When the NWMO received its mandate in 2002, Canada was one of many countries facing an important national challenge: how to safely manage used nuclear fuel over the long term.

During a three-year study, the public identified a number of key objectives that it considered essential to the project. These included public health and safety, protection of workers, and protection of the environment.

As the site selection process advances, health and safety continues to be the topic that generates the most discussion. People want to be confident that our transportation, construction and operational procedures will ensure public and worker safety, and protect the environment
Safety factors

Our confidence that the proposed sites could safely host the repository is built on our understanding of several key factors, supported by international scientific consensus and best practices for managing used nuclear fuel.

Confidence in Safety

In 2022 we published Confidence in Safety reports for each of the two potential sites being considered to host a deep geological repository to store Canada’s used nuclear fuel.

The reports are based on years of research and fieldwork. They summarize the NWMO’s understanding of each siting area, including geological characteristics that indicate the sites can meet the project’s requirements to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel to protect people and the environment. 

After a site is selected, additional studies will be undertaken to further inform the repository design and long-term safety case.

Safety Throughout the Nuclear Cycle

When used nuclear fuel is removed from a reactor, it is highly radioactive. Although radioactivity decreases with time, used fuel remains a potential health risk for many hundreds of thousands of years. This hazard needs to be safely managed.

Canada has a robust framework for regulatory oversight that governs the handling of used nuclear fuel. It is managed and shielded at all times to ensure that no one is exposed to an unshielded bundle. In Canada, used nuclear fuel has been safely managed for several decades at various nuclear facilities.

Canada's plan calls for used nuclear fuel to be transported from current storage facilities to a new centralized site. In transit, a robust transport package will contain and shield the used fuel. It will then be safely contained and isolated in a deep geological repository with multiple natural and engineered barriers.

Safety and the NWMO's Technical Program

The NWMO’s technical program supports the safe implementation of the project. Core activities include the optimization of repository designs and the development of a safe and secure transportation system. The program works with experts and organizations in Canada and internationally to ensure it benefits from the latest knowledge and innovation in the safe long-term care of used nuclear fuel.

Benefiting From Indigenous Knowledge

First Nation and Métis peoples have a special relationship with the natural environment and unique stewardship responsibilities that are part of this relationship. The NWMO intends to work with First Nation and Métis communities in potential siting areas to apply Indigenous Knowledge to both technical safety and community well-being aspects of the site selection process.