Implementing Adaptive Phased Management 2023-27

Keeping abreast of the external landscape and adapting to change

The NWMO is committed to staying abreast of local, national and international developments that may change the landscape in which we operate or impact the project directly. We continue to monitor advances in the energy sector, innovations in nuclear waste management, changes in energy and environmental policies, potential developments involving new nuclear reactor units, changes in society’s expectations, values and insights, and developments with other Canadian nuclear waste initiatives.

A core principle of Adaptive Phased Management is a commitment to adapt plans in response to input obtained through engagement activities. For example, our transportation planning framework and Preliminary transportation plan are both based on what we heard from communities and people interested in Canada’s plan. Both transportation planning documents were designed to advance conversations and provide more information on how we plan to safely transport used nuclear fuel.

Beginning in 2020, we shared the draft of the framework publicly for broader engagement, and in 2022, we published both documents. We have committed to updating these documents every three years, based on feedback from Canadians and Indigenous peoples, as well as new developments in best practice, technologies, ongoing adaptation and continuous improvement.

We have also adapted our plans for the regulatory decision-making process in response to changes in the Impact Assessment Act passed in 2019. More information about the regulatory decision-making plan can be found in the section Regulatory decision-making process.

As advancements in small modular reactor (SMR) technology continue to progress in Canada, we have been working with SMR developers to identify the types of used nuclear fuel that may result, as the NWMO will be responsible for managing it. This information will help us optimize how to handle the used nuclear fuel for long-term management, how to handle the potential impacts to the repository design and how our funding formulas can be adapted to include new entrants. It will also help us better inform the potential host communities about the total scope of the project.

The NWMO is currently aware of two SMR projects in the licensing process – Ontario Power Generation is working together with GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy to deploy an SMR at the Darlington new nuclear site, and Global First Power is working to construct an SMR at Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario. While we are aware of other SMR proposals and as these advance, we will make appropriate changes to our plans. As more SMR projects advance towards licensing, the NWMO will be prepared to adapt and identify any potential efficiencies in managing the used fuel they produce.

There is international consensus that deep geological repositories represent the best practice for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel resulting from SMRs, including any high-level waste from reprocessing. Canada’s plan is designed to adapt to changes in technology, and we can build flexibility into repository designs so we can be ready for future decisions.

We further regularly update a watching brief on advanced fuel cycles and alternative waste management technology. We also monitor and report on potential inventories of used nuclear fuel quantities for implications to the repository design.