Canada's plan

Contributing to underground scientific exploration

This image shows scientists dressed in safety gear for going underground.

The NWMO’s Dr. Jennifer McKelvie, middle, participated in a two-day workshop on subsurface science and a visit to SNOLAB two kilometres underground

December 11, 2017

Toronto, Ont.

By the NWMO

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This image shows scientists dressed in safety gear for going underground.

The NWMO’s Dr. Jennifer McKelvie, middle, participated in a two-day workshop on subsurface science and a visit to SNOLAB two kilometres underground

Much is known about life on land and in our oceans. But what of dry, more hostile environments, such as the dark depths beneath the earth’s surface, and on Mars?

Pioneering scientists from around the world, including the NWMO, met recently in Ontario to explore the brave new world of underground microbes. They first attended a two-day workshop on subsurface science and exploration hosted by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and then visited SNOLAB, a science laboratory located two kilometres below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine near Sudbury.

The NWMO is involved in this research because of the need to understand the chemical, physical and biological interactions that could occur in a deep geological repository.

“We want to push the state of science in this area,” said Dr. Jennifer McKelvie, a geoscientist at the NWMO, who attended both the workshop and the tour of SNOLAB. “This was a great opportunity for some of the smartest people in the world to talk about microbes in the subsurface, and go underground.”

One of the participants in the workshop was Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a University of Toronto professor in earth sciences, who receives funding from the NWMO. She has been instrumental in discovering the age of minute amounts of water found in the Canadian shield, and revealing new information about the micro-organisms it sustains.

This research on low organic, low water, low biomass environments is not only relevant in designing a deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel, it may also be applicable on Mars, says Dr. McKelvie.

About the NWMO

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization tasked with the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository, in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

Founded in 2002, the NWMO has been guided for more than 20 years by a dedicated team of world-class scientists, engineers and Indigenous Knowledge Holders that are developing innovative and collaborative solutions for nuclear waste management. Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2024, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.
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the NWMO

The NWMO is a not-for profit organization established in 2002 by Canada's nuclear electricity producers in accordance with the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA).

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