Canada’s plan will contain and isolate all the country’s used nuclear fuel — including that created by new and emerging technologies — in a deep geological repository, using a multiple-barrier system. The plan emerged through a three-year dialogue with the public and continues to reflect the values and priorities Canadians and Indigenous peoples have identified as important.
Today, Canada is in the unique position of both being a leader in our field and being able to lean on international best practices. We are not the first to implement a repository project, but we are among those at the front of the pack.
The technical method involves building a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. The management approach involves phased and adaptive decision-making, supported by public engagement and continuous learning.
A fundamental tenet of Canada’s plan is the incorporation of new knowledge. We will adapt plans in response to advances in technical learning, international best practices, ongoing input from the public, insight from Indigenous Knowledge, changes in public policy and evolving societal expectations and values.
How Canada's plan was developed
Through the Government of Canada’s 2002 Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, the NWMO was federally mandated to design and implement Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of the country’s used nuclear fuel.
The plan emerged through a three-year study and dialogue with Canadians, Indigenous peoples and technical experts.
From this dialogue, much common ground emerged:
- First, Canadians said that they expected the country to assume responsibility now, in this generation, for the waste produced to meet their energy needs. It was simply not acceptable to leave the burden of providing for and funding the management of used fuel to future generations.
- Second, Canadians did not want an approach that was irreversible. They wanted a flexible approach that would allow succeeding generations to make improvements based on new knowledge or changing priorities.
- Third, while the chosen approach must obviously meet a number of objectives, Canadians were absolutely clear that safety and security be pre-eminent.
Canada’s plan also leans on international scientific best practices. Almost all countries with commercial nuclear power production are planning to isolate the waste byproduct of their nuclear fuel cycle in a deep geological repository.
The federal government selected Adaptive Phased Management (APM) as Canada’s plan in June 2007. The NWMO is responsible for implementing this national environmental infrastructure project, subject to the necessary regulatory decision-making process.
Canada's deep geological repository
Built to a depth of over 500 metres (1,640 feet) depending on the geology, Canada’s deep geological repository will be roughly as deep as the CN Tower is tall. Its design will rely upon a multiple-barrier system — a series of engineered and natural barriers that work together to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. This approach is safe, low-risk, technically sound and consistent with best practices from around the world.
Transporting used nuclear fuel
Centre of Expertise
Implementing Canada's plan
The implementation of Canada’s plan will span a 175-year period. We initiated the site selection process for the deep geological repository in May 2010. The NWMO plans to select the site for the repository in 2024.
Then, we will enter the regulatory decision-making process, followed by an estimated 10-year period to construct the facility. We expect the deep geological repository will be operational in the early 2040s. After that, the repository will be monitored for an extended period of time before decommissioning, closure and post-closure monitoring.