Canada’s NWMO publishes plan to progress geological repository

29 March 2021

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organisation’s (NWMO) has published a new five-year strategic plan, “Implementing Adaptive Phased Management 2021 to 2025” (APM) setting the stage for moving beyond planning and site selection for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel. “The next five years will see the NWMO move from an organisation that is planning to build a repository to one that is implementing that plan, as we anticipate selecting a single, preferred site for Canada’s plan in 2023.” NWMO invites Canadians and Indigenous peoples to fill out an online survey to “help shape our plans as they continue to progress”. Survey responses will be accepted until 11 June.

Following site selection, a new series of activities will include: implementing partnership agreements with host communities; finalizing the safety case for the identified site; preparing to construct a Centre of Expertise; preparing for and participating in regulatory processes; and getting ready to move our operations to the site that is selected. The implementation plan is published alongside the NWMO’s 2020 annual report – Guided by science. Grounded in knowledge. Committed to partnership.

The 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”. NWMO plans to select a site in 2023, and two areas remain in the site selection process: the Ignace area and South Bruce, both in Ontario.

NWMO said the 52-page APM “is both a technical method (what we plan to build) and management system (how we will work with people to get it done)”. The technical method involves developing a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. The management system involves phased and adaptive decision-making, supported by public engagement and continuous learning.

A safe and secure transportation system will be developed to transport used nuclear fuel from facilities where it is currently stored on an interim basis to the repository site. APM also includes plans for a Centre of Expertise, which will be established at or near the site. Initially it will support multi-year testing and assessment of the site, with a focus on safety and community well-being. “Eventually it will become a hub for knowledge-sharing across Canada and internationally”, NWMO noted.

In November 2020, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada also asked the NWMO to lead discussions about an integrated strategy for the safe, long-term management of all Canada’s radioactive waste. “We have been selected in part to leverage our almost 20 years of recognised expertise in the engagement of Canadians and Indigenous peoples on plans for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel,” NWMO said. “This work will run in parallel with the APM project, but will be separate from it. We will make informed and practical recommendations to the Canadian government on an Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste.”

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