Implementing Adaptive Phased Management 2024-28

Canada has been using nuclear energy as a reliable, low-carbon power source for our homes and businesses for nearly 60 years. As worldwide energy demand grows and the need to address climate change intensifies, nuclear power has become an increasingly important part of the conversation. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) plays a vital role by closing Canada’s nuclear fuel cycle.

We are responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository, in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

Since our inception in 2002, the Government of Canada has entrusted us with this significant responsibility. At present, Canada’s used nuclear fuel is safely stored at licensed, above-ground facilities. However, this approach is temporary and inappropriate for the very long time frames the material must be contained and isolated.

Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel, which follows an approach known as Adaptive Phased Management, emerged through a three-year dialogue with Canadians and Indigenous peoples, including specialists and the public. It is based on the values and objectives they identified as important.

In 2007, the Government of Canada chose Adaptive Phased Management as the nation’s plan for the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. Since then, we have been diligently working towards this objective.

Now, we are ready for what is next, including a significant milestone in 2024, when we anticipate selecting a site for the repository, after which we will enter the regulatory decision-making process.

Two potential siting areas remain in the process: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario. As we have always maintained, the project will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it.

As this implementation plan demonstrates, we are preparing for this decision through ongoing community engagement and safety assessments, as well as environmental and technical studies. This will help to ensure potential host communities can make an informed and willing choice and that we are well-prepared for the regulatory decision-making process.

Site selection will also mark a turning point for our organization. Over the next five years, our organization will transform, including developing a plan to transition staff to the selected siting area. This will be occurring alongside further site characterization activities to ensure that the project is safe. The transition plan will also ensure that new investments contribute to community well-being and that we are ready for the regulatory decision-making process. Throughout this process, we will be focused on providing local job and contracting opportunities and continuing to invest in community well-being.

As Canada’s plan advances, we will also be proudly taking on a new endeavour. In 2023, the Government of Canada endorsed the NWMO’s recommendations within the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. Now, we will be responsible for the long-term management of intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste.

This new mandate represents an exciting new era and is a testament to both our technical expertise and experience in engaging Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Starting in 2024, we will begin developing the consent-based siting process for the deep geological repository recommended for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste.

Throughout all our work, we remain dedicated to safeguarding people and the environment, including water, for generations to come. We are committed to meeting or exceeding all applicable regulatory standards and requirements as our project is regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in co-operation with other federal, provincial and municipal government departments and agencies.

Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel: Adaptive Phased Management

Adaptive Phased Management is both a technical method (what we plan to build) and management approach (how we will work with people to get it done). The technical method involves building a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. The management approach involves phased and adaptive decision-making, supported by public engagement and continuous learning.

A safe and secure transportation system will be developed to transport used nuclear fuel to the repository site from the facilities where it is currently stored on an interim basis.

The project also includes plans for a Centre of Expertise.

Canada’s Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste

In June 2023, the NWMO submitted the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste (ISRW) to the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources for consideration. The Minister then endorsed our recommendations in October.

The federal government first asked the NWMO to lend our technical and public engagement expertise towards the development of an integrated strategy in 2020. All Canada’s radioactive waste, including used fuel and non-fuel waste, is safely stored today. While the vast majority of Canada’s radioactive waste has long-term disposal plans, before the integrated strategy was developed, there were some gaps — particularly for low-level, intermediate-level and a small amount of non-fuel high-level waste. 

The strategy — a first-of-its-kind for Canada — had two key recommendations:

  • The disposal of low-level radioactive waste in multiple near-surface disposal facilities, with waste generators and waste owners managing implementation; and
  • The disposal of intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste in a deep geological repository, to be implemented by the NWMO.

The integrated strategy was built through more than two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples, waste generators and waste owners, as well as studies of both technical considerations and international best practices.

With the endorsement of the Minister and support of our members, the NWMO has started developing a consent-based siting process for the deep geological repository recommended for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste. This planning process is expected to conclude in 2025. 

The siting process will require informed, willing hosts. Communities that have participated in the siting process for the deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel may wish to participate in this new siting process. As these activities get underway, we will share updates in future editions of this implementation plan.