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What does the strategy include?

In collaboration with waste producers and owners, government, Indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, and interested Canadians, we will focus on:

• Taking stock and describing the current waste management situation in Canada in terms of current and future volumes, characteristics, locations, and ownership of the waste;

• Updating on current plans and progress in advancing long-term management and disposal solutions for Canada’s wastes as well as identifying the gaps that must be addressed;

• Providing conceptual approaches for dealing with those wastes for which no long-term plan exists, including technical options for long-term management or disposal, and options for the number of long-term waste management facilities in Canada; and

• Making recommendations about the staging, integration, establishment, and operation of long-term waste management facilities.

Why was this process launched?

On November 13, 2020, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources asked the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to share our engagement expertise and lead the development of a strategy for the safe, long-term management of Canada’s radioactive waste that would be grounded in what’s most important to citizens.

With decades of experience engaging Canadians and Indigenous peoples, the NWMO is the right organization to lead the development of a strategy for all of Canada’s radioactive waste. While radioactive waste is safely managed today, a long-term, integrated strategy for Canada is a next, responsible step. We have heard that people want action taken now rather than leaving this waste as a burden for future generations.

The Minister of Natural Resources asked the NWMO to lead the development of the strategy when it launched a federal government review of Canada’s policy for radioactive waste. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is engaging with Canadians and Indigenous peoples on this policy review, which is a different process from the strategy we are developing. The NWMO is leading work that will address existing gaps, specifically in plans for long-term management for intermediate-level and low-level waste. The strategy we propose will need to align with the federal government’s modernized Radioactive Waste Management Policy.

Letter from the Honourable Seamus O'Regan, P.C. M.P. - November 13, 2020 (PDF | 1951 KB)

Letter to Minister O'Regan, November 16, 2020 (PDF | 183 KB)

Why create an integrated strategy?

For decades, we have relied on nuclear energy to power our communities. There are many other uses of nuclear technology in Canada, including crucial medical work, innovative research, and valuable industrial applications. We have a responsibility to ensure the waste that exists today and waste that is generated in the future, is managed safely and effectively long after we’re gone.

Most experts in the field agree that it’s time for an integrated approach that covers the long-term management of all radioactive waste in our country. We have heard that people want action taken now rather than leaving this waste as a burden for future generations.

What's the difference between the NWMO-hosted strategy conversations and NRCan-hosted engagement on the Radioactive Waste Policy Review?

The Government of Canada’s Department of Natural Resources (NRCan) is responsible for our country’s Radioactive Waste Policy, and NRCan officials are leading engagement with Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, to modernize that policy. The NRCan-led process is being undertaken to ensure Canada has a strong policy that continues to meet international practices and reflects the values and principles of Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

The NWMO is responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel, which emerged through dialogue with Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Leveraging that experience, we have been asked by the Minister of Natural Resources to lead conversations with Canadians and Indigenous peoples about the development of a strategy to address all radioactive waste, including low- and intermediate-level waste for which there is currently no long-term management plan. The strategy will align with the government’s modernized radioactive waste policy.

Like much of our work over the past 20 years, we are reaching out to Canadians, Indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, and industry to understand what is most important to consider in this strategy. We will reflect what we heard in the recommendations we make to NRCan. While some of these engagement activities may happen in parallel, the strategy will not be finalized until the radioactive waste policy review is complete to ensure the recommendation that we put forward aligns with and supports the policy.

We will provide a range of opportunities for citizens, industry, and stakeholders to share their thoughts and engage on the strategy at the level of their interest. Given COVID-19-related restrictions, we will provide online opportunities for these conversations.

What's the role of the NWMO with respect to the integrated strategy?

On November 13, 2020, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) asked the NWMO to lead discussions about an integrated strategy for the safe, long-term management of all of Canada’s radioactive waste. The focus of the NWMO’s work will be on waste for which no long-term plan exists, specifically low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. High-level waste and uranium mine and mill waste will not be included in the scope of our work, as there are already plans for their long-term management. Similarly, some low-level waste for which there is already a plan will not be included in our discussions.

As a globally recognized organization with deep expertise and a solid track record, the NWMO is a good fit for this role. We will work in close cooperation with all levels of government, national and international regulators, Indigenous peoples, industry, academia and civil society organizations. In developing this strategy, we will gather citizen input, international scientific consensus, and best practices from around the world to ensure that people and the environment are protected long into the future.

Who will put the strategy into practice?

