Forum: Waste disposal

Modernizing Canada's Radioactive Waste Policy > Forum: Waste disposal


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In Canada, waste owners are responsible for the funding, organization, management and operation of disposal facilities, locations or sites, as well as all applicable steps of waste management, required for their radioactive waste.

Disposal is the final step in the management of radioactive waste, and refers to the placement of radioactive waste without intention of retrieval. Waste management and disposal activities are subject to national policy requirements as well as a regulatory framework for safety.

Decisions on disposal approaches may vary from country to country, depending on factors such as national policy, geography, waste types, volume, Indigenous and public engagement, environmental and socioeconomic factors.

Read the discussion paper (PDF, 842 kb)

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Matthew Mairinger's avatar
Feb 8, 2021 - 11:47

I think after the "specific landfill disposal" bullet point additional criteria should be added to explain when this would be used and to stress this would not be utilized for LLW/ILW/HLW. REGDOC-2.11.1 does not mention "landfill disposal" so I believe it should have clarifying details in the policy.

"The waste owner is also responsible for implementing those plans and ensuring that funding is in place to maintaining institutional control, unless that responsibility was transferred to a third party"- should this be clarified to identify how long the control must be maintained? Should there be a mention of optimization or about revisiting LNT assumptions for when control would no longer be required?

In regards to the question about whether the State's disposal facilities would only accept radioactive waste of national origin or from other States as well I believe there should be a clause added which would state that if we accept fuel from an international origin (i.e. SMR fuel, "spent" PWR/MOx/BWR fuel for feedstock in CANDU reactors, etc.) we should accept disposal responsibility for the waste rather than shipping the waste internationally for disposal. Essentially if we are utilizing the international fuel for domestic energy and are therefore gaining usefulness from the import we should accept responsibility for disposal rather than transporting it back internationally for disposal.

Ultimately I agree that we should continue with the Adaptive Phase management and not be in a rush to permanently dispose of spent fuel as there are technologies/reactors which can still extract energy from them but I strongly encourage the creation of a spent fuel repository as the lack of this facility has been used as an argument that nuclear should no longer be pursued.

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David Wood's avatar
Feb 16, 2021 - 04:32

The municipality of South Bruce along with Ignace are the two remaining communities that may be considered "a willing host" for disposal of all of Canada's spent nuclear fuel. The concept for disposal is by way of a deep geological repository (dgr).
The municipality of South Bruce, where I have been a resident for over 30 years and served on council for two terms in my opinion, is currently split on support for this proposal in spite of several million dollars already contributed from the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) to the community's "well being". This division has occurred in spite of the process for community discussion or should I say the learning process that has gone on for 10 years now. For the most part the learning process has almost entirely focused on whether the science is good to support this project. However, most residents are of the rural agricultural sector not nuclear scientists and have no expertise to review properly. And those residents who can make their living at the Bruce Power nuclear station and would likely be favorable to the NWMO's proposal as it would enhance the marketability of nuclear power for having solved it's decades old waste dilemma.
In getting to an agreement with a rural community such as South Bruce to be a "willing host" on such a massive ($28 billion estimate) project, one that will truly impact the quality of a rural community of less than 6,000 two things have to occur in the next 2 years:
1. An honest learning process has to take place regarding the socio-economic impacts of this project has to occur led by someone other than the NWMO
2. Assurances have to be made that a formal referendum takes place in the upcoming 2022 municipal elections on a question reviewed and supported by the community as to whether South Bruce is a willing host.

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Anonymous's avatar
Mar 10, 2021 - 15:52

Winston Churchill stated “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see”. Who could have imagined the strides man has made in the last 50 or 100 years? To bury and abandon this problem is to shortchange all future science and technologies. There are too many unknowns at present. Placing radioactivity in disturbed limestone, packed with clay, under a major watershed, river and amidst an aquifer that adjoins the Great Lakes is an experiment we do not want. Leave the waste where it is, move it off the lakeshore, fortify it, and look to the means that would irradiate it. We steer in the direction we look. A less perilous solution is possible, if the will is there to find it.

