Decommissioning an underground facility at 22 Wing North Bay will be a challenge as unique as the facility itself; one that will require the team to remove a building and its components out through a straw.

The huge three-storey underground base of operations was built for the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and completed in 1963. The facility was built to withstand a nuclear blast—267x greater than the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima—and accommodate 400 people for up to a month. However, in the early 2000s the facility closed.

“Our job now is to figure out how to dismantle the equipment that was built on site and then move the identified items out through the portals.” Christine Brereton, DCC Team Leader, Environmental Services.

The 17,697‑m2, three-storey facility is accessed through three 19‑tonne steel doors, at the end of portals that burrow through three kilometres of granite rock 180 meters below ground. These portals lead to a large cavern that holds everything from the control centre, cafeteria and medical centre to 90,000‑litre tanks for fuel and water reservoirs, and multiple massive generators, all of which were built inside the structure and will require some creative dismantling and extraction work.

The planning for getting all that equipment out is part of the investigation process currently underway. The forecasted $1.2‑million contract will determine decommissioning options and focus on how to handle and dispose of the designated substances and hazardous materials. Recommendations are anticipated by 2024 with decommissioning to start in 2025‑26.

Despite the unknowns, everyone is excited to tackle the challenges of the project. “I was born and raised in North Bay and grew up steps away from this facility,” said Brereton. “It’s been an important part of this area and I’ll be sad to see it go—so we want to do it right.”

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