Tag Archives: Nuclear Waste


Where Will Canada’s Spent Fuel Go?

The plan to store nuclear waste underground at a site near Kincardine, Ontario is only for Canada’s low- and intermediate-level waste. It does not include spent fuel – the uranium that has been used in nuclear reactors.

Spent fuel is much more radioactive, and has to be handled with greater care. So, a separate plan is underway to store all of Canada’s spent fuel permanently underground, in a deep geological repository, or DGR.

Science and the community

Spent fuel storage containers at Bruce Nuclear Generating Station
Spent fuel storage containers at Bruce Nuclear Generating Station

Up to 10,000 years will pass before the radioactivity of spent fuel drops below the radioactivity of natural uranium in the ground. So, storage needs careful planning. Fortunately, Canada has many rock formations that have not moved for millions of years. Many parts of Canada also have types of rock, such as granite, that stop radioactive material from seeping through.

Those are scientific reasons for choosing a DGR location. But people will also live and work around the site. It’s essential for those people to understand and accept what is involved. In 2002, the federal government created the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to find a DGR site and build it.

Under the laws governing the NWMO, getting approval for the site means proving that the DGR project is scientifically sound and accepted by the host community.


The process for selecting a spent-fuel storage site started in 2010. It will take about 10 years to finish. It began with the NWMO providing public information about the process. Then, 21 communities came forward to express interest. The NWMO is assessing those communities, but not all of them have the right geology or enough community support. So, the list has been narrowed to nine communities, all in Ontario.


The NMWO will also consult with nearby communities, and study possible effects of the DGR. The NMWO will then ask communities still on the list to formally decide on whether they agree to host a DGR. The preferred community will then sign an agreement with the NWMO. The agreement will need approval from the federal government.

After the agreement

With a host site selected, the NWMO will first build a “demonstration facility,” then build the DGR itself. Canada will have a place to store its spent fuel permanently. The NWMO will continue to talk with Canadians about the DGR and keep local communities involved.


Learning from Yucca Mountain

The US plan to bury used nuclear fuel deep in Yucca Mountain has been stalled for years, even though the site’s safety has been backed by science. Why?

The United States started with 50 possible sites. It quickly settled on Yucca Mountain, a former nuclear test site in Nevada. The US process lasted only a few years. It didn’t include public consultation, which gave rise to opposition.


There is a Canadian precedent too. In 1989, a commission studied the idea of placing a waste site in the granite of the Canadian Shield. In 1998, after public consultations, the Seaborn Commission said that the plan was technically sound: the waste could be stored safely there. But the commission also found that the idea hadn’t proven acceptable to the public. The Canadian government decided that public acceptability would be a requirement for any permanent storage plan.

Today in Canada, work is underway to find two sites for nuclear waste. One would store spent nuclear fuel. The other would store low- and intermediate-level waste.

Low-level nuclear waste includes mops, brooms, gloves and so on. It is not necessarily radioactive, but the nuclear industry takes a precautionary approach to protect people and the environment. Intermediate-level waste includes used reactor parts, and it is normally shielded from people and the environment.

Leaders of both Canadian projects are mindful of Yucca Mountain and the Seaborn Commission. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization has talked with 21 communities that said they might host a spent-fuel site. After screening for geological suitability, nine remain on the list.

For storing low- and intermediate-level waste, a site has already been selected, at Kincardine, Ontario. A federal government panel still has to approve the location. The panel found the site location and design to be safe – a finding backed by sound science. The panel also held extensive public consultations. As part of that work, the panel hired a group of experts to assess the public perception of risk about the project. According to Dr. William Leiss, who led that group, “This type of work exists in the shadow of Seaborn. It was quite clear that the Joint Review Panel was concerned about social acceptance.”

Kincardine’s mayor, Anne Eadie, agrees: “At the hearings, they really bent over backwards to hear everyone speak, and took any opportunity to hear all concerns.”

Back at the beginning of the consultation process, Kincardine asked its residents what they thought. In a 2005 phone survey, 60% of respondents agreed with the concept and 22% disagreed.

Ten years later, Mayor Eadie says, “The majority of residents still support the DGR. On the whole, they are much better informed, as most of them either work at the plant or have family members there.”

The report by Dr. Leiss’ group makes clear that public acceptance depends on a good understanding of risk. The consultations will continue as the project unfolds.


Why Store Nuclear Waste Near Lake Huron?

Ontario Power Generation plans to store all of the province’s low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste underground, beneath 680 metres of rock and clay at a site near Kincardine, Ontario. This Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) will also be about 1.2 kilometres from Lake Huron. Most Kincardine residents support the idea, but others are concerned.

So, why store nuclear waste there?CN-Tower-Orig

In public consultations, the most-common concern was that radioactive material might seep through the rock and contaminate the lake. But the report from a federal government review panel that studied the DGR says that it would take water about 10 million years to move just one metre.

