Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste
On October 5, 2023 the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Canada, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, endorsed the recommendations put forward by the NWMO in the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste.
The first of its kind for Canada, the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste is informed by more than two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples and waste generators and owners, as well as detailed studies of both technical considerations and international best practices.
In 2020, as part of the Government of Canada’s Radioactive Waste Policy review, the NWMO was asked by Natural Resources Canada to lend our technical and public engagement expertise to the development of an Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste.
Canada is safely managing its radioactive waste today. While the majority of radioactive waste has long-term disposal plans, there are gaps — particularly with regard to some low-, intermediate- and non-fuel high-level wastes.
The strategy addresses these gaps and does not duplicate or replace long-term disposal plans already in place and progressing.
Low-level waste will be disposed of in multiple near-surface disposal facilities. Implementation will be managed directly by waste generators and waste owners.
Intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste will be disposed of in a deep geological repository, whose site will be chosen through a consent-based siting process and which will be implemented by the NWMO. The planning process for this new work is now underway.
About these waste types
Low-level waste: Mostly comes from power plants and medical, academic, industrial and other commercial uses of radioactive materials (e.g., mop heads, rags and paper towels, etc.). These items have no heat and contain radioactive levels that require containment and isolation for up to a few hundred years.
Intermediate-level waste: Includes used components such as filters, resins, pumps, etc. from power plants, research reactors and medical isotope manufacturers. This waste produces minimal heat but requires a higher level of containment and isolation for longer time periods than is needed for low-level waste.
High-level waste: Includes mostly used nuclear fuel, but there is a very small amount of non-fuel high-level waste that comes from other activities such as medical isotope production. This waste generates a significant amount of heat and radioactivity and requires containment and isolation for hundreds of thousands of years in a deep geological repository.
The strategy includes four principles to support the effective implementation of its recommendations. These principles are based on what Canadians and Indigenous peoples shared was most important to them through the NWMO’s engagement efforts:
The consent of the local communities and Indigenous peoples in whose territory future facilities will be planned must be obtained through the siting process.
The design of facilities should prioritize the protection of water.
Long-term caretaking should be established for disposal facilities.
We need to take action now and not defer to future generations.
How the NWMO’s new work differs from Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel
While separate from the organization’s ongoing efforts to implement a deep geological repository for the long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel, this new work will benefit greatly from the NWMO’s expertise and past lessons learned.
Communities who have participated in the process for the deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel may wish to participate in this process, but it is important to note it is not required.