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Section G

Safety of Spent Fuell Management

G.1 Scope of the section

This section addresses Article 4 (General Safety Requirements) to Article 10 (Disposal of Spent Fuel). It provides a comprehensive description of spent fuel management in Canada. At every stage of spent fuel management, there are effective defences against potential hazards. These defences protect individuals, society and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

In addition to describing facilities and their normal operation, this section discusses the steps and controls in place to prevent accidents with radiological consequences and to mitigate the consequences should such accidents occur. The information contained in this section demonstrates that the requirements of the following applicable IAEA Safety Standards have been addressed:

Article 4 - General Safety Requirements - IAEA Safety Requirements NS-R-1, WS-R-1 and WS-R-2

Article 6 - Siting of Proposed Facilities - IAEA Safety Requirement NS-R-3

Article 7 - Design and Construction of Facilities - IAEA Safety Requirements NS-R-1 and WS-R-1

Article 8 - Assessment of Safety of Facilities - IAEA Safety Requirements NS-R-1, WS-R-1 and Safety Series 115

Article 9 - Operation of Facilities - IAEA Safety Standards NS-R-1, WS-R-1WS-R-2 and Safety Series 115

Article 10 - Disposal of Spent Fuel - IAEA Safety Standard WS-R-1

G.2 Nuclear power plants

In Canada, spent fuel is stored in wet and dry states at the locations where it is produced. When the fuel first exits a power reactor, it is placed in water-filled bays. Water cools the fuel and shields the radiation. After several years in the bays - six to 10 years, depending on site-specific needs and organizational administrative controls - and when the associated heat generation has diminished, the spent fuel can be transferred to an onsite dry storage facility. These dry storage facilities are large, reinforced concrete cylinders or containers. Each nuclear generating station in Canada has enough storage space to store all the spent fuel produced during the operating life of the station. A 600MW CANDU nuclear reactor produces approximately 20 cubic metres of spent fuel per year.

G.3 CANDU fuel

All CANDU fuel bundles are fabricated from natural uranium oxide pellets, contained in a zirconium-alloy (Zircaloy-4) tube (cladding). There are normally 30 uranium oxide pellets per element. The maximum nominal bundle diameter is 102 mm, with an overall bundle length of 495 mm. The weight of a nominal bundle is 23.6 kg, of which 21.3 kg is due to the uranium oxide. Each year, 4,500 to 5,400 fuel bundles per reactor are added to the wet storage bays, based on 80 percent to 95 percent full power reactor operation.

G.4 Research reactors

In support of the international regime, Canada contributed its expertise and perspective to the development of two IAEA documents, the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors and Safety Requirements for Research Reactors. These documents will help strengthen the regulatory framework governing the safe operation of research reactors in Canada.

As of March 2008, there were eight operating research reactors in Canada. Five of these are SLOWPOKE-2 reactors, designed by AECL. Of the five, four are located at Canadian Universities: one in Ontario at the Royal Military College of Canada, one in Québec at the École Polytechnique, one in Alberta at the University of Alberta and one in Nova Scotia at Dalhousie University. The remaining SLOWPOKE reactor operates in Saskatchewan, and is managed by the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Of the three remaining research reactors, one includes a 5 MW pool-type reactor at McMaster University while the last two reactors, namely National Research Universal and Zero Energy Deuterium-2, are located at the AECL CRL. In the past, research reactors have typically used highly enriched uranium fuel (HEU) for the fuel cores, but within the last decade some of them have been converted to low-enriched uranium fuel (LEU). This conversion to an LEU operation is in line with the United States Department of Energy 's Reduced Enrichment for Research Test Reactors Program. The program aims to convert all HEU research reactors to LEU fuel. The HEU fuel used in Canadian reactors comes from the United States.

