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How much energy does one fuel bundle produce?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

One fuel bundle can provide enough electricity to power one home for 100 years or about 1,100 megawatt-hours (MWh).

A fuel bundle stays in a nuclear reactor for 12 to 20 months, depending on where it is located in the reactor core. Over time, the amount of Uranium-235 (U-235) in the fuel bundle decreases until it is no longer possible to sustain a nuclear reaction that creates enough heat to generate electricity. U-235 is the primary isotope of uranium that is used to generate electricity.

Canada's Used Nuclear Fuel

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Where is used nuclear fuel being stored now?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Used nuclear fuel is safely stored on an interim basis in licensed facilities located at reactor sites where it is produced.

These facilities are located at nuclear reactor sites in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's sites in Manitoba and Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario.

This illustration is a map showing the locations of licensed interim storage facilities in Canada.

After a fuel bundle is removed from a reactor, it is first placed in a water-filled pool for about 10 years where its heat and radioactivity decrease. Afterwards, used fuel bundles are typically placed in dry storage containers, silos or vaults.

This image depicts a dry storage facility at a nuclear power plant where used nuclear fuel is stored in large containers.

How Is It Stored Today?

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What is the NWMO?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization established in 2002 by Canada's nuclear electricity producers (Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power and Hydro-Québec) as directed by the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA), which came into force November 15, 2002.

We were created with a mandate to develop an approach for the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel and to implement it after the approach was approved by the federal government. We developed this approach, called Adaptive Phased Management (APM) through an innovative and wide-ranging program of dialogue with scientists, experts in a wide range of disciplines, and interested Canadians across the country.

Who We AreOur CommitmentAbout Adaptive Phased Management

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Is used nuclear fuel currently transported in Canada or other countries?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Canada has proven and continues to demonstrate its ability to transport used nuclear fuel with hundreds of shipments made since the 1960s. In Canada, three to five shipments of used nuclear fuel are transported by road each year. 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.

Internationally and in Canada, there have been no serious injuries, health effects, fatalities, or environmental consequences attributable to the radioactive nature of the used nuclear fuel being transported.

TransportationHow are radioactive materials being transported now in Canada? How is used fuel transported in other countries?

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What is the radioactivity of the used fuel over time?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

When used fuel is removed from the reactor, it is highly radioactive and requires careful management.

This radioactivity naturally decreases with time. Initially, the radioactivity decreases very rapidly. However, the residual radioactivity (together with chemical toxicity) persists, and the used fuel remains a potential health risk for a very long period of time.

It will take about one million years for the radioactivity level to reach that of an equivalent amount of natural uranium.

Radiation Risk and Safety

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Is radiation from used fuel the same as natural radiation?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

The types of radiation emitted by used nuclear fuel are the same as those emitted by natural sources.

All radiation takes the form of either electromagnetic waves or high-speed particles. Electromagnetic waves have energy, but no mass, and include such things as 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.

Used nuclear fuel emits both types of radiation, in the form of gamma rays, alpha particles and beta particles, and to a lesser extent, neutrons.

Radiation Risk and Safety

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What is the difference between low-level, intermediate-level and high-level waste?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

There are three types of radioactive waste produced by nuclear generating stations – low-, intermediate- and high-level waste.

Low-level waste consists of industrial items (such as mops, rags, cloths, paper towels, clothing and floor sweepings) that have become contaminated with low levels of radioactivity during routine cleanup and maintenance activities at nuclear generating stations. Low-level waste contains mostly short-lived radioactivity and can be handled safely with simple precautions.

Intermediate-level waste is more highly radioactive and consists primarily of used reactor core components and resins and filters used to purify reactor water systems.

High-level waste is the used nuclear fuel. When used fuel bundles are removed from the reactor, they are highly radioactive, contain long-lived radioactivity and generate significant heat. High-level waste requires careful management over the very long term.

Under the federal Radioactive Waste Policy Framework, waste owners such as OPG, NB Power, Hydro-Québec and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories are accountable for the low- and intermediate-level waste they create. They are also responsible for the interim storage and management of used nuclear fuel. Under the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, the NWMO was created by the waste owners and is responsible for the long-term management of used fuel, with federal government oversight.

Canada's Used Nuclear FuelRadiation Risk and Safety

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What happens to the plan if new nuclear plants are built?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

Future decisions about nuclear power generation made by provincial governments, nuclear plant operators and regulators may result in a larger inventory of used nuclear fuel. For instance, the lives of existing reactors might be extended through additional refurbishment. Provincial governments may also decide to build new nuclear plants.

The specific amount of used fuel to be placed in the repository for long-term management will be agreed with the community using the best information available at the time, and through an open and transparent engagement process involving surrounding communities and others who are interested and potentially affected.

Regulatory review processes and approvals, which are required by law before the facility can be constructed and operated, will be based on a specific fuel inventory and will also involve an open and transparent consultation process.

How Much Is There?

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Are you doing this so new nuclear plants can be built?

Response

Last updated 10/18/2016

It is not our intent to advocate one energy source over another. Used fuel exists and must be managed. Energy policy decisions are made by governments, utilities and regulators.

Adaptive Phased Management addresses the need of Canadians for safety, security and protection of the environment. We are committed to protecting both this and future generations in this regard.

Canada's Used Nuclear FuelWhy This Approach?

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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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