Frequently Asked Questions

What are the sources of nuclear fuel waste in Canada?

The majority of nuclear fuel waste are irradiated fuel bundles discharged from 22 CANDU reactors, most of which began operating in the mid to late 1970s. Twenty of these reactors are owned by Ontario Power Generation Inc. (OPG). The other two are owned by Hydro Québec and New Brunswick Power. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a federal crown company, has a small amount of waste from its prototype and research reactors. OPG is responsible for about 87% of the waste, New Brunswick Power 6%, Hydro Québec 5%, and AECL 2%. Other waste owners, e.g. universities, produce a very small quantity of nuclear fuel waste.

Is current storage of nuclear fuel waste safe?

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which is the Government of Canada's independent regulatory agent, oversees the storage of nuclear fuel waste as to health, safety, environment and security aspects. Currently this waste is stored safely on site either in wet bays or dry canisters on an interim basis at the reactor sites.

What is Canada's plan for managing nuclear fuel waste over the long-term?

In June 2007, the Government announced its decision to select the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's (NWMO) recommendation of Adaptive Phased Management as the most appropriate approach for managing Canada's nuclear fuel waste over the long-term.

What legislation oversees the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada?

The two main pieces of legislation overseeing the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste are the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSC Act) administered by the CNSC, and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFW Act) administered by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Both pieces of legislation complement each other in meeting Government of Canada policy oversight objectives for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste consistent with its 1996 Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste.

From a financial perspective, what is the main difference between the NFW Act and the NSC Act with respect to the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste?

The NFW Act requires owners of nuclear fuel waste to establish a trust fund and to set aside monies, to pay for the long-term management of the waste. Deposits to the fund will be made on an annual basis.

The NSC Act has the authority to require licensees to provide financial assurances to ensure the full costs of decommissioning, including the disposal of nuclear fuel waste, will be covered. Financial assurances can include cash, irrevocable letters of credit, surety bonds, insurance and legally binding commitments from a government (either federal or provincial).

Who administers the NFW Act?

The Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for administering the NFW Act.

Will all nuclear fuel waste to be disposed of in Canada be managed by the NWMO as approved by the Government of Canada?

Yes. The NWMO is responsible for managing all of Canada's nuclear fuel waste.

When would the NWMO have access to the money in the trust fund?

The NWMO will only have access to the money in the trust fund once the CNSC issues a license related to activities for the implementation of the long-term management approach approved by the Governor in Council.

Does the Government of Canada have any audit rights with respect to the trust fund?

Yes, under the NFW Act, the Minister of Natural Resources or the Minister's authorized representative has the right to audit the fund in order to verify the accuracy and completeness of the information and documentation submitted by the NWMO.

What is the Adaptive Phased Management approach?

The Adaptive Phased Management (APM) approach is Canada's solution to the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste. The APM involves three phases each marked by explicit decision points and continuing participation of stakeholders. The three phases of the APM approach include: maintaining the waste at the reactor sites while preparing for centralization at a site within an interested community; determining whether an optional shallow-underground storage facility at the central site is required; containing the waste in a deep repository at the central site.

What are the benefits of the Adaptive Phased Management approach?

It enables this generation to take action now to put measures in place for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste that safeguards the public in a sustainable, ethically and socially acceptable manner, while being respectful to the environment and to future generations.

It also provides sufficient flexibility for waste owners to exercise prudence in view of social and technical uncertainties over the long-term.

What is the responsibility of waste owners?

They must organize, manage, operate and fund all aspects of the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste.

Does the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act limit the import of foreign nuclear waste to Canada?

No, the Act does not make any reference to the import of foreign nuclear waste into Canada. The Act only deals with the long-term management of Canada’s nuclear fuel waste. It imposes a duty on the Nuclear Waste Management Organization to implement a safe and secure solution for the long-term management of Canada’s nuclear fuel waste. There is no requirement under the Act for the NWMO to manage nuclear fuel waste from other countries.

How does the Government regulate the import of nuclear material?

The import or export of nuclear materials, including used nuclear fuel, in Canada falls under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which administers the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA) and its associated regulations.

Used nuclear fuel falls within the definition of "controlled nuclear substance" as defined in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Import and Export Control Regulations and would require an Import Licence from the CNSC in order to be brought into Canada. The CNSC authorization would include consideration of compliance with NSCA licensing requirements, other applicable domestic legislation and policies, and international obligations of the Government of Canada. An Import Licence would only be issued to a licensee authorized to possess the nuclear substances.

What is the Government's position on foreign waste being managed at a future NWMO long-term waste management facility?

The Government, through the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, has committed that the long-term waste management facility being pursued by the NWMO is for nuclear fuel waste produced in Canada. There is no intention to accommodate or manage foreign nuclear fuel waste at that facility. 

What is the difference between nuclear fuel waste and used nuclear fuel?

“Nuclear fuel waste” and “used nuclear fuel” are terms that can be used interchangeably to mean irradiated fuel bundles removed from a research or nuclear power reactor. The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act refers to it as “nuclear fuel waste”. The industry refers to it as “used nuclear fuel”.