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What is Canada's plan to manage used nuclear fuel?
The approach, which is both a technical method and a management system, emerged from a three-year dialogue with both experts and the general public. It is consistent with long-term management best practices adopted by other countries with nuclear power programs, such as Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The end point of the technical method is the centralized containment and isolation of Canada's used fuel in a deep geological repository in an area with suitable geology and an informed and willing host. APM also involves the development of a transportation system to move the used fuel from the facilities where it is currently stored to the new site.
The management system involves realistic, manageable phases, each marked by explicit decision points. It allows for flexibility in the pace and manner of implementation, and fosters the sustained engagement of people and communities throughout its implementation.
APM is designed to meet rigorous safety standards throughout all aspects of its design and implementation.
How does Canada's plan compare to other countries?
These countries include the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, China, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary, and others.
Does the plan include managing waste from other countries?
How was Canada's plan for used nuclear fuel developed?
What happens to the plan if technology changes before it's fully implemented?
Canada's plan, by design, is flexible and adaptive so that it can be responsive to advances in technical learning, international best practices, ongoing input from the public, insight from Indigenous Knowledge, changes in public policy, and evolving societal expectations and values. The implementation of Adaptive Phased Management will span many decades. Because of the timelines involved, it includes numerous opportunities to refine and adjust plans.
The ability of the plan to adjust to change, if appropriate, was a common objective, which emerged from a three-year dialogue with thousands of Canadians about a plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel.
Many wanted the plan to provide flexibility for future generations to shape decisions as the plan is implemented over several decades. Many also emphasized the importance of designing the repository in a way that allows for the retrieval of used nuclear fuel in order to take advantage of the development of new technologies.
We are committed to continuous learning to inform decision-making at each step along the way.
What if nuclear plants with different fuel types are used in the future?
Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel has sufficient flexibility to manage different types of used fuel if necessary. If power plant operators, governments and regulators made the decision to use different fuel, we would review our design and safety case and update our plans in consultation with interested parties.
The specific amount and type of used fuel to be placed in the repository for long-term management will be agreed with the community using an open and transparent engagement process. This process will use the best information available at the time. It will involve surrounding communities and others who are interested and potentially affected.
Regulatory review processes and approvals will be based on a specific fuel inventory as well. These processes will also involve an open and transparent consultation process.
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Deep geological repository
How will people and the environment be protected?
The safety of people and the environment is the top priority in the process for selecting a repository site. We will need to demonstrate that any site selected can safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel for a very long period of time. There cannot be any credible risk from the repository to the public or the environment.
The repository will be located deep underground in a suitable rock formation, which must meet site selection technical criteria for the development of a robust safety case. This approach is consistent with international best practices, and is the culmination of more than 30 years of research, development and demonstration of technologies and techniques.
The repository uses multiple barriers that include the waste form, container, sealing materials and host rock. The system is designed such that the failure of one component would not jeopardize the safety of the containment system as a whole.
The project will also be subject to a thorough regulatory review process, including an environmental assessment and a licensing review to ensure that it is implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment.
Once placed in the repository, the used nuclear fuel will be monitored for an extended period of time.
What facilities will be constructed?
- A Centre of Expertise that will support the multi-year testing of the site. It will include public viewing galleries to showcase both the technology and science, and the engagement efforts that have gone into the implementation of Canada's plan;
- A deep geological repository to contain and isolate Canada's used fuel over the long term; and
- Surface facilities, including security, quality control laboratories, sealing materials production plants and all the other functions required to support the safe receipt and storage of used fuel bundles. These facilities will also support the repackaging and transfer of used fuel bundles to the underground repository.
Where will the repository be located?
No site has been identified yet.
Canada's long-term plan for used nuclear fuel requires that the deep geological repository be located in an area with an informed and willing host at a site that meets rigorous technical and safety criteria.
In 2010, the NWMO began a multi-year site selection process to identify a suitable location for the deep geological repository and Centre of Expertise. The process is designed to ensure the site selected is safe and secure, meeting or exceeding all regulatory requirements. Only areas where communities expressed an interest in learning about the project were considered.
