What Canadians are saying

In November 2002, Parliament passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA). It required the major owners of used nuclear fuel in Canada to establish the NWMO. The initial phase of our mandate was to study approaches for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel, and to recommend a preferred approach to the Government of Canada. The historical information about that process is preserved here in line with our commitment to transparency.

    Planning for the study

    The NWMO has committed to using a variety of methods to dialogue with Canadians in order to ensure that the study of nuclear waste management approaches reflects the values, concerns and expectations of Canadians at each step along the way.

    We have a number of dialogue activities planned over the next few months to learn from Canadians whether the elements they expect to be addressed in the study have been appropriately reflected and considered in the discussion document. Learn what Canadians are saying by viewing the reports of these dialogue activities.

    Discussion Document 1: Asking the Right Questions? The Future Management of Canada's Used Nuclear Fuel

    In the early years of a new millennium it is not surprising that society is asking questions. It is a time of transition in which it seems natural to take the measure of where we are, where we are headed and where we want to go.

    This document begins a process of dialogue which will attempt to seek answers in one domain - the long-term management of used nuclear fuel. It is only a first step in defining the problem, communicating potential choices and posing a way of assessing the alternatives.

    How we approach this challenging issue will say a lot about our values and priorities as a society - how we want to live. It will set a benchmark for how we as a society will discharge our responsibility to manage the many wastes from the technologies we use to support our quality of life. ...

    We hope this document will provoke discussion and participation in the next steps. For some it may be a lengthy read, with too much technical detail. For others it will not be comprehensive enough. Our challenge was to provide sufficient information to illustrate the complexity of the task. Much more information can be found on our web site.

    We invite all interested Canadians to help shape the study and ultimately our recommendations to government. This opportunity will continue throughout our work as we intend to keep people informed of our thinking at every stage of the study. While we assume full responsibility for the quality of our work, it will be enriched immeasurably by your contributions."

    Elizabeth Dowdeswell, President
    Extract from the Foreword to the Discussion Document

    Discussion Document

    Discussion Document 1: Executive Summary

    Report on Nation-Wide Survey

    The NWMO has committed to using a variety of methods to dialogue with Canadians in order to ensure that the study of nuclear waste management approaches reflects the values, concerns and expectations of Canadians at each step along the way. 

    As part of our activities and efforts to dialogue and solicit input on our first discussion document, we commissioned an independent research company, Pollara, to conduct a nationwide survey with a scientifically selected cross-section of Canadians. We asked the research company to explore with Canadians their thoughts concerning the appropriateness of the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document. As well, we asked the research company to repeat some questions asked one year ago to allow us to gauge any changes which may have occurred. 

    The results of this study, a telephone survey of 1900 Canadians from coast to coast, is statistically representative of the perspective of Canadians on these questions (with a margin of error of +/- 2.25%, 19 times out of 20).

    The questions which were asked explored:

    • Canadians’ perception of the issue
    • Canadians’ perception of the NWMO and the job it has been tasked to do
    • Canadians’ interest in this issue; the knowledge they currently have; and their interest in learning more
    • Canadians’ sense of the appropriateness of the issues captured in the ten question framework
    • Canadians’ likely personal involvement in the issue.

    What Did Canadians Say

    For the questions which were asked one year ago, there has been little change. In this research, Canadians said:

    • The management of used nuclear fuel is not, unprompted, an issue of concern; it is not an issue that Canadians tend to think about on a daily basis. However when the issue is raised for discussion, many Canadians (more than half) say they consider the issue to be a very important one.
    • Few Canadians feel they know a lot about used nuclear fuel, and how Canada currently manages this material. And, few are aware of the NWMO.
    • Most Canadians feel, when it is described to them, the NWMO’s mandate to study and recommend a long term management approach is an important one, and are supportive of it.
    • Canadians tend to be split on the use of nuclear power for generating electricity. This is important contextual information for the NWMO as it continues to engage Canadians in a dialogue about long term management approaches.

    The new questions which were added to the study were designed to complement the dialogue and engagement activity which has taken place since release of our first discussion document. The new questions focused on eliciting insight on one of the key questions posed in the discussion document - “Are we asking the right questions? As we assess different methods, are we on the right track, in terms of capturing the key issues? …”

    A list of 18 agree/disagree statements was created based on key elements of the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document. The statements were presented as capturing a list of traits which some people have suggested are important for Canada’s solution to the management of used nuclear fuel. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each trait on a 0 - 10 scale on which 10 = very important.

    Among the findings:

    • All of the 18 statements received relatively high importance scores. No one of the statements received an average score lower than 7 out of 10. The NWMO interprets this to mean that the analytical framework outlined in the discussion document has captured priorities and objectives which are important to Canadians.
    • There is little sub-group variation in the scores assigned. The NWMO interprets this to mean that the framework captures priorities and objectives which are important to a broad spectrum of Canadians.
    • Some of the traits are rated more highly than are others. The most highly rated traits are: Public health and safety, Protect the environment, Focus on current generation but be fair to future generations.
    • The scoring of the 18 statements reflects a balancing of priorities – take action now, but of a sort that would allow for new learning, and influence of future generations in implementation.

