Canada's plan

The NWMO submits recommendations for an integrated strategy for the long-term management of Canada's radioactive waste

A graphic of people interacting.

July 10, 2023

Toronto, Ont.

A graphic of people interacting.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has submitted recommendations for an Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources for consideration. The strategy responds to the Minister’s tasking of the NWMO with this work in 2020.

The integrated strategy is the first of its kind for Canada and is informed by more than two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples and waste generators and owners, as well as detailed studies of both technical considerations and international best practices.

“We want to thank all those who contributed to the development of this strategy over the past two years. The strategy and recommendations put forward to the Minister of Natural Resources reflect what we heard is most important to Canadians and Indigenous peoples when considering how Canada’s radioactive waste is managed safely, responsibly and effectively in years to come.” — Sara Dolatshahi, Director, Strategic Projects, NWMO

While the majority of Canada’s radioactive waste has long-term disposal plans, there are gaps  particularly with regard to some low-, intermediate- and non-fuel high-level wastes. It is important to note that all of this waste is currently safely stored at licensed interim facilities.

The strategy recommends approaches to address the gaps identified in waste disposal planning for all of Canada’s radioactive waste from electricity generation and the production of medical isotopes. It does not duplicate or replace the many long-term disposal plans already in place and progressing. A draft strategy was released for public comment in the fall of 2022. Since then, refinements have been made in consideration of public feedback and to strengthen alignment with Canada’s Policy for Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning, which was published by Natural Resources Canada on March 31, 2023.

The strategy makes two key recommendations to address gaps in long-term waste disposal plans:
  • Intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste: It is recommended that intermediate-level waste and the very small amount of high-level waste that is not used nuclear fuel (for example, waste generated in the production of radioactive isotopes for medical applications) be disposed of in a deep geological repository with implementation by the NWMO. This recommendation would include a consent-based siting process.
  • Low-level waste: It is recommended that low-level waste be disposed of in multiple near-surface disposal facilities managed by waste generators and waste owners.
The strategy includes four principles to support the effective implementation of these recommendations, developed based on the priorities shared by Canadians and Indigenous peoples through the engagement process:
  • The consent of the local communities and Indigenous peoples in whose territory future facilities will be planned must be obtained through the siting process.
  • The design of facilities should prioritize the protection of water.
  • Long-term caretaking should be established for disposal facilities.
  • We need to take action now and not defer to future generations.
About these waste 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.
“The NWMO’s work is guided by science, international best practices, and what is most important to Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Our values of safety, integrity, excellence, collaboration, accountability and transparency were central to the design and implementation of the engagement process that supported the development of the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. We look forward to hearing back from government and supporting the next steps in the implementation of this strategy.”  — Laurie Swami, CEO, NWMO


About the NWMO

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization tasked with the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository, in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

Founded in 2002, the NWMO has been guided for more than 20 years by a dedicated team of world-class scientists, engineers and Indigenous Knowledge Holders that are developing innovative and collaborative solutions for nuclear waste management. Canada’s 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. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2024, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.

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