Implementing Adaptive Phased Management 2023-27

Deep geological repository is a facility for the placement of used nuclear fuel deep underground where both natural and engineered barriers contain and isolate it from people and the environment for generations to come. There is the potential for retrieving the used nuclear fuel.

Fuel bundle for CANDU nuclear reactors is manufactured by sintering uranium oxide powder into pellets. The pellets are loaded into Zircaloy (a corrosion-resistant alloy of the metal zirconium) tubes, which are then welded into a bundle of tubes – a fuel bundle. Each bundle contains about 1,000 uranium oxide pellets.

Long-term management of used nuclear fuel involves containment and isolation of the radioactive material. The radioactivity decreases substantially with time, due primarily to the decay of short-lived radionuclides. The radioactivity of used nuclear fuel decreases to about one per cent of its initial value after one year, decreases to about 0.1 per cent after 10 years, and decreases to about 0.01 per cent after 100 years. After approximately one million years, the radioactivity in used nuclear fuel approaches that of natural uranium.

Optional shallow underground storage facility would involve building a shallow rock cavern storage facility at the chosen site for the deep geological repository. This is not included in the implementation plan as used fuel will remain at interim storage facilities until the repository is operational.

Retrievability is the ability to remove the used nuclear fuel from where it has been placed. Retrievability is an important component of Adaptive Phased Management and was included on the direction of Canadians and Indigenous peoples. It is part of a risk management approach to allow corrective action to be taken if the repository does not perform as expected, or if new technologies emerge in the future that could significantly improve the safety of used nuclear fuel long-term management. While used nuclear fuel will be retrievable as part of the project, the process will become progressively more demanding as the used nuclear fuel containers are sealed in the placement rooms, and then years later when access tunnels and shafts are eventually backfilled and sealed.

Safety in this report refers to the protection of people and the environment from the harmful or dangerous effects of used nuclear fuel, now and in the future.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) provide an alternative to large-scale nuclear reactors. SMRs can be purchased and constructed in a modular way. The NWMO would be responsible for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel created through new or emerging technology such as SMRs, if it is implemented in Canada.

Used nuclear fuel is the irradiated fuel removed from a commercial or research nuclear fission reactor. Used nuclear fuel is classified as a high-level radioactive waste.

Willingness is fundamental to the siting process. From the very beginning, the NWMO outlined a number of principles regarding willingness. These include a commitment to only site the project in an area with informed and willing hosts, time and resources for communities to learn about the project before making a decision, and a compelling demonstration of community willingness.

Beyond the demonstration from the communities, the NWMO also needs to ensure the other requirements and commitments outlined in the siting process can be met in order to implement the project in an area.

Note about terminology: In this document, we use the terms Indigenous, First Nation and Métis. Our intention in the writing is to honour and respect peoples, nations and communities, as well as historical and contemporary understandings.