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Peter Baumgartner's avatar
Peter Baumgartner
Mar 16, 2021 - 13:20

Other than radium and uranium mine wastes, no nuclear waste disposal facility of any kind has been sited nor built in Canada. Sweden, Finland, France, United Kingdom and USA, just to mention a few, have sited, constructed, licensed and are operating some select disposal facilities. There is still no facility, policy nor program in Canada to do so. Hollow, words include:
• Specific landfill disposal
• Near-surface disposal
• Facilities constructed in caverns, vaults or silos below ground level
• Borehole disposal
• Geologic disposal
• Disposal stabilized in-situ”
All the above examples are stabilized geologic disposal and should be reclassified as follows:
• Surficial disposal on or in soils
• Pit or near-surface disposal in soils
• Shallow rock disposal (open pit, underground excavation, boreholes)
• Deep rock disposal (underground excavation, boreholes)
The choice of disposal method is dependent on the nature and quantities of the waste, the quality of the available geology and the natural processes and events (e.g., ground water transportation, continental glaciation).
The example “Disposal stabilized in-situ” is a complete misnomer intended to obfuscate another term called “in-situ decommissioning” as used in the Decommissioning Discussion Paper, that tend to mislead the leaders and the public.
The usage of broad, non-descript terms such as “Existing licensed long-term management facilities include those related to uranium mines and mills tailings, as well as the Port Hope Area initiative projects” as described in the Waste Disposal Discussion Paper should instead use the term Disposal Facilities, to ensure clarity. But the introduction of the Port Hope Area Initiative projects into the Waste Disposal Discussion Paper and not into the Waste Storage Discussion Paper clearly implies that this Project has moved from Waste Storage to Waste Disposal without appropriate public hearings presenting this case. Nowhere in the Port Hope Environmental Assessment is the word “Disposal” used. Elsewhere on-line, the subject of water treatment from the “Storage Mounds” is mentioned. So, which is it, are the Port Hope Area Initiative Mounds classified as Waste Storage or Waste Disposal and are they still an Initiative or a “fait accompli”?
“For purposes of this EA, the term “abandonment” is interpreted to mean the cessation of all forms of planned, designed human intervention at the decommissioned LTWMF for the purposes of managing or controlling potential environmental or human health and safety concerns associated with it. Abandonment of the LTWMF prior to its decommissioning (i.e., with waste materials still contained within it) is not considered viable or responsible stewardship” (Marshall et al. 2005).
Marshall, Macklin Monaghan Limited. 2005. Port Hope Project. Environmental Assessment Study Report. Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management Office LLRWMO-0

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Peter Baumgartner's avatar
Peter Baumgartner
Mar 18, 2021 - 10:22

No matter how the radioactive waste is produced in Canada (mining, milling, refining, reactors, R&D, medical and non-medical isotopes, decommissioning, etc.), the Policy must elucidate a clear path forward towards disposal, else management cannot be achieved. This should include tentative start and end points for all waste streams, including their times and locations. These are called plans. Do not shy away from plans. The public and utilities work with them every day. Confidence cannot be gained in policies without illustrative plans with time lines and sources of funding. Since Canada invokes the “user pay” principal, this should not be a significant problem.
The longer waste disposal is delayed, the greater will be the costs for interim storage including the unnecessary proliferation of “in-situ’ disposal sites for legacy R&D reactors and their associated ILW and LLW. Ultimately, they may require re-excavation by future governments who may be required to live up to higher standards.
The greatest cost for delayed Waste Disposal is the potential extremes associated with Waste Minimization including its costs. Delay in disposal requires increased storage plus its continuing care and maintenance plus the continuing care and maintenance of non-decommissioned facilities. This also invokes the process of reducing and containing the volume of the contaminated wastes to levels beyond what should be considered practicable. The cost trade off should consider the ratio of the cost for the safe removal of the waste volume from the environment versus the cost for the excavated ground volume (soil or rock) and their associated operations for each volume.
One of the greatest problems associated with the legacy wastes at CRL and WL are the quantities and assays of the deposited ILW and LLW on the waste management sites. Preliminary estimates of the volumes and radionuclide content of LLW and ILW to 2008 (Baumgartner 2011) are ranked as preliminary in that the current inventory is incomplete, partly due to very limited waste-characterization practices in the past (i.e., limited to either needing or not needing radiation shielding), limited compilation of waste-receipt records in a comprehensive database and the loss of waste-receipt records in a fire at CRL predating 1956. An arbitrary quantity of Used Fuel was added to the CRL inventory in lieu of this knowledge. This lack of knowledge undermines any safety case for “in-situ” disposal of the legacy wastes at the CRL and WL sites.