G.4.1 Nuclear fuel waste from research reactors

Two of the five SLOWPOKE 2 reactors in Canada use LEU (below 20 percent U-235); all others use HEU. All SLOWPOKE 2 cores are preassembled and cannot be modified by the licensee. The cores last many years, with reactivity decreases in fuel compensated for by the addition of beryllium reflector shims. Once the decreased reactivity of the used fuel can no longer be compensated for by the addition of reflector shims (usually after 20 to 30 years, depending on usage) the complete core is removed and the spent fuel is either sent to AECL CRL for waste management storage or to the United States. The fuel may also be removed if the facility is decommissioning or is converting to an LEU core.

The waste and spent fuel for CRL reactors is stored onsite. The spent fuel from NRU is stored in fuel storage pools until it can be transferred to Waste Management Area ‘B ', which is described in Annex 4. The ZED-2 reactor is operated occasionally and is mainly used for prototype testing of fuel to determine fuel characteristics.

McMaster Nuclear Reactor (MNR) has recently been fully converted to LEU. Some of the LEU comes from France. All MNR used fuel (HEU and LEU), irrespective of its origin, is sent to Savannah River in the United States.

G.5 Medical isotope production fuel

This type of fuel is not included in the report because, once spent, the fuel is reprocessed for extraction of medical isotopes and is therefore outside the scope of the Joint Convention, according to Article 3(1).

G.6 Storage of spent fuel

In Canada, all spent fuel is stored at the site where it was produced, with the following exceptions:

  • small quantities that are transported to research facilities for experimental or examination purposes, and which are stored at those facilities, and
  • the fuel from the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor, which is stored at the nearby AECL CRL site.

All Canadian power reactors were constructed with onsite spent fuel storage bays or water pools. Spent fuel is stored in either storage bays or in dry storage facilities at the location where it was produced. The only exception is the spent fuel produced at the now-closed NPD nuclear facility. The spent fuel from this facility was transferred to the AECL CRL, where it was placed in a dry storage facility. Please refer to sections D.8 and D.9 for a map of the locations.

Secondary or auxiliary bays have also been constructed at Pickering A, Bruce A, and Bruce B for additional storage. Since 1990, dry storage technology has been chosen for additional onsite interim storage. In addition, the spent fuel from the earlier decommissioned prototype reactors is stored onsite in dry storage facilities. The research reactor fuels are stored in dry storage facilities in tile holes and in silos at the CRL and WL waste management facilities.

The engineered structures, canisters, MACSTOR and OPG dry storage containers were originally designed for a 50-year lifetime. The actual life of the structures could be much longer. These structures are vigorously monitored; in the event of a structure failure, the spent fuel can be retrieved and transferred to a new structure.

Dry storage facilities are licensed for a limited period. Licences issued by the regulatory body in Canada are generally valid for a five- to 10-year period. At the time of licence renewal, the CNSC examines the operational performance of the dry storage facility to determine whether it can continue to operate safely for another licensing term - again, typically for a five year period. This situation may continue until a long-term management facility becomes available.

G.7 Spent fuel management methods

The fuel cycle in Canada is a once through process (currently, there is no reprocessing or intent to reprocess spent fuel for recycling of its uranium and plutonium content). The development and selection of an approach for long-term management of spent fuel is discussed in section G.17.

G.7.1 Requirements for spent fuel storage

Spent fuel handling and storage facilities are required to provide the following:

  • containment,
  • shielding,
  • dissipation of decay heat,
  • prevention of criticality,
  • assurance of fuel integrity for the required time of storage,
  • allowance for loading, handling and retrieval,
  • mechanical protection during handling and storage,
  • allowance for safeguards and security provisions, and
  • physical stability and resistance to extreme site conditions.

The CSA has developed a standard consisting of best practices for the safe siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning of facilities and associated equipment for the dry storage of irradiated fuel, known as CSA N292.2-07, Interim Dry Storage of Irradiated Fuel. The Canadian nuclear sector uses this standard as a guide to facilitate the licensing process.

G.8 Safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste Management

In Canada, spent fuel management and radioactive waste management and associated facilities are regulated in a similar fashion. Safety and licensing issues are regulated according to NSCA requirements and associated regulations.

