What is radiation?


Last updated 10/18/2016

Radiation is energy travelling through space.

We are exposed to low levels of radiation every day from numerous sources, including many of our daily activities. Low levels of radioactivity are even present in certain common household objects.

All radiation takes the form of either electromagnetic waves or high-speed particles. Electromagnetic waves have energy, but no mass, and include things like microwaves, radio waves, visible light, X-rays and gamma rays. High-speed particles, on the other hand, have both energy and mass. This type of radiation includes neutrons, alpha particles and beta particles.

Excessive exposure to radiation can be harmful to people and other living things. Radiation is either “ionizing” or “non-ionizing” depending on how it affects matter. Examples of non-ionizing radiation are heat, light, radio waves and microwaves. Examples of ionizing radiation are gamma rays, X-rays and alpha particles.

Exposure to radiation can be controlled by using protective barriers. For example, a sheet of paper can stop alpha particles. A sheet of aluminum can stop beta particles. Gamma rays are much more penetrating and require dense barriers to keep them contained.

Used nuclear fuel gives off radiation. It is a potential health and safety hazard unless properly managed. It is subject to multiple layers of safeguards designed to protect people and the environment.

Radiation Risk and SafetyIs radiation from used fuel the same as natural radiation?

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How will people and the environment be protected?


Last updated 9/5/2018

Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel involves containing and isolating it in a deep geological repository.

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 practice, 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.

Safety: Protecting People and the EnvironmentMultiple-Barrier System

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How will a central site be chosen?


Last updated 10/18/2016

Since 2010, we have been engaged in a multi-year, community-driven process to identify a site (Site Selection) 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.

About the ProcessSite RequirementsSteps in the Process

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How does the NWMO involve people in implementing the plan?


Last updated 10/18/2016

Collaboration with both experts and the public is key to the design of Canada's plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel, and is at the heart of the plan's implementation. We have involved and will continue to involve people throughout the process in the implementation of the plan by:

  • Soliciting input from the public and specialists during the design of the site selection process;
  • Carrying out a community-driven site selection process that involves interested host communities in decision-making at every step, including the planning and implementation of all technical and social assessments and work;
  • Collaboratively engaging in dialogue with the interested community, First Nation and Métis communities, and surrounding municipalities about potential sites and the implementation of the project; and
  • Responding to the views, questions and concerns of others who are most likely to be affected by the implementation of the project, including those potentially affected by the transportation of used nuclear fuel.

We will also provide forms of assistance to interested communities and others potentially affected so they can participate in the process.

About the ProcessA Collaborative ApproachGuiding Principles

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Can used nuclear fuel be transported safely?


Last updated 10/18/2016

Transportation of radioactive material is a well-established practice. Over 50 years, there have been more than 20,000 shipments worldwide of used nuclear fuel, using road, rail and water transport. Canada has proven, and continues to demonstrate, its ability to safely transport used fuel, with hundreds of shipments made since the 1960s.


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