Baumgartner, P. 2011. Preliminary estimates of AECL’s current and future low- and intermediate-level radioactive wastes. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Report 361101-01613-REPT-001 Rev. 4

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Anonymous's avatar
Mar 23, 2021 - 18:08

This paragraph seems to permit nations to include or exclude from its radioactive waste management policy four considerations that I think should not be optional, but rather mandatory parts of the policy.

1. The state should be required to inform the public of its plans for radioactive waste management and disposal, especially nearby communities and First Nations on whose land a disposal site or dump could be built, and to consult them for help in making decisions. For First Nations, this constitutes free, prior and informed consent, and indicates to the public that the state is acting in an open and transparent manner.

2. The state should not be permitted to send any radioactive waste to any disposal site from any point of origin, domestic or foreign, without informing and obtaining consent from affected communities and First Nations. Communities and First Nations must have the right to refuse to host such facilities, and to refuse the construction and operation of waste reprocessing, or fissile material extraction, facilities.

3. It should be mandatory for the state not to impose undue financial, health and safety, environmental, and national and international security risks on future generations as an ethical imperative. This should also be the case for present generations, because the actions we take now will impact those who come after us.

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Ole Hendrickson's avatar
Mar 28, 2021 - 15:11

Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) across generations is essential for responsible long-term radioactive waste management.

The Final Report of the OECD RK&M Initiative says: "Radioactive waste repositories are designed to isolate waste from the living environment without human intervention over extended periods of time. Nevertheless, the intention is not to abandon the repositories, but to provide the oversight that is necessary to ensure that they are not forgotten by society. In response to this challenge, the Nuclear Energy Agency launched the international initiative “Preservation of Records, Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations”."

Earlier, a workshop organized by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) examined this topic. The 1997 UNESCO Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations towards Future Generations says “the present generations have the responsibility of ensuring that the needs and interests of present and future generations are fully safeguarded”.

Some principles that emerged from that workshop follow:

Radioactive waste is an iconic example [of the UNESCO Declaration]. By striving to maintain and provide access to records as well as to allow knowledge to persist or be reconstituted if lost, and by propagating the memory of these legacies we will fulfil our responsibility to enable future members of society to make knowledgeable decisions. Our responsibility extends over centuries and millennia, as long as these legacies will last.

Enabling future members of society to make knowledgeable decisions is part of responsible, ethically sound management of environmental and other impacts of the legacies we leave behind.

The relevant institutions should plan for continuing oversight. This is also in line with a prudent approach for protecting health and safety.

Preparing for future RK&M preservation is best addressed while a project leading to a legacy is being planned, designed, implemented and funded.

The long operational phase of some of these projects creates opportunities for the development of inclusive and workable RK&M strategies.

Throughout the operational phase institutional stakeholders must prepare for any stage when their own roles will be reduced and responsibilities will be transferred to others.

Collaborations with other bodies in various sectors in society, both nationally and internationally, provide important benefits.

In conclusion, preserving Knowledge, Records and Memory of Radioactive Waste is among the most important obligations of government, the regulator, and waste owners with regards to radioactive waste disposal facilities. Radioactive waste "disposal" does not remove this obligation. "Disposal" facilities cannot be abandoned. Continuing oversight is needed to ensure they are not forgotten by society.

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Erwin Dreessen's avatar
Erwin Dreessen
Mar 28, 2021 - 16:34

With radioactive wastes there is no such thing as disposal in the ordinary sense of the word. These wastes will always be with us. The issue therefore is how they are to be managed in long term storage. Management of storage facilities should be by an independent agency that is arms-length from government and industry. Management processes should be designed to continue in perpetuity.

To the principle of polluter pay should be added the principles of a precautionary approach and pollution prevention.

No storage facility should be near a water way or where leakage could end up in groundwater.

Wastes should always be retrievable.

Transportation of wastes to a storage facillty should be minimized.

There should be complete transparency regarding all policies and practices. The public has a right to know. Indigenous communities should be fully engaged and have right of refusal.