G.8.1 General safety requirements

Canada ensures that individuals, society and the environment are adequately protected at all stages of spent fuel and radioactive waste management. This is accomplished through the Canadian regulatory regime. Canada 's approach to the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management is in line with the guidelines provided by the IAEA Safety Guides and Practices.

G.8.2 Canadian licensing process

The Canadian licensing process covers siting, construction, operation, decommissioning and abandonment. No phase may proceed without the required applications, documentation, assessments and approvals. A full description of Canada 's comprehensive licensing system is provided in section E.4.

G.8.3 Protection and safety fundamentals

The main objective in the regulation of spent fuel and radioactive waste management is to ensure that facilities and activities do not pose unreasonable risks to health, safety, security and the environment. The regulation of spent fuel and radioactive waste can be divided into:

  • generic performance requirements,
  • generic design and operational principles, and
  • performance criteria.

G.8.4 Generic performance requirements

There are three main generic performance requirements:

  • the applicant must make adequate provision for the protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons and the maintenance of security,
  • the applicant must comply with all applicable laws, regulations and limits (i.e. dose limits, ALARA principle etc.), and
  • the applicant must assure or demonstrate compliance with tests, analyses, monitoring programs, records, data and relevant reports.

G.8.5 Generic design and operational principles

There are two main principles for generic design and operations:

  • the use of multiple engineered barriers to ensure spent fuel and radioactive waste are adequately contained and isolated from humans and the environment during normal and abnormal conditions, and
  • the use of administrative controls and procedures to augment and monitor the performance of the engineered barriers.

G.8.6 Performance criteria

The performance criteria accepted by the CNSC are as follows:

  • structural integrity shall be maintained over the design life of the structure,
  • radiation fields at one metre from the storage structure and at the facility perimeter must not exceed regulatory limits for the public and for workers,
  • there must be no loss of effective shielding during the design life of the storage container,
  • there must be no significant release of radioactive or hazardous contaminants over the design life of the storage container,
  • there must be no significant tilt or upset of the storage containers under normal conditions, and
  • physical security systems of the contents and facility components must be maintained.

G.8.7 Safety requirements

Spent fuel and radioactive waste management facilities must be operated in a safe manner that protects the environment and the health and safety of workers and the public. System components that may require periodic maintenance must be readily accessible and designed to permit safe and efficient maintenance.

Safety requirements at spent fuel and radioactive waste facilities include the following:

  • nuclear criticality safety,
  • radiation safety,
  • physical security and safeguards, and
  • industrial safety.
G.8.7.1 Nuclear criticality safety

Criticality safety requirements must address both normal and abnormal conditions. Criticality safety analyses must be performed when significant quantities of fissionable materials are stored or handled. Each analysis must clearly demonstrate that the storage and handling of the nuclear waste is safe, which means that an inadvertent criticality cannot occur under normal (or credible abnormal) conditions. The analysis of a facility must consider the offsite consequences of improbable or inadvertent criticality events and demonstrate that these consequences do not violate the public evacuation criteria established by international standards (IAEA Safety Standards Series GS-R-2) and national guidelines (Canadian Guidelines for Intervention during a Nuclear Emergency).

G.8.7.2 Facility design

The spent fuel storage and radioactive waste systems must be designed to reduce occupational radiation doses and radioactive emissions to the environment, in accordance with the ALARA principle. The current regulatory requirement is that dose rates at the storage area boundary or at any accessible point within the storage area must be maintained at a level that would not result in an exposure to workers or to a member of the public that exceeds the regulatory limit.

At present, all spent fuel and radioactive waste management facilities operate at a small fraction of the public regulatory limit.

