June 25, 2007

Ottawa accepts adaptive phased approach for nuclear waste management

The federal government has accepted the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's (NWMO) recommended Adaptive Phased Management (APM) approach for long-term management of used nuclear fuel in Canada. APM includes the isolation and containment of used nuclear fuel deep in the earth, with an option for temporary shallow underground storage.

In announcing the decision, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said, "This is a safe, long-term approach. APM will ensure the used nuclear fuel is monitored and retrievable. It is also designed to take advantage of emerging energy technologies, including the possibility of recycling the fuel."

The Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, passed in 2002, required waste owners to set aside funding for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel and to establish the NWMO. The Act also required the NWMO to: prepare a study of options for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel; recommend an option based on that study; and implement the option selected by the government.

In conducting the required study, the NWMO examine three possible options: deep geological disposal in the Canadian shield; storage at nuclear reactor sites; and centralized storage, either above or below ground.

The NWMO also studied, and ultimately recommended, a fourth option, the Adaptive Phased Management (APM) approach, which combines the technical advantages of the other three methods with a management approach that engages citizens throughout the decision-making process.

The APM approach calls for centralized containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel in a deep repository with the option of an interim shallow-underground storage facility at the site. It also provides for continuous monitoring of the long-term management of the used nuclear fuel to ensure protection of the environment and public health and safety.

Three key phases are involved in this approach, all of which will be carried out with the continued involvement of all interested parties. These phases include:

*maintaining the used nuclear fuel in existing storage facilities at reactor sites, while preparing for centralization at a site in an informed and willing community;

*determining whether an interim optional step of a shallow underground storage facility at the central site is desirable; and

*finding and preparing a site to contain the used nuclear fuel in a deep repository with continuing monitoring and the possibility of retrieval.

The NWMO will implement the government's decision in accordance with the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, using funds provided by the waste owners (i.e. the nuclear energy corporations). It is likely to take a number of years to select a suitable site within an informed and willing host community.

Activities associated with the site selection process, including continued public consultation, will be focused in Ontario, New Brunswick, Quebec and Saskatchewan. Once a suitable site is determined, a rigorous environmental assessment and licensing process will take place prior to the construction of a central facility. The federal government will oversee the process through all phases, as required by the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

Nuclear power is a clean energy source that emits virtually no greenhouse gases. It contributes 15% of Canada's electricity generation and 50% of Ontario's electricity supply.

Commenting on the government's decision, Dr Patrick Moore, a Vancouver consultant who was co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, said, "This decision takes a sensible, phased approach to the long-term storage of used nuclear fuel. The decision makes safety and security paramount, and will allow used nuclear fuel to be stored over the long-term in deep, centralized underground storage.

He pointed out that "much of that used nuclear fuel can be recycled - it's not waste. Recycling this spent fuel, which still contains 90% of its original energy, will greatly reduce the need for treatment and disposal.

"The decision made by the government will allow for the retrieval of this used fuel so that it can be recycled for new electricity generation," Moore added.

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