The CNSC's early involvement in the NWMO's Adaptive Phased Management approach

The NWMO was established in 2002 by Ontario Power Generation Inc., Hydro-Québec, New Brunswick Power Corporation and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, in accordance with the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, to assume responsibility for the long-term management of Canada's used nuclear fuel.

The NWMO mandate is to implement an Adaptive Phased Management (known as APM) approach to find a solution for the long-term storage of this fuel - a solution that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible, and economically feasible to Canadians.

In May 2010, the NWMO launched its site selection process for a willing and informed community to host a geological repository for the long-term management of Canada's used nuclear fuel.

As a best practice, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) gets involved early in any proposed new nuclear projects, to ensure that licence applicants and affected communities have a comprehensive understanding of how the CNSC regulates Canada's nuclear sector.

The CNSC provides future applicants with information and guidance on the regulatory requirements and licensing process before the submission of a licence application and the initiation of the environmental assessment process. The CNSC engages affected communities to provide factual and unbiased information about how it regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment, and to implement Canada's international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Service arrangement between the CNSC and the NWMO

The CNSC signed a service arrangement (PDF) with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to provide regulatory guidance for implementing the APM approach. The arrangement identifies the terms under which the CNSC provides services to the NWMO prior to the submission of a licence application. These services include pre-project design reviews of APM deep geological repository concepts, identifying regulatory requirements for a geological repository, and participating in public meetings to provide information on the CNSC's role.

Pre-project conceptual design reviews of deep geological repositories for used nuclear fuel

As part of the service arrangement with the NWMO, the CNSC will undertake pre-project design reviews of the reports submitted by the NWMO on the conceptual design and illustrative post-closure safety assessment of the APM deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel.

A design review is an assessment of a proposed design, based on the concepts presented by a future licence applicant. The term "pre-project" indicates that a design review takes place before a licence application is submitted to the CNSC.

At this time, it is not known where the repository will be located in Canada, so the NWMO is developing conceptual designs – designs that are not finalized (i.e., models) – for two hypothetical (but realistic) sites. The NWMO will also submit reports assessing the safety of these two hypothetical sites in the future, when a decision will be made to close the sites (i.e., post-closure). CNSC staff will review the conceptual design and post-closure safety assessment reports for these two hypothetical sites in representative rock formations: one in crystalline rock and one in sedimentary rock.

CNSC staff provide reviews as an optional service, when requested by a future licence applicant. This service does not certify a concept design, does not involve issuing a licence under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA) and is not required as part of the licensing process for the deep geological repository. The conclusions of any design reviews do not bind or otherwise influence the decisions made by the Commission.

Read the summary of CNSC pre-licensing reviews

CNSC regulatory requirements for a deep geological repository

As Canada's nuclear regulator, the CNSC is responsible for licensing geological repositories intended for the long-term management of radioactive wastes. The CNSC uses a comprehensive licensing system that covers the entire lifecycle of a geological repository – from site preparation to construction and operation, to decommissioning (closure and post-closure) and, finally, abandonment (release from CNSC licensing). This approach requires a separate licence at each phase, although the site preparation and site construction licences can be combined.

The CNSC's regulatory philosophy for long-term management of radioactive waste stems from the NSCA and is articulated in CNSC documents P-299, Regulatory Fundamentals, P-290, Managing Radioactive Waste, and G-320, Assessing the Long Term Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

The CNSC can make a licensing decision on a deep geological repository only after the completion of the environmental assessment (EA) process.

The EA predicts the environmental effects of any proposed initiatives before they are carried out. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), an environmental assessment:

  • identifies and proposes measures to mitigate potential adverse environmental effects
  • predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, after mitigation measures are implemented
  • includes a follow-up program to verify the accuracy of the EA and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures

In a licence application, an applicant must include information associated with a facility's operation and future decommissioning, including financial guarantees for each phase. Financial guarantees ensure that licensees have sufficient funds to cover the cost of decommissioning work resulting from the licensed activity. The outcome of the licensing process feeds back into a compliance program verifying that the licensee fulfills the regulatory requirements.

Independent advisory group

To help CNSC staff prepare for the review of a future licence application by the NWMO for a deep geological repository for Canada’s used nuclear fuel, an independent advisory group (IAG) was established in 2013, composed of Canadian geoscience experts.

The purpose of the IAG is to provide objective, independent advice to CNSC staff on the geoscience aspects of the APM initiative for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel through review of NWMO’s geoscientific research program and the CNSC’s internal research program.

In the future, the IAG may be asked to focus on particular topics, with the goal of evaluating areas that are likely to be included in the safety case and/or supporting safety assessments.

CNSC community meetings and events related to NWMO’s APM initiative

An important part of the CNSC's mandate is to disseminate objective scientific and regulatory information. The CNSC is organizing outreach activities for communities and Aboriginal groups who express interest in learning more about the CNSC's regulatory role and the licensing process for any application for a deep geological repository for Canada's used nuclear fuel. Communities can also request that CNSC staff visit them to answer technical and scientific questions on topics such as:

Please contact the CNSC for more information.