G.8.7.3 Physical security and safeguards

The CNSC monitors and assesses the effectiveness of nuclear facilities ' and nuclear materials ' physical security and provides advice and assistance to licensees about how to apply the NSR. The CNSC administers the agreement between Canada and the IAEA about the application of safeguards to nuclear activities in Canada. The purpose of this safeguards agreement is to verify that Canada is meeting its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. The CNSC personnel coordinate the activities of IAEA inspectors, who are authorized to carry out safeguards inspections and other activities at nuclear facilities in Canada. The operators of spent fuel management facilities are required under section 5(h) of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations to provide in their construction application measures to facilitate Canada 's compliance with any applicable safeguards agreement.

G.8.7.4 Industrial safety

At every stage in the lifecycle of a spent fuel and radioactive waste management facility, the licensee must take into consideration the occupational health and safety of workers. The handling of hazardous materials must meet all federal and provincial legislation.

G.9 Protection of existing facilities

Canadian regulations ensured the safety of the spent fuel management facilities that existed when the Joint Convention entered into force, as all facilities were under a CNSC licence. Consequently, the operation of spent fuel management facilities must be conducted according to NSCA requirements, associated regulations and licence conditions.

Storage facilities for spent fuel and radioactive waste have been designed to ensure there are no effluent discharges to the environment. Effluent discharges from the processing of spent fuel or radioactive waste (e.g. incineration of combustible radioactive waste) are monitored to ensure they exceed regulatory guidelines. All discharges from nuclear facilities must be in conformance with the NSCA, its associated regulations and, if applicable, conditions specified in the licence.

G.10 Protection in the siting of proposed facilities

As discussed in section E.3.2, spent fuel storage facilities are considered to be Class I nuclear facilities, in accordance with the definition provided in the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. The Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations stipulate several licensing steps for these types of facilities:

  • a site preparation licence,
  • a construction licence,
  • an operating licence,
  • a decommissioning licence, and
  • an abandonment licence.

The requirements for a licence to site a Class I nuclear facility are listed in section 4 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. Other requirements are indicated in section 3 of the General Nuclear Safety and Control Regulations and section 3 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations.

G.10.1 Public information programs

It is a regulatory requirement for licence applicants and licensed operators of Class I nuclear facilities and uranium mines and mills to launch public information programs about their activities. The CNSC has issued a guide that provides general information about the regulations regarding public information programs. This document, entitled G-217, Licensee Public Information Programs, is available at the CNSC Web site,

For example, at the Bruce site, OPG operates the Western Waste Management Facility (WWMF) which accommodates all of the low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste for all 20 OPG-owned nuclear units, including those leased to Bruce Power. In addition, the WWMF has spent fuel dry storage facilities being used for the interim management of spent fuel from the Bruce reactors. As described in section H.7.1.1, OPG operates an extensive public information program at the Bruce site. OPG also operates spent fuel dry storage facilities at the Darlington and Pickering Generating Stations. The public information programs at those sites are integrated with the Station Public Information programs and include many of the same tactics used at the Bruce site, such as brochures, newsletters, tours, media briefings and the Internet. The information centres at the Darlington and Pickering sites have also created displays on spent fuel dry storage.

G.10.2 International arrangements with neighbouring countries that could be affected

The Canadian regulatory regime does not obligate the proponents of domestic nuclear facilities that may affect the United States to consult with foreign jurisdictions or with the public about the proposed siting of such facilities.

Canada and the United States, however, are signatories to the International Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo, Finland 25 February 1991). When this Convention is ratified, both parties will be bound by its provisions. Ratification obliges the "Party of Origin" to:

  • "take all appropriate and effective measures to prevent, reduce, and control significant adverse transboundary environmental impacts of proposed activities" (including the siting, construction and operation of nuclear installations),
  • "ensure that affected Parties are notified" of the proposed installation,
  • "provide an opportunity to the public in the areas likely to be affected to participate in relevant environmental impact assessment procedures regarding proposed activities, and to ensure that the opportunity provided to the public of the affected Party is equivalent to that provided to the public of the Party of origin", and
  • include in the notification "information on the proposed activity, including any available information on its possible transboundary impact."

