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

As a best practice, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) gets involved early in any proposed new nuclear project. This ensures that licence applicants and affected communities fully understand how the CNSC regulates Canada’s nuclear sector.

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

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

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

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

Service arrangement between the CNSC and the NWMO

The CNSC signed a service arrangement (PDF, 572 KB) with the NWMO to provide regulatory guidance for implementing the APM approach. The arrangement identifies the terms under which the CNSC provides services to the NWMO prior to the submission of a licence application. These services include pre-project design reviews of APM deep geologic repository concepts, identifying regulatory requirements for a geological repository, and participating in public meetings to provide information on the CNSC's role.

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

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

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

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

Read the summary of CNSC pre-licensing reviews

CNSC regulatory requirements for a deep geological repository

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

The CNSC's regulatory philosophy and requirements for long-term management of radioactive waste stems from the NSCA and is articulated in CNSC waste management regulatory documents and REGDOC-3.5.3, Regulatory Fundamentals.

The CNSC can make a licensing decision on a deep geological repository only after the completion of the impact assessment process under the Impact Assessment Act.

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

Independent advisory group

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

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

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

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

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

Please contact us for more information.

Regulating nuclear waste

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