Canada endorses recommendations for radwaste management

10 October 2023

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Energy & Natural Resources Canada, has endorsed recommendations put forward by the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) in its Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste (ISRW). The strategy makes two key recommendations to address gaps in long-term waste disposal plans:

  • The disposal of low-level waste in multiple near-surface disposal facilities, with waste generators and waste owners managing implementation; and
  • The disposal of intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste in a deep geological repository, to be implemented by NWMO.

In March, following two years of extensive engagement with interested Canadians and Indigenous Peoples, Natural Resources Canada released its modernised Policy for Radioactive Waste & Decommissioning (the Policy) for Canada. This ensures that the safe management of radioactive waste continues to align with international standards and best practices. To complement the Policy review, Natural Resources Canada asked NWMO to develop an integrated strategy for Canada’s radioactive waste through close collaboration among waste owners and producers, Indigenous Peoples and other interested Canadians.

In June, NWMO submitted its 87-page ISRW for ministerial review and consideration. It outlines an integrated, national plan for the long-term management of all of Canada’s radioactive waste, specifically in subsectors where disposal planning can be integrated into existing plans, such as with low-level radioactive waste.

NWMO will now begin developing a plan for a consent-based siting process for a repository for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste. This is separate from the organisation’s ongoing efforts to implement a deep geological repository for the long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel. NWMO is already working to implement a deep geological repository for which a consent-based siting process began in 2010. Two areas in Ontario remain in the site selection process, with a final preferred site expected to be announced in 2024.

Energy Minister Wilkinson said release of the ISRW “is an important step in the continued responsible management of Canada’s nuclear sector”. NWMO President & CEO Laurie Swami noted: “We have heard clearly that Canadians and Indigenous peoples want action for its long-term management taken now, rather than leaving it to future generations. The NWMO is proud to leverage our expertise to help solve this important challenge for Canada. We look forward to playing a role in implementing this strategy and taking the next step of developing a consent-based siting process for a repository for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste.”

NWMO said the ISRW “is informed by the Policy, what we heard from our engagement with Canadians and Indigenous participants, and the expert input received from the various studies commissioned during this process”. As well as the two fundamental recommendations, it and sets out four implementation principles:

  • The consent of the local communities and Indigenous peoples in whose territory future facilities will be planned must be obtained through the siting process;
  • The design of facilities should prioritise the protection of water;
  • Long-term caretaking should be established for disposal facilities;
  • We need to take action now and not defer to future generations.

NWMO noted that most of Canada's radioactive waste is already managed through "world-class" long-term disposal plans. The ISRW will ensure that planning is done to support the responsible management of all other radioactive waste, particularly low-, intermediate- and non-fuel high-level wastes.

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