The Governments of Canada and the United States, in cooperation with state and provincial governments are also obligated to have in place programs for the abatement, control and prevention of pollution from industrial sources. This includes measures to control the discharges of radioactive materials into the Great Lakes System. These obligations are contained within the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (1978), as amended by the protocol signed November 18, 1987.

Since the 1950s, the CNSC and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission have practiced cooperation and consultation. On August 15, 1996, they entered into a bilateral administrative arrangement for "cooperation and the exchange of information on nuclear regulatory matters." This commitment includes the exchange of certain technical information that "relates to the regulation of health, safety, security, safeguards, waste management and environmental protection aspects of the siting, construction, commissioning, operation and decommissioning of any designated nuclear facility" in Canada and the United States.

G.11 Design, construction and assessment of safety of facilities

After the granting of a siting authorization, the second formal licensing step for nuclear facilities is the construction licence.

The requirements for a licence to construct a Class I nuclear facility are listed in section 5 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. Information listed in section 3 of the GNSCR and section 3 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations is also required. It includes items such as the proposed design (including systems and components), the QA program, the possible effects on the environment and the proposed measures to control releases to the environment, a waste management strategy and a preliminary decommissioning plan (refer to section F.8).

Prior to construction of a new spent fuel storage facility, an application to the CNSC for a licence would possibly require the CNSC to initiate an EA before making a decision. The CEA Act requires that early on in the project an integrated environmental assessment of the possible impacts on individuals, society and the environment - at all licensing stages - must be carried out. The CEA Act is further described in Annex 2.5. At the end of the environmental assessment process, if it has been determined that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects licensing can proceed.

Regulatory Guide G-320, Assessing the Long-Term Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (see section B.6), assists licensees and applicants as they assess the long-term safety of storage and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

G.12 Operation of facilities

The third step in the licensing process is obtaining an operating licence.

Requirements to operate a Class I nuclear facility are listed in section 6 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. Information listed in section 3 of the GNSCR and section 3 of the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations is also required. It includes such items as a safety analysis report, commissioning program, the measures to prevent or mitigate releases of nuclear substances and hazardous substances to the environment and a preliminary decommissioning plan.

Also, as a requirement of a licence to operate, the licensee must keep a record of the results of:

  • effluent and environmental monitoring programs,
  • operating and maintenance procedures,
  • commissioning programs,
  • inspection and maintenance programs,
  • nature and amount of radiation, nuclear substances and hazardous substances within the nuclear facility, and
  • the status of each worker 's qualifications, re-qualification and training.

G.13 Monitoring of spent fuel dry storage Facilities

Dry storage facilities are required if a facility is to have an Operational Monitoring Performance Assessment Program. The program is the means by which the performance of individual barriers - as well as the entire containment system - are evaluated with respect to:

  • established safety criteria, and
  • standards related to potential impacts on human health and safety, as well as to non-human biota and the physical environment.

A monitoring program for a dry storage facility must be able to detect any unsafe condition or the degradation of structures, systems and components. A typical monitoring program for a spent fuel dry storage facility may include the following elements:

  • gamma radiation monitoring,
  • canister monitoring for leaks, tightness verification of the baskets and canister liners,
  • effluent monitoring (including airborne emissions and liquid emissions), and
  • an environmental monitoring program.

G.13.1 Gamma radiation monitoring experience

Routine gamma radiation surveys are performed using a handheld monitor at appropriate points inside the dry storage facility fence and on all sides of the dry storage containers, or by Thermoluminescent Dosimeter (TLD) mounted devices to monitor cumulative fields. Experience has demonstrated that gamma radiation at dry storage facilities is significantly less than predicted during the design phase.

G.13.2 Leak tightness verification experience

Leak tightness verification of the AECL-type fuel baskets and concrete canisters consists of connecting a pump to the liner cavity and re-circulating the air through filters. Excessive humidity indicates either a liner leak or water holdup in the canister from operations carried out before sealing. The presence of radioactivity indicates a basket leak. For the OPG-type dry storage containers, leak tightness is verified through helium leak testing before containers are placed in storage. Subsequent aging management activities provide assurance that the container condition and weld integrity are not compromised, and helium cannot leak out.

Experience indicates that the various dry storage structures and components currently used in Canada effectively contain the fission products in the fuel bundles.

G.13.3 Environmental monitoring experience

Every nuclear generating station, including AECL 's research facilities, has an environmental monitoring program. Spent fuel dry storage facilities at these sites are addressed in the site environmental monitoring programs, which:

  • provide an early indication of the appearance or accumulation of radioactive material in the environment,
  • verify the adequacy and proper functioning of effluent controls and monitoring programs,
  • provide an estimate of actual radiation exposure to the surrounding population,
  • provide assurance that the environmental impact is known and within anticipated limits, and
  • provide standby monitoring capability for rapid assessment of risk to the general public in the event of accidental releases of radioactive material.

Experience shows that spent fuel dry storage facilities in Canada operate safely and within prescribed regulatory limits.

G.13.4 Effluent Monitoring Experience

G.13.4.1 AECL

AECL fuel baskets are wet-loaded in the generating station 's fuel bay area. The loaded fuel basket is raised into the shielded workstation. While being raised, an annular ring with spray nozzles washes the chain and loaded fuel basket with de-mineralized water to clean them. All liquids are returned to the spent fuel storage bay. Once in the shielded workstation, the loaded fuel basket is air-dried and weld-sealed. The air-drying system consists of:

  • two air heaters,
  • blowers with High Efficiency Particle Absolute (HEPA) filters,
  • associated ductwork, and
  • dampers.

The hot air is blown in via a swan neck duct and removed via a plenum formed by the basket cover and the rotating table. The return air is filtered before being exhausted into the spent fuel bay active ventilation system. Monitoring results have shown no significant levels of particulates in the ventilation system resulting from the dry storage operations. Because the fuel baskets are processed in the fuel bay area where active ventilation is provided, and any liquids generated by the drying of the spent fuel are returned to the storage pool, no airborne or liquid emissions are encountered during the transfer of the loaded basket to the dry storage facility. At the dry storage facility, the cylinders are filled with loaded baskets and a cover plate is then welded in place. Monitoring results have shown that the loaded baskets in the sealed storage cylinders generate no significant levels of airborne or liquid effluents.

G.13.4.2 OPG

OPG dry storage containers are wet-loaded in the fuel bay, decontaminated, drained and dried, and a transfer clamp and seal are installed to secure and seal the lid during onsite transfer. The fuel bay area is equipped with an active ventilation system and all the liquids resulting from the draining and vacuum drying are returned to the fuel bay. At the dry storage facility, a special workshop houses the following dedicated systems for dry storage container processing:

  • closure welding and welding-related systems,
  • x-ray radiography system,
  • vacuum drying system,
  • helium backfilling system, and
  • helium leak detection system.

Airborne contamination hazards may present a danger if any loose surface contamination on the dry storage container becomes airborne, or if there is leakage of the dry storage container internal gas (such gas may contain krypton-85, as well as radioactive particulates). The processes that could potentially give rise to this airborne hazard are:

  • dry storage container draining and drying,
  • transfer clamp and seal removal, and
  • the dry storage container backfilling with helium.

Airborne particulate monitors and gamma radiation monitors are used to detect any abnormally high levels. The workshop also has active ventilation, which consists of exhaust fans, radioactive filter assemblies and a discharge stack. Any airborne radioactive particulate contamination, if present in the ventilation exhaust, is effectively removed by HEPA filters in the active ventilation system. Monitoring results to date, from the Pickering Used Fuel Dry Storage Facility and the Western Used Fuel Dry storage Facility, have shown no significant levels of particulates in the active ventilation exhaust.

