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Section B

Policies and Pratices

B.1 Scope of the section

This section addresses Article 32 (Reporting) (1) of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, and provides information on Canada's policies and practices concerning spent fuel and radioactive waste management.

B.2 Introduction

Under the current legislative and regulatory framework, spent fuel is considered to be another form of radioactive waste. As a result, legislation and policies on managing radioactive waste apply equally to spent fuel as to other forms of radioactive waste.

B.3 Legislative instruments

Federal legislation that regulates and oversees the nuclear industry, including the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, is comprised of the NSCA, NFWA, NLA, and the NEA (described in Annex 2). The nuclear industry is also subject to the CEA Act, CEPA and the Fisheries Act.

A number of federal government departments are involved in administering these legislations. Where multiple regulators are involved, the CNSC establishes joint regulatory groups to coordinate and optimize the regulatory effort.

In addition, the nuclear industry is subject to the provincial acts and regulations in force within the individual provinces and territories where nuclear related activities are carried out. Where there is an overlap of jurisdictions and responsibilities, the CNSC takes the lead in efforts to harmonize the regulatory activities, including joint regulatory groups that involve provincial regulators.

B.4 National framework for radioactive waste management

The 1996 Government of Canada Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste sets the stage for institutional and financial arrangements to manage radioactive waste in a safe, comprehensive, environmentally sound, integrated and cost-effective manner. The Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste specifies that:

the federal government has the responsibility to develop policy and regulate and oversee radioactive waste producers and owners so that they meet their operational and funding responsibilities in accordance with approved long-term waste management plans, and

waste producers and owners are responsible, in accordance with the "polluter pays principle", for the funding, organization, management and operation of long-term waste management facilities and other facilities required for their waste.

The policy framework recognizes that arrangements may be different for the four broad categories of radioactive waste found in Canada, namely spent fuel waste, low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste and uranium-mine waste rock and mill tailings.

The Canadian Institutional Framework is shown in Figure B.1.

Figure B.1 - The Canadian Institutional Framework

NRCan is the lead Government department responsible for the development and implementation uranium, nuclear energy and radioactive waste management policies. It also administers the NFWA and has overall responsibility for the management of historic waste. The latter term refers to wastes that were managed in the past in a manner no longer considered acceptable, for which the current owner cannot be reasonably held responsible, and for which the federal government has assumed responsibility for long-term management.

A number of other federal departments have been assigned roles and responsibilities related to the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste, including Health Canada (HC), Environment Canada (EC) and the CEA Agency. (Additional information on all these departments and organizations, as shown in Figure B.1, is provided in Annex 1.)

AECL and the CNSC are connected to the Government with dashed lines to illustrate their arms-length relationships. They both report to Parliament through a Minister within the government. AECL is a Crown corporation, owned entirely by the Government of Canada and run by a Board of Directors. AECL's mandate includes the management of the waste it generates from ongoing research, legacy radioactive waste and decommissioning liabilities on its properties, as well as for the waste it accepts for long-term management from non-utility radioactive waste producers across Canada on a fee-for-service basis. AECL also staffs and manages the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office (LLRWMO), which is the national agent for the cleanup and management of Canada's historic waste. The LLRWMO is operated via a Memorandum of Understanding between NRCan and AECL, whereby NRCan provides the funding and policy direction for the LLRWMO.

The CNSC is Canada's independent nuclear regulatory body. Its mission is to regulate the use of nuclear energy and materials to safeguard the health, safety and security of the public, protect the environment and respect Canada's international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The CNSC's regulatory decision process is fully independent from the Government of Canada.

B.5 Regulatory policy on managing spent fuel and radioactive waste

The CNSC issued Regulatory Policy P-290, Managing Radioactive Waste, in July 2004, following extensive consultation with the public and industry stakeholders. The policy outlines the philosophy and six principles that govern the CNSC's regulation of radioactive waste. It is fully consistent with the federal Policy Framework for Radioactive Waste. The CNSC Regulatory Policy P-290 identifies the need for long-term management of radioactive and hazardous waste that arises from licensed activities.