Under the current Radioactive Waste Policy, waste producers and owners are responsible for the funding, organization, management and operation of disposal and other facilities required for their wastes, in accordance with the principle of "polluter pays." In practice, this may be done through a third-party, as is the case for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel being implemented by the NWMO.

Part of the development of the integrated strategy will include engaging people for their input on options for how to implement the strategy. The NWMO will submit the proposed strategy to the Minister of Natural Resources for review and consideration.

What is radiation?

Radiation is energy that is transmitted in the form of waves or streams of particles. It is present everywhere in our environment. Radiation can be described based on the effect it has on matter. Typically, it is divided into two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation includes radiation from both natural and artificial sources, such as cosmic rays, nuclear power plants, and X-ray machines. This type of radiation has enough energy to remove electrons from an atom, a process called ionization. Non-ionizing radiation is a relatively low-energy radiation, such as radio waves, ultraviolet rays, microwaves and sunlight, and does not have enough energy to remove electrons from an atom.

Fact Sheet: Understanding Radiation (PDF | 521 KB)

What is radioactive waste and what are the different kinds?

 

 

‘Radioactive waste’ is any material (liquid, gaseous, or solid) that contains a radioactive nuclear substance for which no further use is foreseen. It comes mostly from nuclear power generators and other kinds of nuclear fission or technology, like research and medicine. Because it is hazardous to most forms of life and the environment, it requires careful management and is highly regulated by government agencies.

In Canada, radioactive waste is created from uranium mining and processing, nuclear fuel fabrication, nuclear reactor operations, research and development activities, radioisotope manufacture and use, and decommissioning activities.

The CSA Group, industry, government, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission categorize radioactive waste into four classes: low-level radioactive waste, intermediate-level radioactive waste, high-level radioactive waste, and uranium mines and mill waste. Each type of waste has its own type of storage and disposal methods.

Waste containing amounts of radioactive material too small to pose a hazard is not considered to be radioactive waste. As such, waste with radionuclide content below established clearance levels and exemption quantities (set out in the Nuclear Substances and Radiation Devices Regulations) may be disposed of using conventional means, such as sending the waste to a local landfill.

What is radioactive waste? (PDF | 796 KB)

What is low-level radioactive waste?

Low-level radioactive waste (LLW) comes from operating reactors and from medical, academic, industrial, and other commercial uses of radioactive materials. LLW contains material with radionuclide content above established clearance levels and exemption quantities (set out in the Nuclear Substances and Radiation Devices Regulations), but generally has limited amounts of long-lived activity. LLW requires isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years. An engineered near surface disposal facility is typically appropriate for LLW.

What is intermediate-level radioactive waste?

Intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) is generated primarily from power plants, prototype and research reactors, test facilities, and radioisotope manufacturers and users. ILW generally contains long-lived radionuclides in concentrations that require isolation and containment for periods greater than several hundred years. ILW needs no provision, or only limited provision, for heat dissipation during its storage and disposal. Due to its long-lived radionuclides, ILW generally requires a higher level of containment and isolation than can be provided in near surface repositories. Waste in this class may require disposal at greater intermediate depths of the order of tens of metres to a few hundred metres or more.

What is high-level radioactive waste?

High-level radioactive waste (HLW) is primarily used nuclear fuel and/or is waste that generates significant heat via radioactive decay. HLW is associated with penetrating radiation, thus shielding is required. HLW also contains significant quantities of long-lived radionuclides necessitating long-term isolation. Placement in deep, stable geological formations at depths of several hundred metres or more below the surface is recommended for the long-term management of HLW.

What is uranium mines and mills waste?

Uranium mine and mill tailings are a specific type of radioactive waste generated during the mining and milling of uranium ore and the production of uranium concentrate. In addition to tailings, mining activities typically result in the production of large quantities of waste rock as workings are excavated to access the ore body. The wastes contain long-lived radioactivity that does not decrease significantly over extended time periods. In general, long-term management in near-surface facilities adjacent to mines and mills is the only practical option for these wastes, given the large volumes of waste generated in mining and milling operations.

Where does radioactive waste come from?

Nuclear reactors, uranium mining and milling, fuel processing plants and hospitals and research facilities all produce radioactive (or nuclear) waste as a byproduct. It can also be generated during the decommissioning and dismantling process of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities, and through other industrial uses of radioisotopes, such as verifying the integrity of welds or measuring the thickness of paper during its fabrication process.

How is the management of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste regulated?