As the dry storage containers are fully drained, vacuum dried and helium backfilled at the generating station fuel bay area, there are no liquid emissions from the dry storage container during onsite transfer to the dry storage workshop. The exterior surfaces of dry storage containers are decontaminated prior to their transfer from the fuel bay area to the dry storage workshop. Spot decontamination operations do not generate liquids and liquids are not normally used in the storage areas. Because of this, and because and loose contamination is not permitted on dry storage containers or facility surfaces, no contaminated liquid effluents are expected from the dry storage operations. However, some liquid effluents may originate in the processing area as a result of maintenance. Such liquids are sampled and pumped into the generating station 's active liquid waste management system. Monitoring results at the Pickering Used Fuel Dry Storage Facility have shown no significant levels of radioactivity in the drainage effluent transferred to the generating station system.

G.14 Disposal of spent fuel

Currently, Canada does not have a disposal facility for spent fuel. Any proposal for the siting, construction, and operation of a disposal facility must satisfy the requirements of the CEA Act, the NSCA and its associated regulations.

G.15 New facilities

The only new spent fuel management facility is located at the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. The construction of the facility was completed in 2007 and it is operational. In October 2007, the regulatory body issued an operating licence to OPG for the Darlington Waste Management Facility. The current facility comprises a dry storage container processing building and a storage building designed to store 500 containers. OPG has been granted regulatory approval to construct two additional storage buildings with storage capacity for an additional 1,000 dry storage containers.

Darlington Waste Management Facility

Figure G.1 - Darlington Waste Management Facility

G.16 Proposed facilities

Spent fuel from the operation of research reactors at the AECL CRL is currently stored below ground in vertical cylindrical concrete structures called tile holes. These are situated in Waste Management Area B. The fuel initially loaded into these storage structures from 1963 to 1983 was research reactor prototype fuel and included uranium metal fuel that has less corrosion resistance than modern day alloy fuels. While these fuels are safety stored, monitoring and inspection have shown that some of the fuel containers and fuels are corroding.

AECL intends to construct and operate a new dry storage array to replace the tile holes in which certain fuels are currently stored. These fuels consist of about 700 prototype and research reactor fuel rods, with a total mass of approximately 22 tonnes. The new dry storage system will be located in a Fuel Packaging and Storage (FPS) building.

This building will contain a packaging and vacuum drying station and a monitored storage structure. The fuel will be retrieved along with its existing storage container, which will be placed in a new stainless steel container with a vented closure and then will be dried before being placed in the monitored storage structure. The storage structure will be engineered to last at least 50 years and will provide safe and interim storage for the packaged fuel until a disposal or long-term storage facility is available.

G.17 Long-term management of spent fuel

Policy and Legislative Framework

Since the early days of the CANDU program, several concepts for long-term management of spent fuel waste have been under consideration. The options for long-term management in Canada were reviewed by a Royal Commission in 1977. Subsequently, Canada 's spent fuel waste management program was formally initiated by the Governments of Canada and Ontario. AECL was assigned responsibility to develop a concept for placing spent fuel in a deep underground repository within the plutonic rock of the Canadian Shield. Ontario Hydro (now Ontario Power Generation Inc.) was assigned responsibility to study and develop technology to store and transport spent fuel. It was also designated to provide technical assistance to AECL in the area of repository development. In 1981, the Governments of Canada and Ontario announced that site selection for a repository would not be undertaken until after the disposal concept had been accepted.

In 1994, AECL submitted for review to a federal Environmental Assessment Panel its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the deep geologic repository concept. This review included input from government agencies, non-government organizations and the general public. Public hearings associated with the review took place during 1996 and 1997.

The report of the federal Environmental Assessment Panel was submitted to the Canadian government in 1998. It made recommendations to help the federal government reach a decision on the acceptability of the disposal concept and the steps to be taken to ensure the safe long-term management of spent fuel waste in Canada (CEA Agency 1998).

