Members of the Township of Ignace and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to continue working alongside one another. The potential $23 billion project has been in development for over 10 years now.

Ignace / Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation and South Bruce remain the two potential host communities for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s deep-geological nuclear waste storage facility, if the two communities are willing to host the facility over the next 150 years.

It would store Canada’s used nuclear fuel roughly 500 metres underground with a wide variety of safety protocols in place. If approved and completed, the facility would be one of the first of its kind around the world.

The group says a final decision on the two communities is expected in 2023, but they’ll be taking a more site-focused approach in 2021 with extensive studies in the Ignace area to establish employment and workforce, housing, economic and health conditions for future staff.

“Signing this memorandum of understanding with Ignace is an important step forward as we move towards selecting a site in 2023. Collaborating with communities is a critical component of Canada’s plan and to our success,” said Laurie Swami, President and CEO of NWMO.

“There is plenty of work yet to do, but this agreement shows that we have accomplished a great deal in our engagement with Mayor Penny Lucas and the Township Council and helps us solidify next steps.”

A prepared release from the NWMO states the MOU focuses on creating a collaborative plan that would lead to a potential hosting agreement, should Ignace and Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation agree the project is a good fit for the two communities.

Work started with 22 communities before being whittled down to five communities by 2018 when Ignace’s first borehole was drilled. Borehole drilling between Ignace and Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation area resumed earlier this year, after stopping due to COVID-19 concerns last spring.

“The MOU is a huge step in moving both parties towards the drafting of a potential hosting agreement should Ignace and Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation become the willing host communities selected to host the deep geological repository,” says Ignace Mayor Penny Lucas.

“It has been quite a journey to get to this stage. And while we still have much work to do, I am looking forward to positive future engagements with President Laurie Swami and the entire NWMO team.”

The NWMO’s timeline states the repository will be built by 2033 with operations beginning in 2043 after preparation work began back in 2010. Depending on the amount of used fuel placed in the underground repository, the NWMO says operations could last for over 40 years.

“We are appreciative of the time and continued commitment Ignace has put into the site selection process over the last ten years. This is a complex project that will bring with it many community benefits and it’s exciting to see we are advancing together,” added Swami.

The project will also include a scientific Centre of Expertise near the repository, where scientists and geologists would be able to showcase the work going on within the repository. It would also act as a scientific hub for the region, allowing and showcasing local, national and international research. It would be built by 2024.