NWMO to lead Canada’s policy framework for radioactive waste

·3 min read

TORONTO – The Government of Canada has launched a new initiative to modernize its radioactive waste policy.

Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan launched the inclusive engagement process on Nov. 16. and asked the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to lead the process.

A press release from NWMO said all of Canada’s low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste is “safely managed today in interim storage.” An integrated strategy will ensure the material continues to be managed in accordance with international best practices over the longer-term. Building on previous work, the NWMO says this strategy represents a next step to identify and address any gaps in radioactive waste management planning while looking further into the future.

“This is important work, and we look forward to lending our expertise to make informed and practical recommendations to the Canadian government on a more comprehensive radioactive waste management strategy for low- and intermediate-level waste,” said Laurie Swami, president and CEO of the NWMO. “I want to thank Minister O’Regan for entrusting us to lead this process.”

The Government of Canada will engage interested Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, waste producers, owners, and other government levels. Their objective is to elaborate on the existing policy to provide greater leadership on radioactive waste management and ensure that they continue to meet international best practices.

A letter sent to Swami by O’Regan said, “I am requesting the NWMO to lead this dialogue and to develop Canada’s Integrated Strategy for radioactive waste for my review and consideration. I believe that the NWMO is uniquely positioned to lead this work as a leader in used nuclear fuel management and public engagement.”

O’Regan said the integrated strategy should build on the plan developed by NWMO for the long-term management of Canada’s nuclear fuel waste.

The strategy, he said, should include:

• A description of the current waste management situation in Canada in terms of current and future volumes, taking into account potential small modular reactor waste, characteristics, locations, and ownership of the waste.

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

• Conceptual approaches for dealing with our current and future radioactive waste inventory, including technical options for long-term management or disposal of the various waste types and options for the number of long-term waste management facilities in Canada.

• Considerations regarding the staging, integration, establishment, and operation of long-term waste management facilities.

O’Regan stressed the importance that the NWMO carry out this important task in a manner that is open, transparent, and inclusive. He added that it must be built on a solid foundation of trust, integrity, and respect for all Canadians.

“The dialogue should not detract from the NWMO’s current mandate to implement Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel, known as Adaptive Phased Management. That mandate is clear, and your progress to date is commendable,” O’Regan said.

“This work needs to continue to progress in an effective and efficient manner. I would also emphasize that this dialogue and the resulting Integrated Strategy are not intended to replace other projects currently in progress.”

Karine Glenn, strategic project director for the NWMO, said that the organization looks forward to the process.

“For more than 50 years, Canadian nuclear technology has been in our lives – powering our homes, making life-saving medical treatments, and bringing safe food to our tables,” said Glenn.

“I look forward to this being a process of informed, balanced dialogue about what we must do to ensure that people and the environment are protected from the remaining hazards of this material long after we are gone.”

More details regarding the process will be shared in the coming weeks. Interested individuals and organizations will have various ways to participate while respecting public health directives related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Interested parties are invited to sign up for updates at nwmo.ca/radwasteplanning.

Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times