The policy statement in Regulatory Policy P-290 defines radioactive waste as any form of waste material that contains a nuclear substance defined in the NSCA. This definition is sufficiently comprehensive to include spent fuel without any other special consideration. The policy indicates that, when making regulatory decisions concerning the management of radioactive waste, the CNSC will seek to achieve its objectives by considering certain key principles, in the context of the facts and circumstances of each case. These principles are:

  1. The generation of radioactive waste is minimized to the extent practicable by the implementation of design measures, operating procedures and decommissioning practices.
  2. The management of radioactive waste is commensurate with its radiological, chemical, and biological hazards to the health and safety of persons, to the environment and to national security.
  3. The assessment of future impacts of radioactive waste on the health and safety of persons and environment encompasses the period of time when the maximum impact is predicted to occur.
  4. The predicted impacts on the health and safety of persons and the environment from the management of radioactive waste are no greater than the impacts that are permissible in Canada at the time of the regulatory decision.
  5. The measures needed to prevent unreasonable risk to present and future generations from the hazards of radioactive waste are developed, funded and implemented as soon as reasonably practicable.
  6. The trans-border effects on the health and safety of persons and the environment, which could result from the management of radioactive waste in Canada, are not greater than the effects experienced in Canada.

The differences between spent fuel and other forms of radioactive waste are addressed by the application of the second principle described above, indicating that wastes are expected to be managed according to their hazard.

The principles contained in Regulatory Policy P-290 are consistent with those recommended by the IAEA in Safety Series 111-F, The Principles of Radioactive Waste Management. The policy statement recognizes the regulatory body's commitment to optimizing regulatory effort, as indicated by the following statement: "It is also the policy of the Commission to consult and cooperate with provincial, national and international agencies to:

  • promote harmonized regulation and consistent national and international standards for the management of radioactive waste, and
  • achieve conformity with the measures of control and international obligations to which Canada has agreed concerning radioactive waste."

B.6 Regulatory Guide G-320: Assessing the Long-Term Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

Published in December 2006, Regulatory Guide G-320 helps licensees and applicants assess the long-term impact that radioactive waste storage and disposal methods have on the environment and the health and safety of people. Specifically, the guide addresses:

  • assessment approaches, structures and methodologies,
  • level of detail of assessments,
  • confidence to be placed in assessment results,
  • applying radiological and non-radiological criteria,
  • defining critical groups for impact assessments,
  • selecting timeframes for impact assessments,
  • setting post-decommissioning objectives,
  • long-term care and maintenance considerations, and
  • use of institutional controls.

However, it does not address social acceptability or economic feasibility of long-term management methods, or the assessment of facility operations. A copy of the guide is available at

B.7 Classification of radioactive waste in Canada

Established in 1919, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is a not-for-profit organization composed of representatives from government, industry and consumer groups. Its primary product is safety and performance standards, including those for electrical, electronic and industrial equipment, boilers and pressure vessels, compressed gas handling appliances, environmental protection and construction materials. The association also provides training materials and information products. CSA developed the CAN/CSA Z299 series of quality assurance standards, which are still used today and represent an alternative to the ISO 9000 series of quality standards.

Since the last report period, the CSA - in collaboration with industry, government and the regulatory body - developed a standard that includes a radioactive waste classification system, CSA 293.3-08, which takes into account the IAEA Safety Guide DS-390, Radioactive Waste Classification, and the needs of the Canadian industry. The standard was published in March 2008. The radioactive waste-classification system described below recognizes four main classes of radioactive waste:

  • High-level Radioactive Waste (see section B.7.1)
  • Intermediate-level Radioactive Waste (see section B.7.2)
  • Low-level Radioactive Waste (see section B.7.3)
  • Uranium Mine and Mill Waste (see section B.7.4)

Sub-classes for low-level wastes are also identified to provide better guidance on the appropriate waste management needs.

Organization of Classification System

The waste-classification system is organized according to the degree of containment and isolation required to ensure safety in the short- and long-term. It also takes into consideration the hazard potential of different types of radioactive waste.

A definitive numerical boundary between the various categories of radioactive waste (primarily low- and intermediate-level) cannot be provided, since activity limitations differ between individual radionuclides or radionuclide groups and will be dependent on both short- and long-term safety-management considerations. For example, a contact dose rate of two mSv/h has been used, in some cases, to distinguish between low-and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

The following sections provide an overview of the four main classes of radioactive waste in Canada:

B.7.1 High-Level Radioactive Waste (HLW)

HLW is used (irradiated) nuclear fuel that has been declared radioactive waste or waste that generates significant heat (typically more than two kW per cubic metre) via radioactive decay. In Canada, irradiated nuclear fuel is a more accurate term for spent fuel, as discharged fuel is considered a waste material even when it is not fully spent. In spite of the name difference, the term 'spent fuel' is meant in this report to be consistent with the terminology of the Joint Convention.

