Canadian integrated radioactive waste management strategy accepted

06 October 2023

The strategy for radioactive waste other than used nuclear fuel will see Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) take responsibility for the disposal of intermediate-level waste and non-fuel high-level waste in a deep geological repository. Low-level waste will be disposed of in near-surface disposal facilities.

The implementing principles of the integrated strategy (Image: NWMO)

The Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste was submitted for ministerial consideration in June by Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO). Informed by more than two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples, waste generators and owners, as well as detailed studies of technical considerations and international best practices, the strategy's two key recommendations address gaps in long-term waste disposal plans, NWMO said.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson signalled the government's acceptance of the strategy in a public statement released on 5 October. "As Canada advances toward a low-carbon future, nuclear energy will continue to be an important contributor of reliable, non-emitting power for millions of Canadians. Canada is a global leader in the nuclear sector, including in the safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste," he said. "The release of the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste is an important step in the continued responsible management of Canada's nuclear sector."

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

NWMO is already working to implement a deep geological repository for the long-term disposal of Canada's used nuclear fuel, for which a consent-based siting process began in 2010. Two areas - both in Ontario - remain in the site selection process, with a final preferred site expected to be announced in 2024. The Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste is separate from this effort, but NWMO has said it will benefit "greatly" from the organisation's expertise and past lessons learned.

NWMO President and CEO Laurie Swami said the organisation will now develop a consent-based siting process for a repository for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste. "Canada's leadership in nuclear energy technology creates a responsibility for the long-term management of the waste generated. 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," she said.

Waste generators and waste owners will be responsible for managing the disposal of low-level wastes in multiple near-surface disposal facilities, with oversight provided by federal government. Such waste - which mostly comes from power plants and medical, academic, industrial and other commercial uses of radioactive materials - requires containment and isolation for up to a few hundred years.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News