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How will the deep geological repository affect the environment?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

The deep geological repository will be subject to a thorough regulatory review process to ensure it does not have significant adverse effects on either humans or the environment. It must be implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment, now and in the future.

The repository will require a comprehensive environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) to evaluate the potential environmental effects, to identify mitigation measures as needed, and to define follow-up monitoring requirements.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will review and assess the project, and ultimately, it will issue licences authorizing the project to proceed to different phases of its life cycle development.

In developing and implementing all aspects of the project, we are committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable regulations to ensure the safety and security of humans and the environment.

EnvironmentSafetyRegulatory Overview of Adaptive Phased Management

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Have you considered potential impacts to the repository from climate change?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Yes. Potential effects are factored into the site selection process and the design of facilities to mitigate risks associated with climate change such as global warming in the near term and ice ages in the far future.

A number of factors are considered:

  • Site Selection and Facilities: Potential extreme weather events associated with global warming, such as high winds, intense storms, flooding, and erosion, will be considered in siting and design of facilities.
  • Repository Location: The repository will be sited about 500 metres below surface, which isolates it from surface effects of global warming. The repository location underground would be determined based on evidence that the rock at the repository level has not been changed by the past ice ages. Potential effects, such as increased weight on the used fuel containers from future ice ages, will be mitigated in the planning stages. For example, used fuel containers are designed to withstand the load of an ice sheet that is three kilometres thick.
  • Transportation: Potential impacts of climate change will be considered in planning transportation of used nuclear fuel. Flexibility is emphasized so both the timing and nature of transportation can be adapted to potential climate change effects.

Site Selection: SafetyTransportationPlanning for Climate Change

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What security plans will be in place at the repository site?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Security at the repository site would include appropriate physical protection, such as fences and security monitoring systems. The facilities where used nuclear fuel would be handled also include physical barriers enhancing security.

We are also required to submit security plans to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission before we can obtain licences to operate the repository and transport used nuclear fuel to the facility. These security plans must meet Nuclear Security Regulations to ensure the used fuel receives adequate physical protection against any credible threat. The details of the plans will be fully developed once a site for the repository is selected. Risks and threats will continually be reassessed to make sure security measures are up-to-date and appropriate for the circumstances.

Regulatory Oversight

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Will the repository be a future target for terrorists?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

We cannot speculate on future targets for terrorists, but robust security plans must be in place to protect the repository and the used nuclear fuel.

We will be required to ensure the used nuclear fuel receives adequate physical protection against any credible threat. Before we can obtain licences to operate the repository and transport used nuclear fuel, we will need to submit a security plan to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The security plan must meet Nuclear Security Regulations. We will need to continually update and reassess the plan to ensure security measures are appropriate for specific circumstances.

Used nuclear fuel pellets are a solid, not a liquid or gas. They are not flammable, explosive or fissile. The fuel pellets are made from uranium dioxide powder and baked in a furnace to produce a hard, high-density ceramic. The pellets do not readily dissolve in water and are resistant to high temperatures. Once emplaced and sealed in the repository, the used fuel is further protected by 500 metres of solid rock and other barriers.

Multiple Barrier System

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What is the best type of rock for hosting a Deep Geological Repository?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

The international consensus is that both crystalline and sedimentary rock formations have properties that make either potentially suitable for the safe containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel. Both of these rock formations are found in Canada and Ontario where all the study areas are located.

The nine-step 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.

Demonstrating SafetySteps in the Process

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Can radiation leak from the underground repository?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Canada's plan for the long-term care of used nuclear fuel involves containing and isolating the used fuel in a deep geological repository. A multiple-barrier system of engineered and natural barriers will ensure ongoing safety to the public and workers over the long term:

  • Nuclear fuel pellet
  • Fuel element and fuel bundle
  • Used nuclear fuel container
  • Bentonite clay
  • Geosphere – host rock for the repository
Each of these barriers provides a layer of protection so that if the performance of one degrades or is compromised, other barriers will still contain and isolate the used nuclear fuel.

The regulatory review of the repository will require a number of safety assessments which look at a wide range of scenarios to ensure people and the environment are protected. "Disruptive scenarios" are conducted to test a range of hypothetical circumstances such as what is the impact of container failure at 10,000 or 60,000 years or the failure of the seals within the repository shafts.

The safety case for the project will need to demonstrate with confidence that it can be safely implemented at the site and can meet or surpass the requirements of the regulatory authorities.

Multiple-Barrier SystemSafety: Protecting People and the EnvironmentDemonstrating Safety

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How will you prevent future society from digging up the repository by accident?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

After decommissioning and closure of the repository, institutional controls will be in place for an extended period of time to prevent future society from inappropriate use of the land. Institutional controls are commonly used worldwide to ensure that people and the environment are protected after decommissioning facilities associated with the use, storage or disposal of hazardous materials.

For the repository, such controls could include both active measures such as monitoring and surveillance, as well as passive measures that do not require activities on the site. Passive measures could include local land use restrictions, use of durable markers above or underground, and preservation of knowledge and memory through public records/archives.

We participate in the Nuclear Energy Agency's international collaboration on Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory Across Generations, which explores various topics such as markers, archives and key information files that would include information transferred across generations, transfer of responsibilities, and others.

Regulatory Oversight

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Will the jobs at the repository be dangerous?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

No. We are committed to meeting or exceeding all regulatory standards and requirements for protecting the health, safety, and security of workers, the public and the environment. Safety is our number one priority.

The deep geological repository must be licensed by Canada's nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The licensing process is very detailed and covers 14 separate topics associated with safety such as radiation protection, emergency preparedness, environmental protection, and equipment fitness for service.

The CNSC assesses licence applications to ensure:

  • Safety measures are technically and scientifically sound;
  • All requirements are met; and
  • The appropriate safety systems are in place to protect workers, the public and the environment.

We will need to demonstrate that regulatory requirements in the safety areas will be met for each phase of the project before it can move ahead.

In addition to the regulations under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and other associated nuclear regulations, we will need to comply with other provincial regulations such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act to promote and provide a robust safety culture for workers.

Safety and control areas the CNSC evaluatesRegulatory Oversight

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Why not use an old mine to store the used fuel?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Any site selected for a deep geological repository must be able to safely contain and isolate the used nuclear fuel over many hundreds of thousands of years.

To avoid potential intrusion and disturbance by future generations, the repository will not be sited in any area with natural resources such as minerals, oil or gas. An abandoned mine would not meet these site requirements since it could still contain traces of natural resources that could become economically exploitable in the future.

The presence of natural resources may also indicate characteristics in the rock formations, such as fractures, which are not suitable for the safe, long-term containment and isolation of the used nuclear fuel.

Site Selection ProcessSite Requirements

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If the NWMO ceased to exist in the future, who would look after the used nuclear fuel?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

The safety of the repository does not rely on human institutions and intervention after the repository is closed. In the event the NWMO ceased to exist, the waste would be safely managed by the repository's multiple-barrier system in what is called a passive management system.

Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel involves the construction of a deep geological repository and associated facilities. Any site selected for the repository must be able to safely contain and isolate the used fuel for many hundreds of thousands of years, basically indefinitely. Working together, man-made and natural barriers in the geology will ensure the safety of the environment and public.

Multiple-Barrier System

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