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Peter Ottensmeyer's avatar
Mar 31, 2021 - 14:28

In any discussion of disposal of waste one should first pause and consider whether one is actually dealing with waste. This is especially true of used nuclear fuel waste as defined in the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, as it emerges from our CANDU reactors.
Used CANDU fuel, although some of its heavy atoms have a radioactive life of close to a million years, is not waste. Therefore should not even be considered for disposal. Less than 1% of the uranium fuel has been used and converted into already massive amounts of non-carbon energy. To jettison the remainder is like licking a chocolate bar once and chucking the rest.
The very first reactor to produce electricity from nuclear energy, the EBR-I in 1951, showed how to utilize the other 99% of the fuel. It required enriched fuel, which Canada wanted to forego since it easily leads to a path of nuclear weapons. We built the CANDU, a thermal reactor fuelled with natural uranium, yielding an industry best 0.74% of the nuclear energy in the fuel. All other thermal reactors are worse at about 0.55% of the potential energy of mined uranium. The remainder for all of them is considered waste, wrongly.
But the EBR-I was a fast-spectrum reactor, like some of the small modular reactors (SMRs) proposed for Canada at present. With recycling of its fuel, as shown for its larger cousin, the EBR-II, it could consume all of the heavy atom in the uranium fuel, leaving only split-atom fission products that decay in days, weeks, months and years, with only to atom types, Sr-90 and Cs-137, having half-lives of 30 years, much shorter than the million year life of current used fuel.
Two SMRs proposed now for Canada, the SSR-W of Moltex and the ARC-100 of Advanced Reactor Concepts have recycling of used CANDU fuel as part of their modus operandi. Both processes involve electrorefining in molten salt, like pyroprocessing worked out at the Argonne National Laboratories and operating there since then. The process residues are those fast-decaying fission products, with heavy atoms recycled as fuel and working fluid salts recycled as electrolytes. The remainders are therefore minimal, requiring temporary storage until they decay to valuable stable atoms and minerals whose worth can be calculated as about $3 million per ton.
However, that number pales in comparison to the $60 trillion of non-carbon electricity plus process heat that can be extracted from the heavy atoms in the current used CANDU fuel.
With such an imminent prospect planned even now for Canada’s expansion for nuclear energy, disposal should not even be part of the discussion for used CANDU fuel, nor for any such fuel emerging from future SMRs. We just have to pick recycling through fast-spectrum reactors.

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Ole Hendrickson's avatar
Apr 1, 2021 - 12:45

Many people were shocked by recent reports that our former Prime Minister has been part of a scheme to import high-level radioactive waste from around the world for disposal in Labrador. Canada's radioactive waste policy should clearly state - "No imports of radioactive waste." .

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Simon J. Daigle, B.Sc., M.Sc., M.Sc(A)'s avatar
Apr 26, 2021 - 21:55

The policy should include and consider the following items & comments:

Health effects and Toxicology, Emergency Measures & Governance:

#1 Emergency measures, mitigation and adaptation measures caused by a nuclear waste leak, incident, or event into the environment (air, water, and soil) are not covered in the policy and should be included.

Emergency response plans need to be developed at these nuclear waste site locations to anticipate health and safety risks in the environment and to protect all Canadians, indigenous people of Canada and workers. Currently, nuclear waste sites pose a real threat at all locations in Canada if emergency response plans are not sufficiently developed as per detailed risk assessments of potential harm, leaks into the environment and impacts on the general population whether it be a leak in the air, water, or soil. Epidemiological studies should be included in this policy for all levels of radiation exposures and health effects from low level exposures to radiation from radioactive waste and includes specific analysis for all modes of exposures such ingestion, inhalation and skin absorption, ocular.

#2 Nuclear waste and radioactive health effects and toxicology should be included for oversight and governance by our government. This analysis needs to be transparent to inform the general population, the indigenous people of Canada, as well as occupational exposed workers as it is not covered specifically for nuclear waste and it should be included in this policy.

There are no clear and powerful epidemiological studies currently elucidate or confirm health effects of low-level radiation exposure on local communities, indigenous peoples and tribes, the environment, and workers exposed to nuclear waste in Canada. Scientific evidence suggests that there is no safe radiation exposure dose-response relationship that is clearly define or safe at or below 1 mSv (1 year) for the general population nor 50 (1 year limit) or 100 mSv (5-year limit) in occupational exposed workers. This needs to be elucidated and quantified for nuclear waste exposures in the general population.