Over time and through increasingly detailed technical and social studies and engagement, we have narrowed our focus to the areas with the strongest potential to safely host the project. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2024, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.
What is the best type of rock for hosting a deep geological repository?
The site selection process, with its progressively more detailed studies, will ensure the selected site is located in a suitable rock formation. The geology must meet all scientific and technical site evaluation factors for the protection of present and future generations and the environment over the long term.
What type of container will hold the used fuel in the repository?
Our current conceptual design is for a used fuel container with lateral placement in the repository. This particular container has a length of 2.5 metres. The container holds 48 used CANDU fuel bundles (four layers of 12 bundles) in a steel basket within a standard carbon steel pipe which is protected by a copper-coated, corrosion-resistant outer layer.
How long will you monitor the used nuclear fuel?
There will also be an extended period of monitoring, which could last several decades (70 years has been assumed for financial planning purposes). Many decades from now, in collaboration with regulatory authorities, the community will decide the form and duration of this monitoring.
Following the period of extended monitoring, the decommission and closure of the facility is expected to take about 30 years. Details for the monitoring following closure will be decided in collaboration with a future society.
How was the site selection process developed?
Interested individuals and organizations shared their thoughts with the NWMO on what an open, transparent, fair and inclusive process would include. We have also drawn on experiences and lessons learned from other site selection processes conducted in Canada and other countries.
How will a single, preferred site be chosen?
Since 2010, we have been engaged in a multi-year, community-driven process to identify a site where Canada’s used nuclear fuel can be safely contained and isolated in a deep geological repository.
Potential siting areas are identified and assessed in a series of steps that began when communities formally expressed interest in learning more.
The safety and appropriateness of any potential site will be assessed against a number of factors, both technical and social in nature.
The process is community-driven. It is designed to ensure, above all, that the site selected is safe and secure and has an informed and willing host. The process must meet the highest scientific, professional and ethical standards.
The project will only proceed with the involvement of municipal and Indigenous communities in the area and surrounding communities working in partnership to implement it.
Which areas are currently involved in the site selection process?
Two areas remain in our site selection process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.
How will the selected area benefit from the project?
Canada's plan for managing used nuclear fuel is approximately a $22.8-billion (2015 $) national infrastructure project. It will bring significant economic benefits to the area where it is eventually located, including the community that initiated the area's involvement, First Nation and Métis communities in the area, surrounding municipalities, and the host province.
It is a multi-generational project that will be developed and implemented in phases over a period spanning more than 150 years. The economic impact will include many direct, indirect and induced jobs for scientists, engineers, tradespeople and others. Construction and operations will create wealth in the form of business profits and personal income throughout the siting area amounting to many hundreds of millions of dollars.
We will work with communities in the siting area to foster well-being and help capture benefits that align with the communities' visions. The project may contribute to social and economic pressures that will need to be carefully managed to ensure the area's long-term well-being and sustainability. We will work with communities to explore the need for assistance such as job training, affordable housing and infrastructure.
How long will it take to confirm a site for the deep geological repository?
To guide project planning, we have made assumptions about timing associated with the work we need to complete. Our current plans anticipate we may be in a position to select a preferred site for Step 4: Detailed site evaluations by about 2024. We will continue to update our best understanding of possible timelines as work advances and more information becomes available.
Over time and through increasingly detailed technical and social studies and engagement, it will become clearer which area has the strongest potential to safely host the project.
- The preferred site will be one that can safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel, protecting people and the environment over the very long term.
- The project must be implemented in a way that helps foster the well-being or quality of life of the host community.
- The project will only proceed with the involvement of the interested community, First Nation and Métis communities in the area, and surrounding communities working together to implement it.
How will the NWMO confirm a willing host? Will residents have a say?
We have a community-driven site selection process that is designed to ensure above all that any location selected is safe and secure, and that the project has an informed and willing host.
Best practice and experience suggest there are a range of approaches a potential host may use to demonstrate willingness in a compelling manner. These might include documented support expressed through open citizen discussions, a telephone poll, online meetings or surveys and/or a formal referendum.
