The Government of Canada, through the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (2002), assigned responsibility for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel to the NWMO. The NWMO is committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable regulatory standards and requirements for protecting the health, safety, and security of people and the environment.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect the health, safety, and security of Canadians and the environment. It also implements Canada's international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and disseminates objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.

Regulatory Framework for a Deep Geological Repository

Implementation of a deep geological repository falls within federal jurisdiction and is regulated under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA) and its associated regulations.

Under section 26 of the NSCA, activities associated with a nuclear facility can occur only in accordance with a licence issued by the CNSC. The repository implemented by the NWMO will be subject to the CNSC’s comprehensive licensing system, which covers the entire life cycle of the repository, from site preparation, to construction, operation, decommissioning (closure and post-closure), and abandonment (release from CNSC licensing). This stepwise approach requires a licence for each phase of the repository life cycle.

The process for obtaining a "site preparation" licence is initiated by the NWMO. The NWMO will submit an application for a Licence to Prepare Site (and possibly construct) to the CNSC. A licensing decision can be made only after the successful completion of an environmental assessment, following the process established by the Impact Assessment Act (which replaces the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012).

Regulatory Framework for Transportation

The transportation of used nuclear fuel is jointly regulated by the CNSC and Transport Canada and is subject to comprehensive regulatory oversight.

Additional Federal, Provincial and Municipal Oversight

Although the CNSC is the main licensing authority, it administers its licensing system in co-operation with other federal and provincial government departments and agencies in areas such as health, environment, transport and labour.

Relevant aspects of the NWMO's work will also comply with applicable provincial regulatory requirements. For example, some aspects of siting or construction of the project and the transportation of used nuclear fuel may be governed by provincial legislation:

  • Most provinces and territories include nuclear substances in legislation and regulations addressing the transportation of dangerous goods within that province or territory.
  • Provincial governments are responsible for protecting public health and safety, property and the environment within their borders, which often includes provincial emergency preparedness legislation.
  • Provincial governments are responsible for the regulation of resource exploration and/or extraction (e.g., drilling and underground mining) and Crown land management (e.g., disposition of provincial lands).
  • Provincial legislation requiring the assessment of potential environmental effects of an activity, plan, or program may apply to some aspects of this work. Legislation governing endangered species, environmental protection, heritage protection or preservation, water resources protection, occupational health and safety, employment standards, or labour relations may be relevant.
  • Various permits, licences and approvals will be required, and provincial policies and guidelines may be applicable at the site selection stage.
  • Municipalities, which derive their authority from provincial legislation, may have requirements such as permits, codes, standards and/or bylaws that also need to be addressed.