The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, the not-for-profit organization responsible for managing Canada’s spent nuclear fuel, said it will begin developing a plan for a consent-based siting process for a deep geologic repository for intermediate-level and nonfuel high-level radioactive waste.
The announcement, made October 4, follows the endorsement by Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s minister of energy and natural resources, of the NWMO’s waste strategy recommendations, which are contained in the report. Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. The report was submitted to Wilkinson for consideration on June 30, 2023.
According to the NWMO, while separate from its ongoing efforts to site a permanent repository for Canada’s spent fuel, the new siting process for a ILW and nonfuel HLW repository will benefit greatly from the organization’s expertise and past lessons learned.
The strategy: The organization’s integrated strategy for radioactive waste is the first of its kind for Canada and is informed by more than two years of engagement with Canadians, indigenous peoples, waste generators, and waste owners, as well as detailed studies of technical considerations and international best practices.
The strategy makes two key recommendations to address gaps in Canada’s long-term waste disposal plans:
The disposal of low-level radioactive waste in multiple near-surface disposal facilities, with waste generators and waste owners managing implementation.
The disposal of ILW and nonfuel HLW in a deep geological repository, to be implemented by the NWMO.
Based on feedback gained from NWMO engagement with Canadians and indigenous peoples, the strategy includes four principles to support the effective implementation of its recommendations.
The principles include obtaining, through the siting process, the consent of the local communities and indigenous peoples in whose territory future facilities will be planned; prioritizing the protection of water in the design of facilities; establishing long-term caretaking for disposal facilities; and the need to act now and not defer to future generations.
They said it: “I commend waste owners for their leadership and support of the recommendations in this strategy,” said Wilkinson in a statement.
Noting that, under Canada’s Policy for Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning, waste generators and owners are responsible for the management and disposal of radioactive waste, Wilkinson added, “As waste generators and owners develop plans for the disposal of radioactive waste, they must both implement and maintain the strategy as well as fulfill the responsibilities described in the policy—with oversight from the federal government.”
Laurie Swami, NWMO president and chief executive officer, said, “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 nonfuel high-level waste.”
The inventory: According to the NWMO report, Canada currently has less than 10 cubic meters of nonfuel HLW—mainly disused cobalt-60 sealed sources—and 51,000 cubic meters of ILW., There is no long-term disposal plan. Canada also has 294,000 cubic meters of LLW, 14 percent of the country’s total inventory of radioactive waste, also with no path to disposal.
Correction: an earlier version of the article incorrectly listed the amount of ILW at 51 cubic meters instead of 51,000 cubic meters as listed in table 6 of the NWMO report cited in the article.