Some critics fear that an earthquake could change this. But the rock in the area has been undisturbed for a million years. Burying the waste in rock also lessens the risk, because a DGR would not be affected by surface hazards such as flooding.

Critics are concerned about the amount of radiation stored in the Kincardine DGR. However, the Kincardine DGR will not store spent fuel.  It will only store low- and intermediate-level waste. This includes items such as mops, protective clothing, water filters, or replaced mechanical parts. This material is much less radioactive than spent fuel. Also, radioactivity reduces over time. Radiation from intermediate-level waste would fall by about three-quarters over 100 years after closure, according to the Joint Review Panel.

Some people worry about having nuclear waste buried nearby. And some First Nations people think the DGR might reduce the spiritual value of the land, or infringe on their treaty rights. These concerns must be addressed because public acceptance is essential. OPG plans to continue engaging with the community.

As Kincardine’s mayor, Anne Eadie, says of her community, “We live here, we too are concerned about safety, and we love our lake. We’re satisfied that due diligence has been done.”

Dr. William Leiss, who led a risk assessment of four ways to manage the nuclear waste, agrees. He says, “By far the safest option for the low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste is emplacement in a deep underground chamber in the sedimentary rock at the Kincardine site. I believe that it is extremely unlikely that any radiation generated by the waste will ever escape from that chamber.”


CNA2013 Video: The Power of Linking Energy and Industrial Policies

Dr. Tim Stone is the Expert Chair with the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. He has considerable expertise in reviewing UK nuclear installations and providing advice on waste management and decommissioning. In his talk, Dr. Stone shares the importance of political aspects of nuclear projects in supporting a strong national economy.

You can watch more CNA2013 conference videos on the playlist we created. Other videos including videos from previous conference years can be found on our YouTube channel.

Guest Blog Nuclear Safety Waste Management

CNSC Response to ‘Debate Over Possible Nearby Nuclear Waste Site Buried’

The letter below is a response from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to an editorial that appeared last week in the Whig and the London Free Press. The CNA responded as well (you can read our response here). The CNSC is the federal government agency that regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians and the environment.  The editorial to which the CNSC’s Ramzi Jammal is responding was by a UWO professor – who writes about nuclear non-proliferation, but is not an expert in the regulation of nuclear energy or waste materials. Let’s get the straight goods from someone who is an expert in these issues.


CNSC response to the letter entitled ‘Debate over possible nearby nuclear waste site buried’ published in the Kingston Whig-Standard and London Free Press on July 21, 2012

Ramzi Jammal Executive Vice-President Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Your July 21 guest editorial by University of Western Ontario professor Erika Simpson, entitled ‘Debate over possible nearby nuclear waste site buried’, compels me to correct some inaccurate and erroneous statements that may confuse your readers.

To begin with, the author is confusing two completely distinct projects: Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposed deep geologic repository to manage low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste produced from the continued operation of the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations; and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) Adaptive Phased Management (APM) project for the long-term management Canada’s used nuclear fuel.

The article’s author was correct in stating that OPG’s project is for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste and does not include used nuclear fuel. But she then proceeds to speak of used nuclear fuel and to further confuse several other different issues.

The OPG project is for the long-term management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations. This waste includes such things as tools, rags, filters, resins, refurbishment waste, and other radioactive contaminated materials. The government has appointed a panel to conduct the environmental assessment and the first stages of licensing for the project. Public hearings for the project are likely to be held next year in the Bruce area. More information about this project is available at nuclearsafety.gc.ca and www.opg.com.

The long-term management of used nuclear fuel is a separate project being managed by the NWMO which was established in 2002. In May 2010, the NWMO launched its Site Selection Process to identify a willing community to host a geological repository for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. As of July 7, 2012, 19 communities have formally expressed interest in learning more about the APM project to host a deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel. More information about this project is available at www.nwmo.ca.

The NWMO’s project is still considered in its very early stages, and once the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission receives a licence application, it will carry out its due diligence in terms of safety and regulatory requirements. More information about CNSC’s early role in this project is available at nuclearsafety.gc.ca.

Your guest editorialist’s allusion that the CNSC is not independent is completely false. I would like to emphasize that the Commission is a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal, independent from any political, government or private sector influence. It is the Commission Members, and only the Commission Members, who render decisions based on all the evidence presented in the context of a hearing process.

The CNSC’s mandate is very simple. To ensure that nuclear activities are done in a manner that protects the environment as well as the health, safety and security of workers and the public and to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In the future, I encourage anyone writing for your publication to contact the CNSC in order to provide your newspaper’s editorialists with the facts, and as a result, editorials with more rigour and thoroughness, something this one is sorely lacking.

Ramzi Jammal
Executive Vice-President
Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission