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Executive summary of the Seventh Canadian National Report for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management

1.0 Introduction

Canada’s Seventh National Report demonstrates how Canada continued to meet its obligations under the articles of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management during the reporting period, from April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2020. This report is a collaboration between the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), federal government departments and industry. It focuses specifically on the progress of long-term management initiatives for spent fuel and radioactive wastes in Canada, revisions and updates to Canada’s Sixth National Report, as well as comments and issues raised at the Sixth Review Meeting which took place in May 2018.

2.0 2019 Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission to Canada

In September 2019, the CNSC hosted an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission to Canada. The scope of the 2019 mission included all activities and facilities licensed by the CNSC, including the regulation of waste management activities. The 2019 IRRS mission confirmed that the CNSC has a strong regulatory framework and continues to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities in Canada. The mission to Canada also provided valuable insights; the CNSC and other Canadian federal departments were presented with suggestions, recommendations and a number of good practices to further improve Canada’s oversight of the nuclear industry, including the CNSC’s regulatory framework.

The CNSC developed an action plan to address the findings of the 2019 IRRS mission. On February 18, 2020, the CNSC publicly shared Canada’s response to each recommendation, suggestion and good practice. These actions show Canada’s commitment to addressing the findings of the 2019 IRRS mission, and they will be used to determine whether recommendations and suggestions have been fully addressed prior to the IRRS follow-up mission. The CNSC will continue to share progress related to continuous improvement initiatives resulting from the 2019 IRRS mission in an open and transparent manner. For further information, see section K.5.1.

3.0 Canada’s key highlights and current priorities

The following emerged from the Sixth Review Meeting as Canada’s current priorities and planned measures to improve safety:

  • the modernization of the waste and decommissioning regulatory framework

As part of its ongoing modernization of the regulatory framework, the CNSC is currently completing the development or update of five regulatory documents related to radioactive waste management and decommissioning, including:

    • REGDOC-1.2.1, Guidance on Deep Geological Repository Site Characterization
    • REGDOC-2.11.1, Waste Management, Volume I: Management of Radioactive Waste
    • REGDOC-2.11.1, Waste Management, Volume III: Safety Case for Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Version 2
    • REGDOC-2.11.2, Decommissioning
    • REGDOC-3.3.1, Financial Guarantees for Decommissioning of Nuclear Facilities and Termination of Licensed Activities

These regulatory documents are slated for publication in the 2020–21 fiscal year. For further information, see section K.2.1.

  • the implementation of the Impact Assessment Act

The Government of Canada brought in new rules to protect the environment, recognize and respect Indigenous rights, and strengthen the economy through the new Impact Assessment Act (IAA), which came into force on August 28, 2019. The impact assessment process is led by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) and serves as a planning tool that takes into consideration the whole range of environmental, health, social and economic effects of projects. This regime shifts away from decisions based solely on the significance of effects and focuses instead on whether the adverse effects in areas of federal jurisdiction are in the public interest. For further information, see section K.2.2.

  • the decommissioning and remediation of Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) sites (under the management of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL))

With the implementation of the government-owned contractor-operated (GoCo) model at AECL sites, CNL continues to significantly accelerate decommissioning and remediation activities. Notable progress has occurred at all sites since the Sixth Review Meeting. This includes:

      • the decommissioning and demolition of 77 structures in the supervised and controlled areas at Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), bringing the total number of removed redundant structures to 92 of the more than 120 committed from 2015 through 2026
      • progress made to place the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in a storage-with-surveillance state (following end of operation in March 2018)
      • the decommissioning licence for Whiteshell Laboratories (WL) site renewed for a period of five  years (commencing December 2019)
      • the decommissioning of a further 20 redundant structures at the WL site, and overall decommissioning of WL on track for completion by 2027
      • the environmental assessment and licensing of regulatory processes launched in 2017 for:
        • a near surface disposal facility (NSDF) for the disposal of up to 1,000,000 m3 of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) at CRL. Pending regulatory approval, the proposed disposal facility will be constructed, and the forecasted date of operations is 2024
        • the in situ decommissioning of the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor at Rolphton, near CRL. Pending regulatory approval, the site is slated to be decommissioned by 2024
        • the in situ decommissioning of Whiteshell Reactor-1 (WR-1) reactor at WL

Following extensive public consultation on the draft environmental impact statements (EISs), extensive comments and questions were received from government agencies, Indigenous communities, civil society organizations and members of the public. After taking into account all of the feedback, CNL submitted revised draft EIS packages for regulatory review (NSDF in December 2019, NPD and WR-1 in March 2020). After the successful completion of the regulatory review, each one will be considered at a CNSC public Commission hearing.

