Forum: Waste minimization

Waste minimization has the potential to reduce the impact to the environment from nuclear energy by reducing the amount and activity of waste for storage for long-term disposal.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission requires that waste owners in Canada minimize the generation of radioactive waste to the extent practicable.

Canada has adopted a set of guiding principles for waste minimization, referred to as the waste hierarchy, for minimizing waste volumes - particularly from decommissioning activities.

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1. What are your views on waste minimization? Should Canada continue to use the concept of the waste hierarchy?

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2. What should be the role of Government, the regulator and waste owners with respect to minimizing radioactive waste?

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3. Are there other principles, beyond those identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that you believe are important to consider when designing and implementing a waste minimization program?

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SarahGabrielleBaron's picture
SarahGabrielleBaron
Nov 16, 2020 - 15:18

This will be my first comment, of many, as I make my way through your discussion paper. Question #1 "my views on waste minimization". Your own paper defines waste minimization as, "The waste hierarchy states that prevention, reduction (minimization), re-using, and re-cycling, should be favoured before disposal. Disposal is the only appropriate strategy if all other options have been exhausted." This argument is being used to support development of SMR's because the radioactive spent fuel from current CANDU reactors will be 're-cycled' into high-grade radioactive fuel. What a load of garbage! This isn't "re-cycling" - it is a dangerous game producing weapons-grade plutonium with plans to ship it to both highly-populated and remote regions! This is the sort of chess-like misuse and misdirection used by our 'government' to pre-shape the end-game. The nuclear industry has its hand in the waste and production game equally, and so far they rob Peter (proper storage is abysmal in 2020) to pay Paul (they're hoped-for SMR daydream, currenly awash in fresh tax-payer grants). A simple lay-person like myself can see the misuse of conceptual frameworks from the outset. For shame! The only 'minimization' factor worth any credit is to turn these reactors off immediately, and focus all our attention on hydrogen, solar, wind, batteries, geothermal, smart-grid and building renovation technologies. Furthermore, your language around minimization includes, "...incineration and compaction. These technologies are commonly practiced internationally". I live directly downwind from the incinerator at Blind River and I have never, once, been publicly informed of the risks I endure as a gardener and citizen. To placate citizens with 'commonly practiced internationally' is a rhetorical salve used to misdirect and obfuscate. Tell us in your discussion papers exactly what is going on, and where, if you want us to participate in well-informed citiizen engagement. Otherwise, you are only engendering more mistrust.

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NRCan Engagement Team's picture
NRCan Engagement Team
Nov 20, 2020 - 17:38

Thank you Sarah for providing your views and feedback in this dialogue. For more information on where radioactive waste is located and stored in Canada, please see Canada’s Radioactive Waste Inventory Report. You can also read about Canada’s international commitment on radioactive waste management in Canada's National Report to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. We appreciate your participation in this engagement opportunity and welcome any additional comments within the forum or you can fill out this form.  

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Brian Beaton's picture

Thanks Sarah for your well informed and lived experience of dealing with the nuclear industry and its attempts to silence citizens with their well funded marketing narratives. I want to add to your list of concerns with "waste minimization". The 2015 "procurement process" of AECL assets to the private-sector contractor, Canadian Nuclear Energy Alliance (CNEA) resulted in "the transferred ownership of its subsidiary, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), to the CNEA. Under a Government-owned, Contractor-operated (GoCo) model, the Corporation delivers its mandate through long-term contracts with both the CNEA and CNL, together called “the contractor”. The Corporation retains ownership of all lands, facilities, intellectual property, other assets, and liabilities." (https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201711_07_e_42672.html). This 2017 Auditor General report indicates that "$530 million for decommissioning and waste management" is being turned over this private sector consortium with the majority of partners being American corporations and SNC Lavalin (http://www.cnea.co/consortium-members/). With the new agreement between Canada and the United States to collaborate, waste management is part of this work (https://www.cnsc-ccsn.gc.ca/eng/resources/international-cooperation/inde...). The US recently announced its efforts to include low-level radioactive waste from nuclear reactors plants to be placed in municipal dumps. The reprocessing procedures for SMNRs required sealed containment of the existing high-level waste be opened so access the spent fuel so it can rendered into the SMNR fuel. All the existing containment concrete and devices are then waste that requires disposal. I have yet to see or read anything about the amount of radioactive waste that will be generated with this proposed "waste minimization" process or how this waste will be classified and how it will be safely disposed. My fear is that municipal dump sites will become the location for these types of wastes as the US is now proposing. In New Brunswick, Point Lepreau is located on the shore of the World Heritage Bay of Fundy. The last thing we need another Sellafield that has made the Irish Sea the most radioactive body of water in the world. The Bay of Fundy is too important to everyone in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and the world. Remote First Nations and indigenous communities are already over-subscribed with legacy impositions of far-away engineered "solutions" leaving them impoverished, without drinkable water sources, contaminated sites. The last thing they need is another engineered nuclear reactor in their community producing radioactive materials that will then require decommissioning and disposal after its short operational life (if they ever become a reality). These discussion papers seem to ignore these concerns and how they might be properly addressed by citizens. What is missing from these papers seems to me to be more important than what I am reading