#3 Implement an independent federal body to assess the health and safety risks of nuclear waste, and not rely on private companies to decide what nuclear waste industry should be allowed to do in terms of their own waste risk assessments.

#4* The federal government should not let Private companies self-govern themselves on what they do with the nuclear waste they are responsible for as self-compliance is insufficient.

#5 * Companies should not influence what happens to Canadian nuclear waste, because there is a conflict of interest as government’s role is to protect the public, aboriginal peoples, and workers.

Safest regards,

Simon J. Daigle, B.Sc., M.Sc, M.Sc (A)

Climate Change air quality expert (Tropospheric Ozone),
Occupational and Industrial Hygienist (Applied),
Epidemiologist (communicable and non-communicable dis

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RGB's avatar
May 5, 2021 - 10:04

As a resident of Labrador, I (and Ole Hendrickson, above) was shocked to learn of former Prime Minister Chretien's involvement in a proposed scheme to accept high-level nuclear waste from other countries for disposal in Labrador! Of what benefit? I recall the Kitts-Michelin uranium mine proposal here in Labrador (where, for local indigenous people, had to be translated as 'the rock that speaks'.) In my opinion and experience, NO nuclear proposal here is best, but if it is proposed, then organizations/people giving the complete picture need to be funded for public education as companies overlook a lot of important information. In fact, information about anything nuclear in Canada seems hidden, when we as public need clarity. For a similar reason, we need a truly independent body responsible to the government dealing with nuclear issues in Canada.

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Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch's avatar
May 17, 2021 - 13:24

The NRCan discussion paper features descriptions of “a number of approaches to the disposal of radioactive waste” including near-surface disposal, below ground caverns, borehole disposal, geological disposal and “in-situ” disposal, many of which have not been done in Canada and some of which have not been done anywhere in the world (such as deep geological repositories for irradiated fuel or deep borehole disposal).

The paper makes claims that all of Canada’s radioactive wastes are currently being safely managed – this is questionable; and also raises the question that if all current management is “safe” then why the need for change.

The paper refers to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s “Adaptive Phased Management” plan to bury all of Canada’s high-level waste in one location (not yet determined or accepted) and the Port Hope Area Initiative as if they are examples of successful “disposal” projects, when in fact these two projects have not been implemented, and in the case of at least the NWMO project is still in the design and siting phase (concurrently) and the actual implementation of the project is very much in question, for both technical and social reasons.

Overall, by providing a good-news-only and at time misleading picture of radioactive waste “disposal” options, the paper foregoes the opportunity to engage with Canadians in a genuine dialogue about the strengths and weaknesses of various options, and the policy framework needed to guide future decision-making.

The following information and discussion items are missing from the NRCan Discussion Paper on Waste Disposal:
- Descriptions or even acknowledgement of the radiological and chemical hazards of different types or categories of radioactive waste
- Definitions of terms used which are fundamental to the paper, including “in situ” disposal and
“institutional control”
- Discussion or acknowledgement of the conceptual nature and the large number of technical and scientific uncertainties associated with some of the options they list, such as borehole disposal or geological disposal
- Clarification as to when options generally considered to be storage options – such as vaults or silos – would be considered “disposal” options
- Sufficient definition to statements such as “environmental, social and economic factors may also need to be considered depending on the approach chosen” and what the role of science and social factors are in selecting sites and systems for “disposal”
- Discussion of the role of retrievability in a “disposal” option
- Examples of relevant policies from other countries, such as Scotland’s Proximity Principle which directs that radioactive waste is managed as close to the point of generation as possible, or France’s policy on retrievability which requires all “disposal” plans to include means of retrieving the wastes after placement

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Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch's avatar
May 17, 2021 - 13:29

1. What do you feel are important policy considerations that should influence the choice of disposal approaches by waste owners and should be considered as part of Canada’s radioactive waste policy?

