What we heard
In March 2022, the NWMO published Implementing Adaptive Phased Management 2022 to 2026, updating the previous five-year version of this annually updated plan. By also publishing our survey about the implementation plan digitally, we have made it easier for the public to review and comment on Canada’s plan, supporting our commitment to transparency. We heard from hundreds of individuals from the two remaining siting areas, as well as Canadians and Indigenous peoples living outside those areas.
However, this document and the survey about it is only one way that we gather input that informs our work. The NWMO also solicits feedback through activities such as on-the-ground and digital engagement efforts, community liaison committees, educational events, advisory groups, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, attending conferences and meeting with all levels of government representatives.
The survey offers a snapshot of respondents’ thinking and provides insight into confidence in our ability to implement Canada’s plan, as well as identifying areas of opportunity for the NWMO. The survey was designed to solicit broad feedback from interested individuals, and it was disseminated through social media and other digital channels. As the survey was open to all interested parties, the results should not be viewed as statistically reliable. Instead, these results should be interpreted as qualitative and indicative of broader trends.
Overall participation numbers in 2022 were slightly greater than in 2021. We received 757 partial and completed surveys in 2022, versus 729 partial and completed surveys in 2021. However, we noted an imbalance in responses across regions, with more than twice as many responses coming from southern Ontario than northwestern Ontario (191 and 86 respectively). In response to this imbalance, we will step up efforts to promote the survey for the 2023-27 implementation plan in northwestern Ontario, by increasing public engagement on its promotion and using targeted digital communications.
This type of public input informs and guides our work, and comments received have helped us update this plan year after year. This is a summary of what we heard.
Confidence in the NWMO
Overall, more than half of respondents said they were “confident” or “very confident” in the NWMO after reading the plan. A strong majority said they found the NWMO plan understandable, clear and transparent. On the other hand, less than a third of respondents found the plan unclear, too technical or not understandable.
Overall, perceptions of the NWMO were more positive in southern Ontario than in northwestern Ontario. On the question of whether they had confidence in Canada’s plan, more than three-quarters of respondents in southern Ontario said they were confident, compared to just over half in northwestern Ontario.
This regional difference prompted the NWMO to consider how we are communicating with people living in each area. In 2022, the NWMO continued ongoing communications efforts, as we sought to diversify and extend our outreach to Canadians and Indigenous peoples across the country, and also targeted outreach within the two remaining potential siting regions. The NWMO launched campaigns to share fact-based information regarding the technical aspects of Canada’s plan, our commitment to water stewardship, as well as the tangible benefits associated with hosting the repository.
As part of our ongoing communications efforts, we will continue to diversify and extend our outreach through the revamped NWMO office in the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area and more visits from our Mobile Learn More Centre, our rolling exhibit designed to travel across the country to share Canada’s plan. In 2022, we increased both the length of time our Mobile Learn More Centre was on the road visiting communities and the number of stops we made, with a total of 61 events compared to 48 in 2021. We also opened new offices in Dryden and Teeswater and renovated our existing Teeswater office to support engagement efforts in the siting areas.
As in years past, the majority of respondents told us they share Reconciliation as a priority, and they want us to communicate more about the steps in our Reconciliation journey.
Our commitment has always been to publicly report our progress on Reconciliation. In 2022, we reached an important milestone in our ongoing Reconciliation journey. Our first Reconciliation Report (2021) was published, providing an evaluation of the NWMO’s Reconciliation Policy’s impacts since its formalization in 2019. Activities tracked have included mandatory staff Reconciliation training and continuous learning opportunities, informal training opportunities, staff support systems and community-driven work plans.
We are committed to an ongoing Reconciliation journey. The NWMO was one of the first North American organizations with a formal Reconciliation policy, aligning with other corporations that are dedicated to taking concrete action in terms of meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action (released in 2015). We are committed to contribute to Reconciliation in all our work by co-creating a shared future built on rights, equity and well-being.
Again this year, we heard Indigenous peoples must be engaged in the work we are doing to implement Canada’s plan. We know, however, engagement is not enough. Working with Indigenous peoples, learning from Indigenous Knowledge and applying learnings to our work are critical to successfully implementing the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel. These are serious commitments and important values in our organization.
Used nuclear fuel will need to be moved from interim storage facilities near reactor sites across Canada to the deep geological repository site. The transportation approach of Canada’s plan will be subject to ongoing review and public reporting, with the transportation program expected to begin in the 2040s, once the repository is operational.
The NWMO released two planning documents in the last year addressing the wide range of priorities, questions and concerns heard to date from Canadians and Indigenous peoples about the transportation of used nuclear fuel. The transportation planning framework and the Preliminary transportation plan were designed to give clarity and advance conversations about how we plan to safely transport used nuclear fuel.
The NWMO’s transportation approach will continue to undergo review and public reporting. Every three years, the transportation planning framework will be reviewed and revised as necessary. This will take into consideration factors such as evolving best practice, new technologies, ongoing adaptation and continuous improvement.
When asked “what priorities are most important to you?”, safety remained in the top spot. It was identified by 42 per cent of survey respondents as their most important priority, with a further 32 per cent ranking it as their second highest. Protecting people and the environment for generations to come underscores everything we do and every decision we make as we work to implement Canada’s plan.
We are constantly testing and evaluating our design and assumptions. In June 2022, we published the Confidence in Safety reports for each potential site. These reports reflect years of research and fieldwork. They provide detailed results that show why we are confident that both siting areas, where communities are considering hosting the project, are suitable for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel.
The lifting of pandemic restrictions this year allowed the NWMO to get specialists back into communities. When it was safe to do so, we were able to engage directly with residents, giving them an opportunity to address questions and concerns. Through our campaigns and our people, we also increased our communications around safety-related topics.
We are also committed to ensuring the project is safe from a social and cultural perspective. We support this commitment by listening to the feedback we receive at the societal, community and personal levels and adjusting our work accordingly. That is also why all our work is supported by the wisdom of our Council of Knowledge Holders. This independent advisory body is comprised of Indigenous Elders and youth that help shape the NWMO’s work by guiding us on how to respectfully align with Indigenous Knowledge, inspiring new outlooks and perspectives, and helping our organization walk a path towards Reconciliation.
Trust in engineering
As of 2022, the NWMO has successfully completed the full-scale demonstration of the engineered barriers that will safely contain and isolate Canada’s used nuclear fuel in a deep geological repository. This important safety and technical achievement was the culmination of more than eight years of preparation, including the design and fabrication of specialized prototype equipment and components by the NWMO’s team of leading technical specialists and engineering partners.
Canada’s use of a deep geological repository is consistent with international best practice. This approach is the culmination of more than 30 years of research, development and demonstration of technologies and techniques. There is also consensus among major nuclear regulatory and monitoring organizations that deep geological repositories are the responsible way forward.