NWMO Scientist Explores Underground Microbes and SNOLAB
NWMO geoscientist Jennifer McKelvie (third from right) visited SNOLAB in December 2017.
Pioneering scientists from organizations around the world, including the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), met recently in Ontario to explore the 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), with additional sponsorship from the NWMO and University of Toronto. Following the workshop, the group visited SNOLAB, an advanced science laboratory located two kilometres below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine near Sudbury, Ont.
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.
“By participating in this research workshop, we can ensure our work is consistent with 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 the world’s best minds to come together and talk about microbes in the subsurface, and go underground.”
The workshop was developed under the leadership of Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a University of Toronto professor in earth sciences, who receives research funding from the NWMO. She has been instrumental in discovering the age of isolated groundwater found in the Canadian Shield, and revealing new information about the microorganisms it may sustain.
The research methods being developed for 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 to developing missions to Mars, Europa, Enceladus and the other planets and moons in our solar system, Dr. McKelvie said.
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.