The notion presented of “disposal” should be replaced by an approach of long-term management. All management options – whether short, medium or long term – should be designed to accommodate detailed monitoring, measures of how the containment system is performing, and means to replace or remediate system failures (such as failed containers or barriers, or failures in monitoring systems). Transportation should be avoided or minimized, security of the wastes should be maximized, and the absolute containment of the wastes realized.

2. What should be the roles and responsibilities of government, the regulator, and waste owners with regards to radioactive waste disposal facilities, including Funding, Closure of a disposal facility and its institutional control, and Indigenous and Public Engagement and involvement in site selection and post-closure?

Independence and transparency are the central principles in determining and defining roles and responsibilities. To meet these principles:
- An independent agency that is arms-length from government and industry should be established for the management of radioactive wastes
- Independent scientific, technical and social advisory groups should be established to support the independent agency
- A regulatory body which licenses nuclear facilities should report to Parliament through Environment Canada
- Waste management should be funded by the waste owners and generators, but how the funds are used should be directed by the independent agency
- Indigenous peoples and the public should be engaged in policy and project development and review, with funded access to legal and technical advisors and all relevant documentation

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James Mihaychuk's avatar

Repost to "Waste disposal" from "Decommissioning". Please refer to IRSS 2019 recommendation R1 on page 20.
This report is available online using the following hyperlink.

Recommendation R1 reads: "The Government should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in the Canadian Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework. "

The report included the observation on page 20 that the Canadian Radioactive Waste Management Framework was deficient in several areas. In particular, note the following text that precedes the table with recommendation R1.
"The IRRS team found no evidence, beyond the above principles, contained in the policy framework or REGDOCs of a governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management. The national policy on management of radioactive waste, should include decommissioning aspects, including the choice of possible decommissioning strategies or combinations of options."

Note that the terminology used in the report is "waste management" rather than "waste disposal". The term "waste management" acknowledges the need for long-term stewardship. Therefore Canada should adopt the same terminology and eliminate references to "disposal".

The 1st basis cited for R1, namely GSR Part 5 Requirement 2, specifically references "societal factors". In the Canadian context, societal factors should include consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples as defined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Constitution Acts 1867 and 1982, and treaties with Indigenous peoples. A review of the Calls to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in is also in order. As these matters concerning Indigenous peoples are in a state of ongoing development, a dedicated review process centred on societal factors relevant to Indigenous peoples should be undertaken before the strategy for national coordination is developed.

The 2nd basis cited for R1, namely GSR Part 5 paragraph 3.6, references implementation on a national basis with effective coordination of responsibilities. In the Canadian context, a process of consultation and cooperation should be initiated by the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and/or the Prime Minister based on nation-to-nation negotiations between the Crown and affected Indigenous peoples. In addition, there should be a review of key areas of responsibility related to affected provincial and municipal sub-national governments, for example, to include provincial ministries of natural resources and emergency measures organizations. Without such consultations with Indigenous and sub-national governments, it is not possible to ensure nation-wide coordinati, it is not possible to ensure nation-wide coordination of responsibilities.

James Mihaychuk, Ph.D.
Ottawa, Ontario

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Anonymous's avatar

Regarding Small Modular Nuclear Reactors and nuclear proliferation risks, one of Moltex’s top engineers stated that the degree to which they would extract plutonium from spent CANDU fuel would leave a small amount of radioactive material in it, thus, in his words, “allaying the fears” of those concerned about the risk of plutonium diversion and nuclear weapons proliferation. On the other hand, international experts have stated that in order for nuclear power to be produced from extracted plutonium, it is necessary for companies to extract plutonium to a degree that would make it desirable for unlawful diversion. This fine point may take experts to figure out exactly what purity of plutonium would produce a bomb. Hence, because of nuclear proliferation concerns, Global Affairs Canada needs to be involved in the policy review process.
Also, because of this risk, the extraction of plutonium from CANDU waste must be forbidden.

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Susan ODonnell's avatar
Susan ODonnell
May 31, 2021 - 04:24

My comments are about nuclear waste "recycling" - a.k.a reprocessing or pyroprocessing - extracting plutonium from used nuclear fuel

Canadian reactors use NATURAL URANIUM as fuel. Some of the uranium atoms are “split” to produce energy. The broken pieces of uranium atoms are millions of times more radioactive than the uranium itself, and would kill any unprotected human that is close by. Used nuclear fuel cannot be handled by people, but only by robots.

