Federal Oversight of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's Plan for the Long - Term Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste

Since the early 1970s, Canada has benefitted from emissions-free electricity generated by nuclear power reactors in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The development and implementation of a publicly acceptable, safe and secure long-term management solution for the nuclear fuel waste produced by these reactors is a cornerstone of the Government of Canada’s strategy for nuclear energy.

While nuclear fuel waste in Canada is safely stored on an interim basis at the nuclear reactor sites where it is produced, the Government of Canada recognizes the need for a longer-term management solution. Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA), which came into force in 2002, provides the framework for progress on a long-term strategy for the management of nuclear fuel waste.

A key principle of the NFWA is that the owners of nuclear fuel waste are responsible for its management, which includes funding, constructing and operating a long-term waste management facility. As required by the NFWA, the nuclear energy corporations – Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power and Hydro-Québec – have established a management organization – the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) – and presented to the Government of Canada a recommended approach to the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada.

In 2007, the Government of Canada accepted the NWMO’s plan, called Adaptive Phased Management, as the most appropriate option for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste. This plan provides a roadmap for the current generation of Canadians to begin taking action now to achieve a safe, long-term response to the nuclear fuel waste challenge. The NWMO is responsible for implementing the plan with Government oversight.

The nature of the Government’s oversight responsibilities is laid out in the Act. These responsibilities are carried out by the Minister of Natural Resources with the support of Natural Resources Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Bureau.  The federal government’s oversight is designed to ensure that the NWMO complies with the legislative requirements of the Act.   Oversight also provides assurance that the development and implementation of the plan are carried out in an open, transparent manner and in the best interest of Canadians.

In accordance with the NFWA, the Government’s oversight functions are to:

  • select a safe and secure plan for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste from the NWMO’s study of options (Adaptive Phased Management selected);
  • ensure trust funds are established by the owners of the nuclear fuel waste and funds are deposited annually;
  • approve a funding formula to ensure that the owners of nuclear fuel waste pay the full lifecycle cost for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste;
  • monitor, review and comment on the NWMO reports and its activities as it implements the government-selected plan;
  • make public statements on the progress of the NWMO’s implementation of the plan;
  • carry out independent public consultations as required;
  • conduct independent expert reviews, where necessary;
  • monitor engagement activities carried out by the NWMO in relation to Aboriginal peoples;
  • assess the need for consultations that may be necessary to meet the Crown’s duty to consult; and,
  • enforce compliance, as necessary.

Natural Resources Canada is the lead organization for the development and implementation of Canada’s policy on radioactive waste management. Officials within the Department’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Bureau provide support to the Minister of Natural Resources in fulfilling the Minister’s responsibilities under the Act.  For more information regarding the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, visit the Federal Government’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Bureau Web site at the following address:  www.nfwbureau.gc.ca.