Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel calls for it to be contained and isolated in a deep geological repository. This approach is consistent with best practice around the world. Almost all countries with commercial nuclear power production are planning to isolate the waste byproduct of their nuclear fuel cycle in a deep geological repository.

China

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is developing transportation and repository technology for used CANDU fuel and high-level waste from the reprocessing of used light water reactor fuel.

China’s siting process began in 1985. Site characterization is underway at a potential site in the Beishan region of Gansu province in northwest China. Site selection is expected in 2020.

Finland

Posiva is responsible for the final disposal of the used nuclear fuel of its two owners: Teollisuuden Voima and Fortum Power & Heat. 

Posiva’s siting process for a deep geological repository began in the 1980s. In 2000, the Olkiluoto island in Eurajoki was selected as the site for final disposal. The construction licence application for the repository was submitted in 2012 and granted in 2015. Construction is in progress. Application for a licence to operate is expected to be submitted in 2020.

France

Andra is responsible for the long-term management of France’s used nuclear fuel. France currently has 59 operational nuclear power plants, with 78 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear power.

Andra’s siting studies began in 2007, just outside the village of Bure in the Champagne-Ardenne region of eastern France. An application for a deep geological repository construction licence was submitted in 2015.

Germany

Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) is responsible for the safety and protection of people and the environment against damages due to ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. This includes radiation from sources such as medical diagnostics, mobile communications, and nuclear technology.

Germany is investigating a site for a deep geological repository, with the project still in its early stages. A new siting law was passed in 2013, and in 2016, a commission was established for discussing the basics of how to manage high-level waste and site selection criteria.

Germany is now proceeding to the second step in its stepwise process, which is to establish actual siting criteria. A new government agency – BGE (Bundesgesellschaft für Endlagerung) – was established as the implementing organization.

India

The Government of India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) conducts research on repository development and siting at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay, Mumbai. Siting activities for a planned repository are focused in the northwest Rajasthan region of India.

Japan

Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) is responsible for ensuring the safe, long-term management of vitrified high-level and long-lived intermediate-level radioactive wastes (the latter is termed TRU waste in Japan) from Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle. The R&D for geological disposal of these wastes are supported by relevant organizations, including the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which is operating off-site underground research laboratories in both crystalline rock and sedimentary rock. 

NUMO has been promoting the siting process since its establishment in 2000. After the great Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi accident, a range of discussions were held to reconstruct the geological disposal program at the government level.
 
The Basic Policy Plan according to the Designated Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Act was amended in May 2015. This included a siting strategy, in which the Government of Japan will play a proactive role by nominating “scientifically favourable areas” to assist in resolving the issue of high-level radioactive and TRU waste disposal. In addition, there is a plan to help regional populations, and the Japanese public as a whole, to understand the geological disposal program. A detailed geological map, including exclusion areas, was released in 2017 for public review and discussion.

Sweden

Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) is tasked with managing Swedish nuclear and radioactive waste in a safe way. SKB is also engaged in a joint research and development program with Posiva (Finland) and other national organizations, including the NWMO. Sweden currently has 10 operational nuclear power plants, with 50 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear power.

SKB’s siting process began in the early 1990s. Feasibility studies were done in eight municipalities. From 2002 to 2008, detailed underground evaluations were done on two potential sites in Östhammar and Oskarshamn. 

SKB selected the Forsmark site in Östhammar in June 2009. It applied for a deep geological repository construction licence application in 2011. Sweden has a two-pronged parallel regulatory process with approvals required from both the nuclear regulator and Environmental Court. The nuclear regulator issued a positive opinion on the application in early 2018, while the federal Environmental Court is expected to release a decision in late 2018.

Switzerland

Nagra is responsible for the safe management of Switzerland’s used nuclear fuel. It also engages in co-operative research with other national nuclear waste management organizations around the globe. Switzerland currently has five operational nuclear power plants, with 40 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear power.

Nagra’s siting process began in 1972. Zürcher Weinland was originally identified as a potential siting region. However, in 2005, the Swiss government requested that Nagra identify other alternative regions. In 2007, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy issued a “Sectoral Plan for Geological Repositories” for public review. The Swiss Federal Council approved the strategic part of the plan.
 
Potential sites are now being evaluated. The two facilities could be co-located at the same site. Test drilling began at several potential sites in 2017. Site selection is expected in 2022.

United Kingdom

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is tasked with implementing government policy on higher activity radioactive waste and developing a low-level waste strategy. It engages in co-operative research with other national radioactive waste management organizations around the globe.

In 2007, the NDA established the Radioactive Waste Management Directorate to develop a geological disposal solution. In 2014, Radioactive Waste Management Directorate became a separate company – Radioactive Waste Management Limited – a wholly owned subsidiary of NDA with the specific task of implementing geological disposal. 

In January 2018, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a new siting process, beginning with community consultations to explore views on the approach to planning and selecting a site for a geological disposal facility in partnership with potential willing host communities.

United States

The Department of Energy (DOE) is dedicated to safe disposal of waste, including the safe and efficient management of spent nuclear fuel for disposal in a geologic repository. The United States currently has 104 operational nuclear power plants, with 19 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear power.

The DOE engaged in a screening of nine candidate sites from 1983 to 1986. In 1987, Congress directed it to study only one site, Yucca Mountain, located near a nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. In 2002, the Secretary of Energy recommended Yucca Mountain to the President. While the President approved the site, the State of Nevada strongly opposed it.

In 2009, the government indicated that Yucca Mountain was no longer an option. A Blue Ribbon Commission was formed to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term method to manage nuclear waste. In 2013, the Administration issued its Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste, a framework for moving toward a sustainable program for managing the country’s used fuel.

A new siting process, labelled “consent-based siting,” was being developed by the DOE. However, this was cancelled by the current Administration, and attempts are being made to revive the Yucca Mountain project.