Canadian waste management on track

23 January 2015

As Canada issues its latest report on national radioactive waste management initiatives, the country's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has identified four more communities for further study as potential hosts for a long-term radioactive waste repository.

Canada's nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), has announced publication of the government's fifth Canadian National Report for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, dated October 2014. As well as providing updates on Canadian initiatives, the report concludes that the interim storage facilities where the country's used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste are currently managed are safe, secure and environmentally sound.

Radioactive wastes have been produced in Canada since the early 1930s, when the country's first radium mine began operating, and it has nuclear legacy liabilities from over 60 years of research and development activities. Today, Canada's radioactive waste arises from uranium mining, milling, refining and conversion; nuclear fuel fabrication; nuclear reactor operations; nuclear research; and radioisotope manufacture and use. The owners of the waste are responsible for the funding, organization, management, and operation of disposal and other waste management facilities. Waste management is regulated by the CNSC.

Key highlights and priorities summarised in the report include finding solutions to the long-term management and disposal of radioactive waste, including used nuclear fuel; the implementation and ongoing funding of the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program; the NWMO's site selection process for a deep geological repository; and Ontario Power Generation's own project to construct a deep geologic repository for its low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

Four sites for further assessment

The NWMO's selection process to find an acceptable site for a repository for used nuclear fuel is at the top of the list of long-term management strategies set out in the report. It is doing this through a long-term process called Adaptive Phase Management, launched in 2010, which is progressively narrowing down study areas from a list of communities that registered interest.

NWMO yesterday announced it had completed the first phase of preliminary assessments for six communities in Northern Ontario. Four of those communities - the city of Elliot Lake, the town of Blind River, and the townships of Manitouwadge and White River - have been identified for further study. Those communities join Creighton in Saskatchewan, and South Bruce, Huron-Kinloss, Hornepayne, Ignace and Schreiber, all in Ontario, on the list of communities where the second phase of studies will be carried out.

The findings do not confirm the technical suitability or safety of any site, and no community has yet been asked to confirm its willingness to host the project. The next phase will involve more intensive community learning and engagement, as well as preliminary fieldwork including geological surveys followed by limited borehole drilling, to further assess geology and site suitability.

NWMO expects the process to identify a preferred safe site and an informed and willing host is expected to take several more years. Communities may choose to end their involvement at any point during the site evaluation process, until a final agreement is signed.

First phase studies are still ongoing at seven other communities in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News