President and CEO, NWMO
As Canada increasingly relies on nuclear to meet our net-zero goals, ensuring the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel is critical.
Hardly a day goes by without a story about advances in Canada’s nuclear energy sector. Fueled in part by a demand for clean energy sources that will help Canada reach its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, Canada’s nuclear resurgence is supported by governments across the country who are investing in new technologies and considering what more can be done to meet the growing electricity demand.
In Canada, nuclear power is already responsible for 15 per cent of electricity generation. On par with wind, nuclear energy is the lowest-emitting technology, and the Government of Canada has been clear it will play an essential role in decarbonization. Fortunately, Canada is also leading by example when it comes to the responsible long-term management of the country’s used nuclear fuel.
Protecting people and the environment
Established more than 20 years ago, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization that is responsible for managing Canada’s used nuclear fuel and making sure it’s safely contained and isolated in a way that protects people and the environment for generations to come.
“With new nuclear projects moving forward, the public wants to know how the waste will be managed. The good news is that when it comes to used nuclear fuel, Canada doesn’t have a nuclear waste problem, it has a nuclear waste solution,” says Laurie Swami, President and CEO of the NWMO.
Currently, Canada’s used nuclear fuel is safely managed in facilities licensed for interim storage. This approach is safe, but it’s not a permanent solution because it requires ongoing maintenance and management. People across the country have agreed that we need to take responsible and long-term action now and that we cannot leave it for the next generation.
That’s why the NWMO is moving forward with Canada’s plan, also known as Adaptive Phased Management (APM), which will safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository.
Leading with experience
A deep geological repository uses a combination of engineered and natural barriers to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. This approach is the culmination of decades of research, development, and demonstration of technologies and techniques. It is consistent with best practices around the world.
“More than 20 years of experience have brought us to the point where we are today, as we prepare to select a site for the deep geological repository in 2024,” says Swami.
Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nations, and others in the area are working together to implement it.
“Of the 22 communities that initially expressed interest in learning about the project and exploring their potential to host it, we’ve now narrowed our focus to two potential sites,” says Swami. One site is in the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation-Ignace area in northwestern Ontario and the other is in the Saugeen Ojibway Nation-South Bruce area in southern Ontario.
Ready for the future
Recent announcements about investments in nuclear technology — including small modular reactors (SMRs), the possible expansion of the Bruce Power nuclear generating station, potential refurbishment of the Pickering, Ont. generating station — highlight the ongoing need and responsibility we all have to secure a safe, long-term facility to store Canada’s used nuclear fuel. New nuclear is likely to be a reality in Canada as government looks for solutions to reach net-zero and meet the rising demand for electricity. The host communities for the project will be part of decision-making for plans to manage SMR-related used nuclear fuel in the deep geological repository. By way of example, the NWMO will work with potential host communities – through discussions about partnership agreements – to develop and agree on a process for managing changes to the type or volume of used nuclear fuel to be managed in the deep geological repository.
Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel is well underway and ready to adjust to that new reality.
To learn more about the NWMO and Canada’s plan, visit nwmo.ca.