Spent fuel is associated with penetrating radiation, which requires shielding. Furthermore, spent fuel contains significant quantities of long-lived radionuclides, meaning that long-term isolation is also required. Waste forms derived from spent fuel (e.g. nuclear fuel reprocessing wastes) can exhibit similar characteristics and may be considered HLW.

Placement in deep, stable geologic formations is considered to be the preferred option for the long-term management of HLW.

B.7.2 Intermediate-Level Radioactive Waste (ILW)

ILW is waste that typically exhibits sufficient levels of penetrating radiation to warrant shielding during handling and interim storage. This type of radioactive waste generally requires little or no provision for heat dissipation during its handling, transportation and long-term management. However, because of its total radioactivity level, some ILW may have heat generation implications in the short term, (i.e. refurbishment waste).

Identification of ILW

ILW generally contains long-lived radionuclides in concentrations that require isolation and containment for periods beyond several hundred years (e.g. beyond 300 to 500 years). IWL would also include alpha-bearing radioactive waste (wastes containing one or more alpha emitting radionuclides, usually actinides) in quantities above the levels acceptable for near surface repositories.

ILW is sometimes subdivided into short-lived (ILW-SL) and long-lived (ILW-LL), depending on the quantity of long-lived radionuclides present.

B.7.3 Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLW)

LLW contains material with radionuclide content above established clearance levels and exemption quantities, and generally limited amounts of long-lived activity. It requires isolation and containment for up to a few hundred years. LLW generally does not require significant shielding during handling and interim storage.

Very-Short-Lived Low-Level Radioactive Waste (VSLLW)
VSLLW is waste that can be stored for decay for up to a few years and subsequently cleared for release. This classification includes radioactive waste containing only short half-life radionuclides, of the kind typically used for research and biomedical purposes. Examples of VSLLW are Iridium-192 and Technecium-99m sources and industrial and medical radioactive waste that contains similar short half-life radionuclides.

Generally, the main criterion for VSLLW is the half-life of the predominant radionuclides. In practice, the management of VSLLW should only be applied to radionuclides with a half-life of 100 days or less.

Very-Low-Level Radioactive Waste (VLLW)
VLLW has a low hazard potential, but is nevertheless above the criteria for exemption. Long-term waste management facilities for VLLW do not usually need a high degree of containment or isolation. A near surface repository with limited regulatory control is generally suitable. Typical, VLLW includes bulk material, such as low-activity soil and rubble, decommissioning wastes and some uranium-contaminated wastes.

B.7.4 Uranium mine and mill waste 

Uranium mine waste rock and mill tailings are a specific type of radioactive waste generated during the mining and milling of uranium ore and the production of uranium concentrate. In addition to tailings, mining activities typically produce large quantities of mineralized and un-mineralized waste rock, excavated to access the ore body. The tailings and mineralized waste rock contain significant concentrations of long-lived radioactive elements, namely thorium-230 and radium-226.

B.8 Operational responsibilities for long-term management

While numerous government departments, agencies, hospitals, universities and industry members are involved in the management of radioactive waste, only a limited number of organizations are involved in long-term management. Figure B.2 shows the organizations responsible for the long-term management of spent fuel and radioactive waste in Canada.

Figure B.2 - Organizations Responsible for the Long-term Management of Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste

The NWMO is responsible for implementing the Government of Canada's APM approach to the long-term management of spent fuel. (See sections G.17 and K.4.)

OPG, NB Power and HQ are responsible for the long-term management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated from nuclear reactor operations. This includes the spent fuel generated at their respective reactor sites until the NWMO is ready to accept the waste for management in facilities constructed under the APM approach. OPG is also responsible for the long-term management of low- and intermediate-level waste and spent fuel generated at the Bruce Power Generating Station. (Refer to section K.5.1 for information on OPG's Deep Geologic Repository for the long-term management of its low- and intermediate-level waste.)

AECL is responsible for the long-term management of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated by WL, CRL and the three partially decommissioned prototype reactors (Gentilly-1, NPD and Douglas Point), as well as for the low- and intermediate-level waste it accepts from other Canadian licensees on a fee-for-service basis. AECL is responsible for spent fuel, including research reactor fuel, until the NWMO is ready to accept the waste for management in facilities constructed under the APM approach, as well as for used CANDU fuel sent to its laboratories for examination. (For information on AECL's long-term waste management strategy for its low- and intermediate-level waste, refer to section K.5.2.)

The LLRWMO manages historic waste on behalf of the Government of Canada. (See sections H.6.1 and K.5.3 and K.6.2.)

