Last updated 10/18/2016
Exposure to high levels of radiation can be dangerous. Measures to protect the public and workers from radiation and other hazards are being incorporated into all phases of our management of used nuclear fuel. This includes the safe transport of used fuel from current storage facilities, to its inspection and repackaging at surface facilities, and its long-term placement in the deep geological repository.
Used nuclear fuel contains radioactive nuclides which can emit ionizing radiation, and is most radioactive when it is first removed from the reactor. While the radioactivity diminishes over time, the used nuclear fuel remains hazardous, essentially indefinitely.
Radiation can either be ionizing or non-ionizing. The forms of ionizing radiation are alpha particles, beta particles and neutrons, as well as X-rays and gamma rays. Ionizing radiation have enough energy to change the makeup of materials at their most basic level, the atom. If the exposure is beyond the body's natural repair processes, it may lead to uncontrolled growth of cells (i.e., cancer) or more serious health effects. Non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to cause atomic changes. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission provides a helpful and informative summary of the impacts of radiation on human health.
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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.
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Last updated 3/2/2020
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.
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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:
We will also provide forms of assistance to interested communities and others potentially affected so they can participate in the process.
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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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