Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) – Licensing Review Process
The NSDF project is undergoing a rigorous technical and regulatory review. Here is the most requested information about how the CNSC reviewed the NSDF.
- Environmental assessment legislation
- Public engagement: Notification, project updates and participation
- Licensing, Commission hearings and compliance
- Indigenous consultation
- Environmental monitoring
Environmental assessment legislation
The CNSC determined in 2016 that the NSDF project required an environmental assessment (EA). As a result, this project falls under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012), as opposed to the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) which came into force August 28, 2019.
Ongoing projects with EAs initiated under CEAA 2012 and led by the CNSC continue under their original processes that began before the IAA was introduced. The IAA contains provisions to enable these projects to advance in this way.
Under CEAA 2012 and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), the applicant, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories must demonstrate that the proposed NSDF would be safe for the environment and the public – both now and during its entire lifecycle. The NSDF cannot proceed unless the Commission is satisfied that activities can be carried out safely.
For more information: Environmental assessments – Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
Public engagement allows the CNSC to obtain valuable information and to hear concerns and address questions about proposed projects – leading to a better, more informed review.
- Project updates
- Participant Funding Program (PFP)
As the NSDF underwent an environmental assessment under CEAA 2012, the CNSC posted a notice of commencement on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry, along with the project description. The CNSC then announced a public comment period on the project description to allow members of the public and Indigenous groups to comment on the proposed project.
When the CNSC launches a review process, the public is notified via several channels:
- CNSC website
- CNSC social media channels
- Open houses typically held in potentially affected local communities
- Consult the CNSC’s NSDF project page and the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry for the most current information.
- Subscribe to the CNSC’s mailing list and follow the CNSC on social media.
- Contact the environmental assessment specialist or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the NSDF-specific distribution group for project bulletins with status updates.
- Attend CNSC webinars and open houses, and/or series hosted by the proponent.
Members of the public provided feedback on the NSDF proposal prior to public Commission hearings, which were held to inform the Commission’s EA and licensing decisions.
The public and Indigenous Nations and communities were also encouraged to submit written and/or oral interventions prior to Part 1 and Part 2 of the Commission hearing.
Hearings for the NSDF proposal were held on:
- February 22, 2022: Part 1 of the public Commission hearing
- May 30 to June 3, 2022: Part 2 of the public Commission hearing
- August 10, 2023: Public Commission hearing for final submissions
The public and Indigenous groups also had the opportunity to participate in the public comment period held in 2017. The NSDF environmental impact statement (EIS) was revised in response to these comments received from, as well as through the technical review process of the EA. Read the NSDF's final environmental impact statement.
Participant Funding Program
The CNSC’s participant funding program provides financial support to enhance participation in EA and licensing processes. There have been several rounds of NSDF-related participant funding NSDF since 2016. No further opportunities are currently available.
Licensing, Commission hearings and compliance
The CNSC’s expert staff review applications for licences according to regulatory requirements and enforce compliance with the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. CNSC licensing of nuclear facilities is comprehensive and covers 14 separate and technical topics called safety and control areas. These cover topics such as radiation protection, emergency preparedness, environmental protection and fitness for service. The CNSC assesses licence applications to ensure that safety measures are technically and scientifically sound, all requirements are satisfied, and the appropriate safety systems are in place to protect people and the environment. The CNSC uses its technical expertise to make recommendations to the independent Commission.
The Commission makes decisions on the licensing of major nuclear facilities through a fair and transparent public hearing process. For the NSDF project, the Commission held a 2-part public hearing (Part 1 on February 22, 2022, and Part 2 beginning on May 30, 2022). Part 1 consisted of oral and written submissions from CNSC staff and the applicant, while Part 2 focused on oral and written submissions from intervenors.
A final public hearing was held on August 10, 2023, when oral submissions were heard by the Commission.
For more information about the hearing process:
The Commission has authorized a licence for CNL to construct the NSDF. The CNSC will ensure that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories meets all legal and regulatory requirements, as well as its licence conditions, through regular inspections and evaluations.
For more information:
- The CNSC's approach to compliance verification and enforcement
- Regulatory oversight reports: CNSC staff prepare annual regulatory oversight reports to evaluate major nuclear facilities based on safety procedures and adherence to regulatory policy. The NSDF will be included in this documentation as a major nuclear facility.
The CNSC acknowledges the importance of building relationships and consulting with Indigenous peoples in Canada. This is achieved in part through a good governance approach to effective and well-managed Indigenous consultation and engagement processes when Indigenous rights or interests may be impacted.
Since the beginning of the NSDF review in 2016, the CNSC has undertaken many consultation and engagement activities with identified Indigenous groups:
- written correspondence, phone calls, presentations, and meetings with leadership and consultation staff
- supported the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge in the NSDF review
- conducted collaborative Rights Impacts Assessments with identified Indigenous groups
- supported participation of Indigenous groups to the regulatory review process through the CNSC Participant Funding Program, including funding to undertake land use occupancy and Indigenous knowledge studies.
The CNSC will continue to work and build relationships with identified Indigenous groups throughout the remainder of the regulatory process for the NSDF. For more information: The CNSC’s approach to Indigenous consultation, engagement, and reconciliation.
In addition, the CNSC encourages licensees to engage with interested Indigenous groups as part of their Public Information and Disclosure Program, on a regular basis, whether or not there is an ongoing environmental assessment or licensing process for a project that could affect their rights. For more details, see REGDOC 3.2.1: Public Information and Disclosure.
The CNSC is directly addressing concerns with respect to the Ottawa River and proposed NDSF. More than 50 specialized scientific and technical experts, including geoscientists and structural engineers – at the CNSC and across government – are carefully reviewing all details of the proposal. This examination includes analyzing proposed protective materials, studying water flows and evaluating structural integrity, in order to ensure that the proposed NSDF would meet Canada’s rigorous standards for protecting people and the environment
As part of the EA process, the proponent is also required to develop a follow-up program to verify the accuracy of the EA predictions and to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures. This program needs to engage the public and Indigenous groups, in both its design and implementation.
REGDOC-2.9.1 - Environmental Principles, Assessments and Protection Measures outlines the CNSC’s principles for environmental protection, the roles and responsibilities associated with an environmental review, and the requirements to applicants and licensees for developing environmental protection measures, including an environmental risk assessment (ERA) where required. The CNSC requires licensees to have a robust environmental monitoring program, in accordance with the requirements in this REGDOC. As part of the CNSC compliance verification program, our experts verify the robustness of a licensee’s program through inspections, independent sampling, the review of program documents, events, and annual compliance monitoring reports.
Once a licenced facility is in operation, the CNSC’s (IEMP) verifies that the public and the environment around licensed nuclear facilities are protected. It is separate from, but complementary to, the CNSC's ongoing compliance verification program. The IEMP involves taking samples from public areas around the facilities, and measuring and analyzing the amount of radiological (nuclear) and hazardous substances in those samples. CNSC staff collect the samples of water, sediment, soil, air, and food samples and send them to the CNSC's state-of-the-art laboratory for testing and analysis.
Results of both monitoring programs are submitted to the CNSC to ensure compliance with applicable guidelines and limits and are posted for full transparency.
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