In November 2002, Parliament passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA). It required the major owners of used nuclear fuel in Canada to establish the NWMO. The initial phase of our mandate was to study approaches for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel, and to recommend a preferred approach to the Government of Canada.

The study would assess management approaches from a variety of perspectives – ethical, social, economic, and technical. We were to seek expert advice, as well as guidance from an Advisory Council. We were also asked to consult the general public, and in particular Aboriginal peoples, on each approach we examined.

While we were free to assess many approaches, at a minimum, the NFWA obliged us to consider approaches based on the following technical methods:

  • Deep geological disposal in the Canadian Shield
  • Storage at nuclear reactor sites
  • Centralized storage, either above or below ground

The Study: Assessing Possible Approaches

In late 2002, we began a three-year study designed to assess possible approaches for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. We engaged specialists, members of the public, and interested individuals and organizations. Documentation covering the full set of activities has been published, including planning documents, background papers, dialogue reports, discussion documents, and a submissions library.

Some contributors were specialists who helped us grasp and extend the vast amount of research available internationally. Others identified themselves as having ongoing interest or expertise in the area. However, the vast majority were everyday Canadians. They came to information and discussion sessions in every province and territory, visited open houses, and engaged with us electronically. Aboriginal peoples applied Traditional Knowledge, and invested considerable energy in developing processes of information sharing and engagement.

From this dialogue, much common ground emerged:

  • First, Canadians said that they expected 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 other 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.

The Preferred Approach: Adaptive Phased Management

In November 2005, we submitted our final report to the Minister of Natural Resources, including our preferred approach. In June 2007, the Government of Canada selected this approach, known as Adaptive Phased Management (APM), as Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel.

The recommendation of APM is technically sound, consistent with best international practices, and provides for a high level of safety over the long term. It is responsive to expectations that action be taken now, while providing the flexibility to incorporate new technology and adapt to changing circumstances in the future.

The Final Study Report

In May 2005, the NWMO issued a Draft Study Report for public review and comment. Over the next six months, a number of changes were made. In November 2005, we submitted our final report, entitled Choosing a Way Forward, to the Minister of Natural Resources. A summary of this report was also created and translated into nine Aboriginal languages.