Some uranium atoms are not split when struck by a neutron. Instead, they are transformed into atoms of plutonium. Plutonium is not found in nature. It is only created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It is a human-made element that, heavier than uranium. that is one of the most toxic radioactive elements known to science. Once created, plutonium lasts for 100a of 1000s of years.

Plutonium is the primary nuclear explosive material in the world’s arsenals of nuclear weapons. The first reactors were built to produce plutonium for bombs, not to produce electricity. From 1945 to 1965, Canada sold plutonium to the US military for use in bombs. India exploded its first atomic bomb in 1974 using plutonium created in a Canadian nuclear reactor that was a gift.

The technology for extracting plutonium from used nuclear fuel is called reprocessing. The used fuel is dissolved in boiling nitric acid, and plutonium is separated from the other radioactive waste byproducts using chemistry. This is done not only to make bombs, but also to re-use the plutonium as new reactor fuel. In this way plutonium can replace uranium as a fuel.

Reprocessing has created enormously expensive radioactive contamination problems in the USA, England, Russia, France, and Japan, resulting in liquid and gaseous releases and large volumes of intensely radioactive liquids. The nuclear industry wants to use the plutonium to supplement the nuclear fuel supply, but putting plutonium into circulation makes it more like that criminals or terrorists can steal plutonium and make a terrifyingly destructive explosive device.

Two new reactors proposed for New Brunswick are planning to use a novel reprocessing technology called “pyroprocessing”. Used nuclear fuel would be dissolved in very hot molten salt and the plutonium would be separated using electrodes, to then be used as fuel in these new reactors. This is contrary to plans already approved in Canada to manage the solid used fuel without reprocessing.

Canada needs to have a policy on reprocessing. We could follow the example of President Carter who banned reprocessing in the USA back in 1978. Or we could follow the logic of Canada’s work to achieve a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty that would ban the production of plutonium for weapons use. Since all plutonium can be used for weapons, banning reprocessing of all kinds would be advisable.

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Anonyme's avatar
May 31, 2021 - 15:19

Ginette Charbonneau
Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive
Nuclear waste disposal
First point, because prevention is the most important, we must stop producing radioactive pollution. Alternative energy sources to atomic energy must be used. Second point, we must reduce the existing radioactive pollution.
Change the concept
We should stop thinking about dumping radionuclides or transporting them into a different place. The transport of radioactive pollutants must be avoided or strictly minimized to prevent unnecessary risks of radioactive contamination.
New concept: isolate the radionuclides from the biosphere, monitor them throughout their life (up to tens of thousands of years) and retrieve them if necessary.
The installation that isolates the polluting radionuclides must have a longer life than these radionuclides.
Descriptive inventory is required for each radionuclide
Detailed inventories of radionuclides must be compiled, taking into account that they decay into other radionuclides, sometimes even more dangerous.
Detailed lists of radionuclides must be provided, listing their radiological characteristics and their filiation.
Containers isolation is not enough, it is also necessary to bury the polluting radionuclides at the right depth and monitor them to ensure protection of the biosphere against radiation.
It is better not to rely only on vague categories of radioactivity (low, medium or high level of radioactivity) because their misleading definitions are advantageous for promoters and government, but are of little use for the protection of the public against radiation.
Permanent monitoring and maintenance
It is necessary to provide monitoring and isolation infrastructures which require rigorous permanent maintenance.
Water and air contamination
Radioactive pollutants should not be placed near bodies of water, they should be handled as little as possible for the protection of workers and it is essential to avoid creating radioactive dust.
Legal measures are needed to limit technologies using tritium because it accumulates in air and water.
Costs and budgets
Evaluate the costs not only of facilities and monitoring infrastructure, but also of their long-term maintenance.
Evaluate the short and long term social costs and risks and protect the future generations by not placing an undue burden on them.
Assess the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons in the design and operation of facilities to manage radioactive pollutant. Small modular reactors are a shocking example of this.
Evaluate the real costs and risks of recycling spent fuel.
An agency independent from government and the nuclear industry should be created with the sole mandate of managing radioactive pollutants. This agency should report to Parliament through Environment Canada. This agency should report directly to the Treasury Board on the progress made in relation to the money spent.

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