The federal government responded to the Environmental Assessment Panel report later in 1998 and announced the steps it would require the producers and owners of nuclear fuel waste in Canada to take, including the formation of the NWMO by the nuclear utilities. In 2002, the Canadian Parliament passed the NFWA, which indicates that the Governor-in-Council will select one approach for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste from those examined by the NWMO. The NFWA includes the following:

  • The nuclear energy corporations are to establish a waste management organization, the purpose of which is to study and propose approaches for the management of nuclear fuel waste and to implement the approach selected by the Governor-in-Council. The study was to include a technical description, and a comparison of the benefits, risks and costs and ethical, social and economic considerations associated with each approach, together with specification of economic regions for implementation and plans for implementation of each approach in the study. The waste management organization was to consult the general public and in particular Aboriginal peoples on each approach.
  • The waste management organization is to create an Advisory Council, which will reflect a broad range of scientific and technical disciplines. Its expertise should include public affairs, other social sciences as needed and traditional Aboriginal knowledge. It will also include representatives of the local and regional governments and Aboriginal organizations that are affected by the selected approach because of their geographic location.
  • The waste management organization is to submit, within three years of the NFWA coming into force, a study setting out proposed approaches for the management of nuclear fuel waste, and its final recommendation. The study must include approaches based on the following methods:
    • a modified AECL concept for deep geologic disposal in the Canadian Shield,
    • storage at nuclear reactor sites, and
    • centralized storage, either above or below ground.

Under the NFWA, the federal government was tasked with reviewing the study prepared by the waste management organization, selecting a long-term management option from those proposed and providing oversight during implementation. NRCan will oversee how NWMO implements the management approach and ensure compliance with the NFWA. The NWMO will report annually to the Minister of Natural Resources. Every third year - following the selection of an approach by the Governor-in-Council - this report will include a summary of activities and a strategic plan for the following five years.

Canada 's plan has now moved forward against this legislative framework.

Pursuant to the NFWA, the NWMO was established in 2002 by the nuclear-energy corporations - OPG, HQ, and NB Power. Upon its establishment in 2002, the NWMO 's first mandate was to develop collaboratively with Canadians a management approach for the long-term care of Canada 's spent fuel that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible and economically feasible. From 2002 to 2005, the NWMO studied various approaches to the long-term management of Canada 's spent fuel.

In 2005, the NWMO recommended the APM approach to the Minister of Natural Resources. APM includes a technical method based on an end point of centralized containment and isolation of the spent fuel in a deep geologic repository in a suitable rock formation. It provides for continuous monitoring of the spent fuel and the potential to retrieve it for an extended time. There is provision for contingencies such as the optional step of shallow storage at the selected central site if circumstances favour early centralization of the used fuel before the repository is ready.

The management system is based on phased and adaptive decision-making. Flexibility in the pace and manner in which the project is implemented allows for phased decision-making, with each step supported by continuous learning, research and development and public engagement. An informed, willing community will be sought to host the centralized facilities. Sustained engagement of people and communities is a key element of the plan, as the NWMO continues to work with citizens, communities, municipalities, all levels of government, Aboriginal organizations, NGOs, industry and others.

On June 14, 2007, following a review of the NWMO 's study Choosing the Way Forward, the Government of Canada announced that it had selected the APM approach for the long-term management of spent fuel in Canada.

With this Government decision, NWMO assumed responsibility for implementing the APM approach. Governance and organization staffing have evolved to provide the oversight, skills and capabilities required to implement APM. The Advisory Council continues to provide advice as required by the NFWA and NWMO issues its reports annually to the Minister of NRCan. To support financing of the plan, waste owners continue to make regular deposits to the segregated trust funds established in 2002. In 2008, the NWMO submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources a funding formula and schedule for trust-fund deposits. Refer to section K.4 for further information on plans for the long-term management of spent fuel.

Implementation of APM will be regulated at all stages, with the CNSC responsible for regulatory matters pursuant to the NSCA. NWMO will be required to obtain licences from the CNSC for site preparation, construction, operation and decommissioning of the repository facilities.

For information on the public consultation strategy refer to Section K.4

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