NWMO Statement to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Notes for Remarks by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President, Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

Ottawa, Ontario
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Mr. Chairperson and members, thank you very much for this opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

With me today are: Mr. Richard Dicerni, the Chair of the NWMO Board and Executive Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of Ontario Power Generation; Ms. Kathryn Shaver, Executive Director, responsible for governance and regulatory matters at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization; and Ms. Donna Pawlowski, Director, who today, will provide support on some of the technical issues.

In these early months of our mandate, I am pleased to introduce the NWMO and begin what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue. Certainly any advice and suggestions the Committee might provide as we undertake our study of approaches for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada would be welcomed.

My prepared remarks are brief. I look forward to discussing any issues the members wish to address and to answer any questions that you may have.

Establishment of the NWMO

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization was established in response to the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, which received Royal Assent on June 13, 2002, and came into force November 15, 2002.

As required by the legislation, Canada’s nuclear fuel waste producers, specifically Ontario Power Generation, Hydro-Québec and New Brunswick Power, created the organization. These are the companies in Canada which own nuclear generating stations. The Board is committed to fulfilling all the requirements of the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act and has structured the NWMO to reflect the objectives of the legislation. Consistent with the “polluter pays” principle, the waste owners have developed cost-sharing provisions to support our operations.

The Board also established an Advisory Council which includes a number of distinguished Canadians and is chaired by the Honourable David Crombie. The Council is making an important contribution to the NWMO and its Board through the ongoing advice and guidance it is providing, above and beyond the legislative requirement that it comment on our study.

The companies have also put in place trust funds to assure that the money is available to finance the nuclear waste management approach ultimately adopted by the government.

The NWMO’s Mandate

The NWMO has been given three years to study approaches for the long-term management of Canada’s nuclear fuel waste. It is to put forward a recommendation to government through the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

By way of background, there are approximately 1.5 million used fuel bundles in storage in Canada. Once they are removed from reactors, used fuel bundles are generally stored for about 10 years in water-filled pools at the power plants to cool and shield them until their radioactivity declines. They are then typically placed in dry storage containers with a design life of 50 years.

Our task is to recommend to government what should happen next.

At a minimum, the legislation requires us to study three approaches to long-term management:

  • Deep geological disposal;
  • Storage at the nuclear reactor sites; and
  • Centralized storage, either above or below ground.

We may also consider other approaches. For each approach we study, we must fully describe what they entail, including any risks, costs or benefits, and develop plans for their implementation. All of them must then be assessed from a variety of dimensions, including ethical, social, economic, technical and environmental.

Once the Government of Canada takes a decision on the approach for managing Canada’s nuclear fuel waste, the NWMO will then be responsible for implementation.

The NWMO’s Approach

The NWMO was born out of the government’s response to the Seaborn Panel, an environmental assessment of deep geological disposal, the concept developed by AECL to bury nuclear fuel wastes deep in the Canadian Shield.

One of the important lessons from the Seaborn Panel, and one that was clearly embraced by Parliament when it passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, was that any acceptable plan for managing used nuclear fuel over the long term must have some form of informed public support or societal acceptance. It must also be developed within a sound ethical and social assessment framework.

Those requirements are reflected in our statement of vision, mission and values. This statement is the starting point and the foundation for all our activities. We see as our purpose to develop collaboratively with Canadians a management approach for the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible and economically feasible.

People expect and deserve to be involved in finding solutions for the large public policy issues that affect them, including how nuclear waste is to be managed in Canada. That is why, from the beginning, the NWMO has attempted to engage a range of communities of interest, first to help us shape our work plan and then to help shape the recommendation itself – through the development of the analytic framework to be used and then its application.

Phase 1

We have called this first phase of our outreach “Conversations About Expectations.” Over the past months, we have met with a number of individuals and groups, including people from nuclear site communities, environmental organizations, young people, industry experts, Canadians from different regions of the country, Aboriginal peoples and – of course – parliamentarians. We have talked about who they are, what interests they have, and how they want to be consulted and included in our effort.

We are currently approaching the close of this phase of our work.

Phase 2

In phase two, we will build on what we have heard and learned. The next stage of our work will be to develop an integrated framework for analysis of the various management approaches – a framework which broadly reflects the values and priorities of Canadians, and the best knowledge and expertise available to bring to bear on this issue. Sustainable development will be our conceptual underpinning as we develop assessment criteria that reflect societal, ethical and community values, environmental integrity, economic feasibility and appropriate technical standards.

We plan to employ a variety of tools to engage communities of interest in this work. We expect to convene citizen panels, expert round tables and scenario workshops. And we will build on the public opinion research we have already undertaken, ensuring that we have reached out to a broad range of Canadians.

The core of our two-way dialogue with the general public will be our website. Our research and documentation will all be available and archived there, as will summaries of findings from discussions and activities completed at various points along the way. Online polling and comment opportunities will be provided to hear the views of everyone, particularly those who may not be able to contribute through other means. Our website is active now, and I encourage you to visit it at www.nwmo.ca.

Throughout this second phase, there will be a dynamic interaction between the engagement process and our research and analysis of the management approaches.

There is substantial knowledge and experience in Canada and abroad on this issue. We will harness the best available knowledge and understanding, including recent work undertaken by the Joint Waste Owners, since the Seaborn Panel reported in 1998.

We want to know that the right questions have been asked about the nuclear fuel waste approaches we are studying, and that they have been answered well. Where we identify gaps, we will commission our own research, but we also anticipate working with the international community to ensure that the insight and knowledge from research already underway elsewhere in the world are brought to bear in the study of approaches for Canada.

We will continually integrate the insights gained from the research and from our dialogue with citizens through our analytical framework, passing questions to experts as they arise through the public engagement process, and presenting the findings, as we obtain them, to stakeholders and the public for discussion.

It is important that our dialogue, in its timing and method, is appropriate for the different audiences, interests and capacities of the communities and individuals we deal with. We will continue to draw on the knowledge of experts and advisors who have managed similar outreach on other issues.

We are committed to developing a meaningful consultation program with Aboriginal peoples. Our discussions in this regard are at an early stage.

The production of a discussion paper, articulating the options and proposing an analytical framework, will be the product of this second phase of our work.

Phase 3

Phase three of our work will focus on actually evaluating the various management approaches. Public response to the discussion paper will be critical in that evaluation. It will be important to incorporate societal direction regarding how best to apply the analytical framework, and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the management approaches. Before we submit our final report to the government, we intend to undertake a process of testing and validation of our recommendations.

Three years is not a long time to conduct this type of study. We are challenged to find a balance between producing a plan in a timely way and ensuring an adequate dialogue so that the full range of societal views can be presented and factored into our recommendation. We welcome this challenge and are pleased to be contributing to the government’s decision-making on this important issue.

We are committed to fulfilling all the responsibilities conferred upon us by the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. One important responsibility we have is to report regularly to the Minister of Natural Resources. We will be submitting our first Annual Report, covering October to December of last year, to Minister Dhaliwal within the next few weeks. I would be happy to send each member of the committee a copy. And with your concurrence Mr. Chairperson, I will stay in touch with the Committee Clerk to make arrangements to do that.

As I have said Mr. Chairperson, I hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with the committee. Your advice and suggestions as the NWMO goes forward will always be welcome.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have.