The recently released 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 owners, as well as detailed studies of technical considerations and international best practices.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources asked the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to lead the development of the strategy, drawing upon the organization’s more than 20 years of experience and expertise gained from developing and implementing Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel.

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson, has endorsed the recommendations put forward by the NWMO in the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. The strategy was submitted to the Minister for consideration on June 30, 2023.

“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,” said Wilkinson. “Canada is a global leader in the nuclear sector, including in the safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste. The release of the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste is an important step in the continued responsible management of Canada’s nuclear sector.”

The strategy makes two key recommendations to address gaps in long-term waste disposal plans:

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

As a next step, the NWMO will begin developing a plan for a consent-based siting process for a repository for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste. While separate from the organization’s ongoing efforts to implement a deep geological repository for the long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel, this new work will benefit greatly from the NWMO’s expertise and past lessons learned.

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Various nuclear wastes types:

  • Low-level waste – mostly comes from power plants and medical, academic, industrial and other commercial uses of radioactive materials (e.g., mop heads, rags and paper towels, etc.). These items have no heat and contain radioactive levels that require containment and isolation for up to a few hundred years.
  • Intermediate-level waste – includes used components such as filters, resins, pumps, etc. from power plants, research reactors and medical isotope manufacturers. This waste produces minimal heat but requires a higher level of containment and isolation for longer time periods than is needed for low-level waste.
  • High-level waste – includes mostly used nuclear fuel, but there is a very small amount of non-fuel high-level waste that comes from other activities such as medical isotope production. This waste generates a significant amount of heat and radioactivity and requires containment and isolation for hundreds of thousands of years in a deep geological repository.

“Canada’s leadership in nuclear energy technology creates a responsibility for the long-term management of the waste generated,” said Laurie Swami, president and CEO of NWMO.

“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.”

Featured image credit: Ontario Power Generation.

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