New approaches may also emerge over the intervening years as societal expectations and decision-making processes continue to evolve. Communities will be encouraged to identify processes that meet their specific needs and demonstrate clearly to the NWMO whether the project has the support of citizens.
As the siting process has evolved and engagement has broadened to include First Nation, Métis and other communities in the area, partnership to support the implementation of the project is an important objective. The project will only proceed with the involvement of the interested community, First Nation and Métis communities in the area, and surrounding communities working together to implement it.
How will the NWMO protect people, the environment, farmland and local watersheds?
The NWMO is using best environmental practices to ensure the project is implemented in a way that protects people, agricultural lands, watersheds and sensitive ecological environments.
We are partnering with landowners, conservation authorities and other interested organizations to lead baseline and research studies to understand the ecological systems in the area, including surface water, groundwater, soil, air, wetlands, animals and species at risk. These studies will inform our work as we mitigate or eliminate potential adverse impacts of the project using technologies and operational best practices.
There will be a continuous monitoring of the natural environment throughout all phases of the project, including open and transparent reporting and information sharing.
This project will also be subject to a thorough regulatory review process, including an environmental assessment and a licensing review to ensure that it is implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment. In our planning timelines, we currently anticipate that the regulatory review process will take approximately 10 years.
How will isolating used nuclear fuel 500 metres below the surface protect water from contamination?
Protecting water is a value we share with Canadians and Indigenous peoples because we all have a personal relationship with water. The entire purpose of Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel is to protect people and the environment, including water, for generations to come.
At the depth of the proposed deep geological repository, there is very little water. This rock has essentially been disconnected from the water on the surface for millions or even billions of years. The rock also acts as a natural barrier and is one part of the multiple-barrier system to contain and isolate the used nuclear fuel within the repository from the very limited amount of water in the rock and the surrounding environment.
How is the NWMO protecting local watersheds?
The entire purpose of Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel is to protect people and the environment, including watersheds, for generations to come.
Watersheds are areas of land that drain or “shed” water into a specific body of water.
To protect watersheds, we are partnering with landowners, conservation authorities and other interested organizations to lead baseline and research studies to understand the natural ecological system in the area, including surface water, groundwater, soil, air, wetlands, and animals and species at risk. These studies will inform our work as we mitigate or eliminate potential adverse impacts of the project using technologies and operational best practices.
Some of these studies and research include:
- Factoring the impact of climate change into the design of the repository. Climate change is expected to cause an increase in precipitation which can impact the watershed resulting in flooding or other extreme climate events.
- Installing shallow groundwater monitoring wells as part of our borehole drilling activities in the siting communities to help us understand the geology and groundwater systems in the first 100 metres below the surface.
- Sampling water from lakes and rivers to help us understand how water flows from watersheds into those bodies of water and how it and interacts with the surrounding environment.
There will be continuous monitoring of the natural environment throughout all phases of the project, including open and transparent reporting and information sharing.
Over the long term, watersheds and the surrounding environment will be protected by the multiple-barrier system that will contain and isolate used nuclear fuel in the repository.
This project will be subject to a thorough regulatory review process, including an environmental assessment and a licensing review, to ensure that it is implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment, including local watersheds.
How will drinking water resources be protected?
The entire purpose of the project is to protect people and the environment, including drinking water sources. This commitment is reflected in our guiding principles for site selection which were developed in conversation with Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Water protection is embedded in everything that we do.
At the depth of the proposed deep geological repository there is very little water and what there is moves very slowly. This rock has essentially been disconnected from the water on the surface — including drinking water — for millions or even billions of years.
The rock also acts as a natural barrier and is one part of the multiple-barrier system to contain and isolate the used nuclear fuel within the repository from the very limited amount of water in the rock and the surrounding environment.
What happens if used nuclear fuel is exposed to water?
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.
Used nuclear fuel is a stable solid material. Fuel pellets are made from uranium dioxide powder, baked in a furnace to produce a hard, high-density ceramic. Like all ceramics, this material does not readily dissolve in water.