Cameco and AREVA manage the only operating uranium mines and mills in Canada (see Annex 6). Inactive uranium mines and mills sites are located in Ontario, Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan, as described in Annexes 7

and 8.

The term 'inactive' is used to describe several different types of inventories, including:

  • tailings sites that are currently being decommissioned (e.g. Cluff Lake),
  • tailings sites at operating mill sites where closure activities are in progress (e.g. Rabbit Lake and Key Lake), and
  • tailings sites at former milling locations. These include recently decommissioned sites with engineered tailings containment systems, such as some of the Denison Mines and Rio Algom sites in the Elliot Lake area, as well as sites that date back to the earliest era of nuclear energy production in Canada, when tailings were deposited in lakes or low areas or lakes (e.g. Port Radium).

All of these inactive sites are either already the CNSC licensed or in the process of becoming licensed. Thus, the site owners are responsible for monitoring and any future remedial work that may be required to protect human health and safety or the environment. Two former uranium mine tailing sites in Saskatchewan have yet to be fully decommissioned: the Gunnar and Lorado sites. The provincial government will decommission the sites, as described in Annex

B.9 Management practices for spent fuel

Spent fuel consists of irradiated fuel bundles removed from commercial, prototype and research nuclear reactors. Three provincial nuclear utilities, namely OPG, HQ and NB Power, own about 98 percent of the spent fuel in Canada. AECL owns the remaining two percent. Spent fuel waste includes nuclear fuel waste, as well as any research reactor fuel waste that is not in the form of a CANDU fuel bundle.

Canada does not have a long-term waste management facility for spent fuel. All spent fuel is currently held in interim wet or dry storage at the generating stations where it is produced. Spent fuel discharged from CANDU reactors is placed into special wet storage bays for several years, depending on site specific needs, and is eventually transferred to an interim dry storage facility. Three designs of dry storage containers are used in Canada:

  • AECL silos,
  • OPG dry storage Containers

(For a complete description of these dry storage containers, refer to Annex 4.)

To address the long-term management of spent fuel, the three major waste owners - OPG, HQ and NB Power - established the NWMO in 2002 under the NFWA.

NWMO's first mandate was to study options for the long-term management of spent fuel and recommend a management option to the Government of Canada, by November 15, 2005. In 2005, NWMO completed its study and recommended APM to the Government of Canada, the end-point of which is a deep repository in an appropriate geologic formation. On June 14, 2007, the Government adopted NWMO`s recommendation. Following this decision, NWMO assumed responsibility for implementing the APM. (For a full description of this long-term management plan for Canada's spent fuel, refer to sections G.17 and K.4.)

B.10 Management practices for low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste

In Canada, low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste refers to all forms of radioactive waste, except for spent fuel and waste derived from uranium and thorium mining and milling.

OPG, which owns 20 of Canada's 22 CANDU reactors, is responsible for approximately 77 percent of the low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste generated in Canada annually. AECL produces approximately 17 percent of the annual volume through its research and development activities at CRL and onsite decommissioning activities. AECL also accepts low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from a number of small producers and users of radioactive materials for long-term management, which amounts to a further three percent of Canada's annual volume. The other two CANDU reactors, owned by NB Power and HQ, and Cameco Corporation's uranium processing and conversion facilities in Ontario generate most of the remaining waste. The owners of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste all manage and operate storage facilities for their wastes. In addition, the two major waste owners, OPG and AECL, are pursuing long-term management solutions.

With regard to electricity generation, OPG's low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from its CANDU reactors is safely stored in a central location at the Western Waste Management Facility at the Bruce Nuclear Power Development (BNPD) site in Kincardine, Ontario. OPG entered into an agreement with the Municipality of Kincardine on October 13, 2004 to host a Deep Geologic Repository designed to hold current and future low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from OPG and Bruce Power's 20 CANDU reactors. (More information on this initiative is provided in section K.5.1.) NB Power and HQ have their own low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste-storage facilities at their reactor sites.

Regarding research and development, AECL has waste storage facilities at its two laboratory sites - CRL and Whiteshell Laboratories, as well as at its three prototype reactor sites. Storage facilities include modular, above-ground storage structures, concrete bunkers and tile holes. AECL also, accepts low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from small generators, such as hospitals, universities and small industries on a fee-for-service basis.

As described in section K.5.2, the Government of Canada initiated the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program to deal with legacy radioactive waste and decommissioning liabilities at AECL sites. The program involves developing and constructing the infrastructure required to characterize, condition, treat, process, package and store legacy waste and implement long-term solutions. The low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste that AECL's ongoing operations generate, as well as that accepted from third party generators, will also be managed in these facilities.

