Protecting water together

The entire purpose of Canada's plan — the reason we are investing time, effort and money to implement it — is to protect people and the environment, including water.


The two potential repository sites being considered as part of Canada’s plan would move used nuclear fuel further away from large bodies of water, including the Great Lakes, than where much of it is currently stored today. The repository design uses a series of barriers that work together to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel from people and the environment, including water. The repository would be at a depth that is also disconnected from watersheds (in other words, from the water we see and use) and has been for millions or billions of years.

By drawing from two knowledge systems—western science and Indigenous Knowledge—we are constantly learning about how water sustains us, the significant cultural importance of water to Indigenous peoples and the personal connections we all have with water.

Western science

There is strong scientific consensus that deep geological repositories are the best method to protect the environment—including water—and people for generations to come.

The two potential sites being considered for a deep geological repository are both further away from large bodies of water than many current storage locations for used nuclear fuel in Canada. 

At the depth of the proposed deep geological repository, there is very little water. The repository will contain and isolate used nuclear fuel from water and the surrounding environment using multiple barriers.

One barrier is the rock itself. The rock at the repository depth—about as deep or deeper than the CN Tower is tall—is isolated from watersheds. The deep groundwater at that depth has essentially been disconnected from the water we see and use for millions or even billions of years. 

Bentonite clay is another barrier. Bentonite is proven to be a powerful barrier to water flow. It swells when exposed to water, making it an excellent sealing material. Bentonite is also very stable, as seen in natural formations formed millions to hundreds of millions of years ago.

We also plan to use a thin copper coating on the used nuclear fuel containers, which are made of steel and have the mechanical strength to withstand pressures of more than 500 metres of overlying rock and three-kilometre-thick glaciers during a future ice age. Copper is a natural material that is known to be durable under deep rock conditions and resistant to corrosion. The NWMO has published findings that show that the copper coating on our used fuel containers is robust and thick enough to withstand any corrosive effects for over 1,000,000 years.  Naturally pure copper ore has been mined from around the Great Lakes region. Indigenous communities have explored the copper deposits in the same area for thousands of years, building substantial local traditional knowledge.

Indigenous Knowledge

Elders and Indigenous Knowledge Holders have told us that access to and preservation of water is particularly top-of-mind for Indigenous peoples, who have travelled over and been sustained by these waters since time immemorial. This knowledge brings a deeper understanding to the NWMO’s process for selecting a site for the safe, long-term manage of Canada’s used nuclear fuel.

Indigenous peoples see water as Mother Earth’s lifeline, so it is important that our work protects Mother Earth and water. In Indigenous peoples’ worldview, everything Mother Earth created has spirit and is viewed as alive, including water. The NWMO understands and respects this important belief, and we are committed to protecting water and the communities that surround it.
We are working with communities, including Indigenous Knowledge Holders, to ensure our work is guided by the responsibility to protect people and the environment, including water, for future generations.

Protecting water together

Understanding water and its role in Canada's plan 

We all have a personal connection to water. The NWMO employs and partners with passionate people dedicated to protecting water across all areas of work and life. Together, we are listening to and learning from water so that we can always respect, protect and nurture it.

Our commitment to water protection

The NWMO understands the importance of water and the need to protect it for generations to come. It is at the core of what we do and a shared commitment with Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

As part of that shared commitment, we invest in and support a range of projects to advance our understanding of water, contribute to the conservation of aquatic species and local habitats, provide financial support to people to improve their water wells, and participate in water conservation and shoreline preservation efforts

We are Water Stewards

Through collaboration with Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Holders, scientists, industry professionals, conservation authorities, youth and others, we continue to learn about water. We share our knowledge with one another and with others around the world.
A photo of Bob Hanner

Meet the NWMO Water Stewards

Dr. Bob Hanner

The NWMO and the University of Guelph have partnered on a joint environmental DNA (eDNA) research program to further understand biodiversity conditions around potential repository sites in the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area.

Meet Dr. Bob Hanner, the NWMO Water Steward and Professor of Integrative Biology at the U of Guelph

NWMO Water Stewards: Dr. Bob Hanner’s Environmental DNA Research

The NWMO and the University of Guelph have partnered on a joint environmental DNA (eDNA) research program to further understand biodiversity conditions around potential repository sites in the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area.

As part of this program, the University of Guelph’s Hanner Lab, alongside the NWMO’s environmental scientists, will be collecting and analyzing water samples to learn about aquatic species from surrounding areas. eDNA is a non-invasive technology to detect what species are present by looking at DNA that is naturally shed by animals.

“This is an exciting research partnership because it will benefit the broader scientific community,” says Dr. Robert Hanner, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph. “The data we collect will be shared with global databases so that future projects can benefit from our learnings.”

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NWMO Water Stewards

Meet NWMO Water Steward and Site Director, Joanne Jacyk

NWMO Water Stewards: Joanne Jacyk's Environmental Baseline Monitoring

Joanne Jacyk sees water as being all about connections—both personally and professionally. Whether she is kayaking with her family or simply hearing the river rush around her, it is when she feels most centered and balanced. 

And at work, as Manager of Environment Program at the NWMO, she is dedicated to understanding how our water systems are connected. To her, continuing to learn how water flows through our environment is the first step towards protecting it.

Watch Ms. Jacyk’s story to learn more about how she and her team are working on environmental monitoring programs to collect data that will help protect the watersheds.

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Indigenous Knowledge
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Canada's plan

Transporting used nuclear fuel