    A second question area focused on presenting respondents with some of the difficult trade-offs which have emerged through dialogue with Canadians to date. For two of the trade-offs suggested, Canadians are clearly divided. NWMO interprets this to indicate that although thereis much common ground, as reflected in Canadians’ response to the 18 statements just described, there are aspects of this issue on which we do not all agree. For instance, should we:

    • Keep the waste above ground, where it is easy to access and monitor it (40% say yes), or bury the waste underground where it may be safer from external threats such as terrorist acts, but is more difficult to see and monitor (49% say yes)< /li>
    • Store the waste at one centralized, dedicated site (50% say yes), or store the waste at seven nuclear power plant or research sites across the country as it is now (40% say yes).

    NWMO understands that the trade-offs explored in this research do not exhaust the possibilities which will need to be considered before NWMO formulates its recommendation. This research marks only the beginning of NWMO’s exploration of this important area.

    A third question area involved asking respondents to react to a small list of statements. Reaction to these statements is consistent with Canadians feeling a strong sense of responsibility to initiate action now, although action which would not entirely foreclose future options:
    Since our generation was the one which created the nuclear waste, we should be the ones to decide on and implement an approach to manage it - 84% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement.

    • Since nuclear waste remains hazardous for a long time, we should let future generations decide how they wish to deal with it - 47% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement
    • I believe that scientific research will soon produce a technology that will render nuclear waste safe by eliminating its radioactivity and allowing it to become part of the natural environment again - 52% agree strongly or somewhat with the statement.

    We invite you to read the research company’s report “Report on Nation-Wide Survey”, and to add your perspective by contributing a comment on this report or answering a short list of these questions by completing a deliberative survey.

    See also: Appendix: Interview Schedule

    Report on National Stakeholder and Regional Dialogues

    Between February and April 2004, DPRA, an independent consulting firm with expertise in environmental and management studies, led a series of dialogues to critically review Discussion Document #1. The dialogues were structured to bring together national stakeholders and individuals and organizations with an interest in long-term used fuel management, in each of the provinces which use nuclear power for an exchange of ideas and opinions on the document’s contents.

    Key findings are that:

    • The nature of the problem is multi-faceted,
    • The terms and definitions for key concepts are acceptable however the concept of disposal requires further investigation
    • NWMO should consider following a step-wise or adaptive management approach to used fuel management;
    • A number of technical methods should not be considered in this study, while others should be given some type of consideration;
    • The breadth of issues and considerations identified in the analytical framework is comprehensive and appropriate,
    • Consideration should be given to adding
      • Education, communications and awareness
      • Research
      • Trust

    See also:


    Roundtable Dialogue with Youth at the International Youth Nuclear Congress - Summary Report

    The International Youth Nuclear Congress was held in Canada in April 2004. The NWMO sponsored an open-invitation round-table dialogue during the Congress, to enable the youth to discuss the key issues and questions presented in Discussion Document #1. The notes of that session follow

    10-3 Roundtable Dialogue with Youth at the International Youth Nuclear Congress - Summary Report

    Roundtable Dialogue with Durham Nuclear Health Committee - Summary Report

    In January 2004 NWMO presented its first discussion document “Asking the Right Questions” to the Durham Nuclear Health Committee a committee established by the Council of the Region of Durham, in Ontario, to review, discuss and improve the public's understanding of radiation and related human health effects in the Region of Durham.

    At that time the Durham Nuclear Health Committee (DNCH) requested a facilitated session to work through the document with the citizen members of the committee. It was held in April 2004, facilitated by an independent firm. The notes of that session follow.

    Report on Discussion Group Findings

    In late 2003, an independent research company met with Canadians in 6 discussion sessions to learn their reaction to, and comments about, Discussion Document 1 Asking the Right Questions? The Future Management of Canada's Used Nuclear Fuel.  Among the findings from this research are:

    • Participants had a positive response to the Discussion Document and the approach being taken by the NWMO;
    • Participants felt the Analytical Framework outlined in the Discussion Document reflects their values - their priorities and concerns;
    • Participants had only a few additional suggestions and concerns regarding the 10 key questions proposed to be asked and answered in the study;
    • Participants approved of the NWMO's proposed method of selecting which management approaches should be the focus of attention;
    • When probed for options to further engage the public on responding to the four dialogue questions posed in the report, participants suggested conventional means;

    As reflected by these participants, knowledge and intensity on the issue of managing nuclear waste continues to be low; some cynicism about waste management continues.
    We invite you to read the research company's report, which can be downloaded here.  The NWMO welcomes hearing your thoughts.

    10.1 Report on Discussion with Senior Environmental and Sustainable Development Executives

    Two half-day sessions with corporate environment and sustainable development executives were held on January 14 and 15, 2004 in Toronto and Calgary respectively. These sessions were to provide first hand advice to NWMO from senior environment and sustainable development executives in organizations in Canada that have dealt with significant social and environmental challenges. Five executives in Toronto and five in Calgary participated in the discussions. The individuals work for a cross-section of Canada’s major resource, energy, chemical, waste and recycling industries.

    The participants indicated that the NWMO overall approach was generally sound. The need to earn the trust of Canadians in the management approach was a point that was frequently noted.

    Several suggestions for improving the process for arriving at a recommendation on a management approach to used nuclear fuel were made. Some suggestions for improvement to the analytical framework and environmental aspects were also provided.

    10-1 Report on Discussion with Senior Environmental and Sustainable Development Executives

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