger crowd than last year’s.