Radioactive Waste Management
In July 1996, the Government of Canada announced a Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste. The Framework lays out the ground rules and sets the stage for the further development of institutional and financial arrangements to implement disposal of radioactive waste in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, cost-effective and integrated manner. The Policy Framework specifies that the federal government has the responsibility to develop policy, to regulate, and to oversee radioactive waste producers and owners in order that they meet their operational and funding responsibilities in accordance with approved disposal plans. The Framework recognizes that there will be variations in approach in arrangements for the different waste types in Canada, i.e., nuclear fuel waste, low-level radioactive waste and uranium mine and mill tailings.
In April 2001, consistent with the Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste, the Government of Canada introduced new legislation for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste. The Nuclear Fuel Waste (NFW) Act is the culmination of many years of federal research, environmental assessments and discussions with stakeholders, including the nuclear industry, provinces and the public. The NFW Act entered into force on November 15, 2002.
Nuclear Fuel Waste
The NFW Act requires nuclear utilities to form a waste management organization whose mandate is to propose to the Government of Canada approaches for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, and to implement the approach that is selected by the Government. The NFW Act also requires the utilities and AECL to establish trust funds to finance the implementation of the selected long-term nuclear fuel waste management approach.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was established by the nuclear utilities in the fall of 2002. Its president, Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, has held a number of senior posts within government and non-government organisations, and had been active in environment-related programs.
The NFW Act requires that by November 15, 2005, the NWMO submit to the Government a study setting out its proposed approaches for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, and its recommendation on which proposed approach should be adopted. The NFW Act requires the NWMO to include in the study approaches based on both storage (on-site or centralized) and disposal. In carrying out this study, the NWMO must consult with the general public on each of the proposed approaches.
The Government of Canada will select one of the approaches for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste from among those set out in the study, and the NWMO will then be required to implement the selected approach. This implementation will be funded through monies deposited in trust funds set up by the utilities and AECL in accordance with requirements in the NFW Act.
Low-Level Radioactive Waste
The major nuclear utility in Canada, OPG, produces about 70% of the annual volume of low-level radioactive waste in Canada. To date, there has been no pressing need in OPG for early disposal; volumes are small and the waste is being safely stored on an interim basis. However, in its 1992 plan for these wastes, the utility fully recognized that, in the longer term, disposal is a necessary step in responsible waste management, so that future generations are not burdened with managing this waste. OPG is currently assessing possible options for the long-term management of low and intermediate level radioactive wastes. The year 2015 is considered an achievable target date for bringing a long-term management facility into service.
The other major ongoing producer of low-level radioactive waste, AECL, had discussions with the CNSC to license a prototype below-ground concrete vault known as IRUS (Intrusion-Resistant Underground Structure) for relatively short-lived waste. The future application of IRUS technology is currently being reassessed by AECL. Until this, or another disposal facility is available, AECL will continue to store its on-going LLW in-ground and above-ground structures.