Radioactive waste, such as that from hospital nuclear medicine departments and universities, contains only small amounts of radioactive materials with short half-lives. The radioactivity of this waste normally decays within hours, days or months. Institutions such as hospital nuclear medicine departments and universities have implemented delay-and-decay programs, after which waste can be treated using conventional means.

Canada has significant volumes of low-level radioactive waste (LLW), referred to as historic waste, which was once managed in the past in a mannerway that is no longer considered acceptable and for which the current owner cannot be reasonably held responsible. Canada's historic waste inventory consists largely of radium and uranium contaminated soils. The Government of Canada has accepted responsibility for the long-term management of this waste.

The bulk of Canada's historic LLW is located in the southern Ontario communities of Port Hope and Clarington. These wastes and contaminated soils amount to roughly 2 two million cubic metres, and relate to the historic operations of a radium and uranium refinery in the Municipality of Port Hope, dating back to in the 1930s. While the LLW materials under management do not pose an immediate unacceptable risk to human health and the environment, there is general consensus in the local community, as well as in professional and regulatory communities, that the in-situ management systems presently implemented are not a suitable long-term solution.

In March 2001, the Government of Canada and the local municipalities agreed to community developed proposals as potential solutions for the cleanup and long-term management low-level radioactive wastes in the Port Hope area, thereby launching the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI). (The PHAI and other initiatives that deal with historic waste are described in section K.5.3.)

The LLRWMO has been ensuring the safe management of the LLW until the implementation of the PHAI is complete. At some sites, decontamination has proven to be technically and economically feasible. The management methods used included packaging the LLW in drums and consolidating the material into engineered, aboveground containment cells on access controlled sites. Regular inspection and monitoring verify the continued safety of these sites.

B.11 Management practices for uranium mine waste rock and mill tailings

Uranium mining and milling processes generate two major sources of radioactive waste: mine waste rock and mill tailings.

Over 200 million tonnes of uranium mill tailings have been generated in Canada since the mid-1950s. There are 25 tailings sites in Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories (Figure B.3). Twenty-two of these sites no longer receive waste material. The three remaining operational tailings management facilities are located in Saskatchewan. The ore mined at McArthur River is transported to Key Lake for milling, as there are no tailings management areas at the McArthur Mine site. Both operational and inactive uranium tailings sites are the joint regulatory responsibility of the CNSC and the provinces and territories where they the sites are located.

Historically, tailings were used as backfill in underground mines, deposited directly into lake basins or placed in low areas on the ground surface and confined by dams, which were either permeable or water-retaining. Surface tailings could be left bare, covered with soil or flooded, and some bare or covered tailings may have been vegetated. In response to evolving regulatory requirements, the containment structures for surface tailings have become much more rigorously engineered for long-term storage and stability. Tailings management methods at operational facilities include chemically treating tailings to control their mineralogy prior to placing them in hydrostatically contained Tailings Management Facilities, converted from mined-out open pits.

In addition to the tailings produced from milling uranium ore, millions of cubic metres of waste rock are excavated to gain access to ore. At the Athabasca Basin open-pit sites, most of this waste rock is sandstone, which is environmentally benign and suitable for surface disposal. However, some of the waste rock contains either low-grade, uneconomic ore or significant concentrations of accessory minerals. If left exposed on the surface indefinitely, this special waste rock could generate acid or release contaminants at rates that could impact the local environment. The current method of managing special waste rock is to either blend it with high-grade ore for processing or isolate it from atmospheric conditions (e.g. locating it at the bottom of a flooded pit), thus keeping it in an environment similar to that from which it was mined and preventing oxidation reactions.

The inventory of nuclear substances in some inactive uranium tailings management areas can result in these areas being licensed as Class I Nuclear Facilities under the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations, pursuant to the NSCA. (Refer to section E.3.2.) This has implications for the licensing requirements and long-term management of such facilities. Those responsible for inactive tailings management areas with smaller inventories can be licensed for possession of nuclear substances. These inactive tailings disposal areas and facilities will remain under the CNSC licence control in the absence of a suitable alternative. The Province of Saskatchewan, however, has developed such an alternative for decommissioned mining sites (not limited to uranium) on Crown land in that province (see section H.10.3).

Current management practices for licensed facilities use a lifecycle planning process. A preliminary decommissioning plan and financial guarantees for decommissioning are integral to the licence approval process. All phases in the lifecycle of a facility are subject to the environmental assessment process.

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