      • the preparation of additional interim storage capacity for LLW at CRL while awaiting the start of operations at the NSDF
      • the evaluation of ongoing intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) storage requirements, including near- to medium-term capacity needs, given that current capacity is limited and the plan is to consolidate the storage of all AECL/CNL ILW at CRL, until ILW disposal becomes available
      • the expansion of CRL’s capacity to store dry storage canisters for spent fuel to accommodate the consolidation of spent fuel storage at CRL while awaiting availability at the Adaptive Phased Management (APM) facility of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO)
      • the completion of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel rod repatriation program to the United States Department of Energy
      • the completed commissioning of the fuel packaging and storage facility, and the associated transfer and drying of 96 vulnerable spent fuel packages
      • major progress in the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) cleanup, including:
        • completed construction of the engineered containment mound (ECM) facilities at both Port Hope and Port Granby
        • initiation of cleanup activities within the municipality of Port Hope; closing and capping the Port Hope ECM facility on track for 2026
        • nearly completed remediation at Port Granby; closing and capping the Port Granby ECM facility on track for 2021
      • the identification of means of disposal for wastes from the cleanup of contaminated sites along the Northern Transportation Route (NTR), enabling the substantial completion of remediation activities by 2026
      • continued progress retrieving and processing stored liquid wastes from several buildings at the CRL site (approximately 3 m3 of liquid wastes removed and immobilized)

For further information, including details of the significant progress made on the above activities since 2015, see section K.2.3.

  • the long-term management of spent fuel and location of an acceptable site in a willing host community for a spent fuel repository

The momentum for implementing the long-term management approach for spent fuel has been sustained ever since the NWMO received its 2007 mandate to implement the APM approach approved by the Government of Canada. When the site selection process was initiated in 2010, 22 communities expressed interest in learning more about the project. As of March 2020, two candidate communities had been identified, one in South Bruce Municipality and one near Ignace, both in Ontario. Studies and community consultation continue in these areas. Indigenous communities are also involved, as facilitated through learning agreements. For more information, see section K.2.4

  • deep geologic repository operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) for its low- and intermediate-level wastes

On August 21, 2017, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change asked OPG to update the analysis of the potential cumulative effects the project could have on the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s cultural heritage and to include a description of the potential effects of the project on the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Further, the Minister’s letter indicated that the results of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation community process had to inform the analysis. OPG engaged with the community’s leadership to establish a process, which culminated in a community vote. On January 31, 2020, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation voted to not support the project. OPG respects the community’s decision and has formally cancelled the project. OPG has withdrawn its application to the CNSC to construct the deep geologic repository. For further information, see section K.2.5.

  • the discussion about options for an integrated strategy by Canada’s radioactive waste owners under the Radioactive Waste Leadership Forum

Canada’s largest radioactive waste owners – AECL, OPG, Hydro-Québec (HQ) and New Brunswick Power (NB Power) – and other selected stakeholders continue to meet under the sponsorship of the CANDU Owners’ Group (COG) Radioactive Waste Leadership Forum (RWLF) to discuss opportunities for coordination and collaboration on long-term management matters, including relevant technologies and communication strategies. The RWLF launched a project to produce an integrated radioactive waste strategy for Canada. The first output of this industry-led strategy exercise is expected in the summer of 2020. For further information, see section K.2.6.

4.0 Overarching issues

During the Sixth Review Meeting, overarching issues that arose from cumulative discussions within the country groups were identified. The Contracting Parties agreed that the following issues would be covered in the National Report, along with the measures taken to address these issues:

  • the implementation of national strategies for spent fuel and radioactive waste management
  • the safety implications of the long-term management of spent fuel
  • the linking of long-term management and disposal of disused sealed radioactive sources
  • the remediation of legacy sites and facilities

For details on each item, see section K.3.

5.0 Nuclear facilities undergoing decommissioning in Canada

The following nuclear facilities are currently in the process of being decommissioned in Canada:

  • CRL
  • Douglas Point Waste Management Facility (WMF)
  • Gentilly-1 WMF
  • Gentilly-2 Nuclear Facility
  • Gunnar mine site
  • NPD
  • Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) Safe Low-Power Critical Experiment (SLOWPOKE)-2
  • WL

The status of decommissioning activities at these facilities can be found in section D.1.5 and annex 8.

6.0 Conclusion

In Canada, spent fuel and radioactive wastes are currently managed in interim storage facilities that are safe, secure and environmentally sound. Interim storage facilities are continually monitored by the licensees and the CNSC to ensure fitness for service. Canada recognizes that enhanced, long-term management approaches will be required for all its spent fuel and radioactive wastes, and it is making progress developing solutions.

Canada’s Seventh National Report for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management describes several key initiatives that demonstrate Canada’s commitment to identifying and implementing long-term management approaches that do not place an undue burden on future generations.

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