Even so, in the proposed repository, used nuclear fuel will be isolated far away from water using a series of engineered and natural barriers called the multiple-barrier system. The system is designed to keep the used nuclear fuel in and water out so the two do not come into contact with each other.
There’s a lot of work in South Bruce to understand water resources. What exactly are you testing for?
Protecting water, people and the environment is so important to the NWMO — it is at the core of what we do and a value we share with Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Understanding water, its quality, its memory and where it flows is essential for us to be able to make good decisions as we do our work.
In July 2021, the NWMO partnered with Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority (SVCA) to research water resources in the South Bruce area. The information collected will help the NWMO and SVCA make future project decisions to protect water.
The program will monitor water flow and collect surface water samples in rivers, lakes and wetlands throughout the Teeswater River and the Beatty Saugeen River subwatersheds.
The water samples will be submitted to CALA-certified laboratories for analysis. They will test for:
- General water quality;
- Existing local industries; and
- Potential contaminants.
Here is what the water will be tested for:
Tier 1 (natural radionuclides): tritium, carbon-14, strontium-90, iodine-129, cesium-137 [and associated cobalt-60, ruthenium-106], gross-α, gross-β
Tier 2 (natural radionuclides): uranium-238, uranium-234, uranium-235, potassium-40, thorium-228, thorium-230, thorium-232, radium-226
Tier 2 (artificial radionuclides): chlorine-36, cobalt-60, selenium-79, ruthenium-106, neptunium-237, plutonium-238, plutonium-239, plutonium-240, plutonium-241 americium-241, curium-244
Metals: aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, bismuth, boron, cadmium, cesium, chromium (total, trivalent, hexavalent), cobalt, copper, iron, lead, lithium, mercury, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, rhodium, ruthenium, samarium, selenium, silver, strontium, thallium, tin, titanium, uranium, vanadium, zinc, zirconium
Organics: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, petroleum hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, polychlorinated biphenyls (total), organochlorine pesticides
Nutrients and general chemistry: alkalinity, bicarbonate, bromide, calcium, carbonate, chloride, cyanide, fluoride, hydroxide, magnesium, pH, potassium, sodium, specific conductivity, sulphate, sum of ions, total dissolved solids (TDS), total hardness, total suspended solids (TSS), turbidity, ammonia as nitrogen, nitrate + nitrite, nitrate (NO3), total organic carbon (TOC), total inorganic carbon (TIC), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), chlorophyll-a, biological oxygen demand (BOD), total coliforms, E. coli
Can used nuclear fuel be transported safely?
How is used nuclear fuel transported?
How long will it take to transport Canada’s used nuclear fuel to the final site?
Based on current projections of Canada’s inventory of used nuclear fuel, transportation is anticipated to take about 40 years to complete — into the 2080s.
How is the transportation of used nuclear fuel regulated?
Used nuclear fuel shipments will meet the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguard requirements to ensure they are secure.
Transportation operations will meet federal, provincial and local safety requirements and will be inspected for compliance.
We will need to demonstrate to regulatory authorities the safety and security of a transportation system before shipments of used fuel can begin.
How durable is the package that is used to transport used nuclear fuel?
Used nuclear fuel transportation packages are designed and tested to ensure protection of the public during normal operations, as well as during accident conditions. Before a transportation package can be used in Canada, the design must be certified by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to meet regulatory requirements, which incorporate international safety standards, and must withstand severe impact, fire and immersion.
Each test is designed to demonstrate the package’s ability to withstand accident conditions without releasing its contents. To gauge the cumulative effects on the transportation package design, the first two tests are conducted in the sequence that will result in the most damage to the package, followed by the thermal test. The immersion test is conducted independently and is designed to evaluate the integrity of the package under pressure. The order and type of tests are considered to correspond to real transport accident scenarios.
We are assessing the transportation of used nuclear fuel using two package designs:
Used Fuel Transportation Package (UFTP)
Dry Storage Container Transportation Package (DSC-TP)
Is used nuclear fuel currently transported in Canada or other countries?
Internationally and in Canada, there have been no serious injuries, health effects, fatalities, or environmental consequences attributable to the radioactive nature of the used nuclear fuel being transported.