The management of all radioactive waste is strictly regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Watch this video to learn about the regulatory framework.

How much radioactive waste is there in Canada?

The Department of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) collects, compiles, and analyzes radioactive waste inventory data every three years. Its most recent publication lists the total amount of low-level, intermediate-level and high-level waste in Canada to the end of 2016 as 2,403,629 m3 . More than 98 per cent of Canada’s radioactive waste is low-level waste, with almost three quarters of that in the form of contaminated soil resulting from past practices. These proportions are generally consistent with those around the world, as most countries have larger volumes of low-level waste and much smaller volumes of intermediate- or high-level radioactive waste.

Which provinces have radioactive waste storage facilities?

There are storage facilities located at the nuclear reactor sites in Ontario (Tiverton, Pickering, and Bowmanville), Quebec (Bécancour), and New Brunswick (Maces Bay), and at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited’s sites in Manitoba (Pinawa) and Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario (Deep River).

There are also uranium mine tailings management facilities in Saskatchewan and Ontario and a near-surface disposal facility for historic waste in Port Hope, Ont.

How is low-level and intermediate-level waste transported?

Transportation will be part of Canada’s strategy for the long-term management of Canada’s radioactive waste. The amount of transportation required will depend on the number and location of waste management facilities. Watch this video to learn how radioactive waste is transported in Canada.

Who owns radioactive waste?

Nuclear energy corporations like Bruce Power, Ontario Power Generation, Hydro-Québec, and New Brunswick Power ‘own’ the waste they generate. Generally, this radioactive waste is managed by each owner on-site at their own facilities. Every three years, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) collects, compiles, and analyzes the Canadian data about radioactive waste in their inventory to track changes.

The polluter-pays principle — a framework for governments that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — ensures that the creators of the waste are responsible for its safe disposal. Nuclear power plants must pay for the disposal of their radioactive waste as an operational cost.

What can we learn from other countries?

 

 

Globally, waste producers are continually working to improve processes to reduce the generation of radioactive waste at the source. In terms of international best practices for waste management, there are various successful proven options from Asia to Europe.

Sweden disposes of low-level and intermediate-level waste at the sites where it is produced. Its owners are responsible for the facilities and the long-term management.

Switzerland has decided to centralize long-term management of its low-level and intermediate-level waste. A central, independent agency is responsible for developing and implementing the solution and is currently in the process of finding a location for a deep-geological repository, which is the only option allowed under the legislative framework.

France operates centralized disposal facilities for its low-level and some of its intermediate-level waste and has identified a site for the remainder of the intermediate waste, which it will combine in a single location with high-level waste.

Disposal of Low- and Intermediate-Level Waste: International experience

Technical Options

Internationally, there are a number of technical options being investigated or implemented for the disposal of radioactive waste. These options, listed below, will serve as the basis for discussion for the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste.

 

Looking at the range of best practices used internationally, there are several possible strategy options and considerations for the long-term management of low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste.  Watch this video to learn more about options for the long-term management of Canada’s low-level and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

Shallow rock cavern Shallow rock caverns could potentially be suitable for the disposal of low-level waste. This fact sheet will explain the process used for successful storage using this method, as well as how some countries internationally have been using such facilities. Shallow Rock Cavern

Deep borehole The deep borehole fact sheet describes how this emerging technology could potentially be beneficial for smaller quantities of intermediate level waste. Deep Borehole

DGR In this fact sheet you will find information about deep geological repositories and how this approach is used internationally. Deep Geologic Repository

Engineered containment mound Engineered containment mounds are used in Canada for low-level waste, specifically near Port Hope, Ontario. This fact sheet will also take a look at similar facilities from around the world. Engineered Containment Mound

Rolling stewardship Rolling stewardship for the long-term storage of low and intermediate level waste (LLW) would involve multi-generational intervention. Although there are advocates of this approach for the long-term management of nuclear waste, rolling stewardship is not recognized internationally as a preferred method for the disposal of nuclear wastes. Rolling Stewardship

Concrete vault This fact sheet describes the concrete vaults from an engineering perspective. You will also learn about above and below-grade vaults, as well as information on concrete vaults that exist around the world. Concrete Vault

 

What is the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO)?

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a team of Canada's leading experts who, with input from Canadians and Indigenous peoples, are responsible for designing and implementing Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel. We were created in 2002 in accordance with the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act as a not-for-profit organization. We are funded entirely by the industry and receive no government financing.