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David Wood's picture
Nov 17, 2020 - 08:08

Some 8 years ago as a councilor for the municipality of South Bruce we began participating along with 8-10 other communities in what the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) referred to as a learning exercise in the process of disposing of all of Canada's spent nuclear fuel rods. (CANDU reactors) At that time we were told it was limited to the current stock pile of spent fuel and would be disposed of in a deep geological repository. Spent fuel from SMRs was not discussed because such reactors were unheard of at the time.
However, wording of NWMO's current fact sheets and confirmed by the Canada Nuclear Safety Commission at a community meeting, if we become "a willing host" the dgr site will have to adapt to any future incoming waste from the new reactors. ( I suppose that's why the NWMO calls this concept Adaptive Phased Management )
Within 2 years our community of some 5800 will be asked to decide as to whether we are an "informed and willing community" able to show as the NWMO has stated "a profound level of support" for this proposal. It seems to me difficult to come to such a conclusion in that time frame when the rules of engagement as to what we are getting dumped on us keep shifting to the unknown impacts that SMR's will bring.

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Jon's picture
Nov 18, 2020 - 17:59

It seems there is a missing component to considering the desired level of waste minimization, which also applies into the hierarchy selection process. The general principle of reducing waste and disposal is fine but should be informed by the energy requirement of reducing or moving between steps in the hierarchy of waste treatment. If it takes say 50 kWh energy to avoid a waste (per instance) that would use 10 kWh and 0.1m^2 in disposal, that might not be a step worth taking. The energy difference might be bring greater benefit applied elsewhere - maybe even just as additional energy supply to society at large.

I am also suspicious about the "endless" nature of "minimization", in the wrong PR hands.Obviously stretch goals help innovation - until they don't, because they're not feasible. But we should understand what is acceptable, not merely say "it must be as small as possible". So meet some objective criteria per unit energy, and get applauded or otherwise rewarded for continuing to do better. There isn't a zero waste system, and we shouldn't punish energy producers for waste that is at realistically acceptable levels.

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Ian's picture
Jan 13, 2021 - 03:49

I agree to a certain extent that waste minimization has to be proportionate with the cost and effort to achieve it but if you looking at deep geological disposal, the cost per cubic meter of space in the vault is measured in tens of thousands of dollars. For lower activity waste which can be disposed ofin a near surface facility, that price per cubic meter reduces by at least one order of magnitude.

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Andrew Thomson's picture
Dec 31, 2020 - 12:47

There should be no case where nuclear plant refurbishment or new SME plants should be considered without a full cost accounting of the related DWR (Deep Waste Repositories) required for the indefinite storage of both current and existing spent fuels and contaminated materials. One need only look to the deep waste repositories in Germany for an example of what is required (in 1.4km deep, geologically stable basaltic). Placing surface storage in an active seismic zone on the headwaters of the principal drinking water reserves of major cities and even smaller municipalities is incredibly short-sighted. As an architect deeply involved in the technical adjudication of large commercial buildings, we can deliver projects with upwards of 75% reductions in total energy use. We do not need to continually refer to the necessity of powering a low-carbon future with nuclear - as conservation and DSM csot as little as 1/10th the cost of new generation capacity - even without factoring in waste storage facilities. WWS (Wind Water and Solar) combined with massive reductions on demand-side should have an absolute priority over costly nuclear solutions - the problem is the entrenched nuclear lobby and knowingly corrupt players (SNC to name but one). Get out of the game of hot garbage grift Canada - take a lead on the issue and find a way out of this mess. From a citizen with a property and business on the Ottawa River.

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Ian's picture
Jan 11, 2021 - 04:50

Canada and it's nuclear industry needs to continue it's efforts on waste minimization and indeed increase it. The waste hierarchy is a crucial element when dealing with ANY waste but certainly with regard to radioactive waste. It is wholly inappropriate to continually use new "virgin" material when it is possible to either reuse or recycle material that is presently considered to be waste. One of the aspects that needs to be taken into account is that much of the material which is considered to be radioactive waste is not fuel nor exceptionally contaminated. Large quantities of, for example, metal is relatively easy to either decontaminate or reduce the volume of and it is tragic that this material is not reused either within the industry or if proven to be clean, for general use.
The other factor that needs to be considered in the justification of waste minimization is the cost and availability of disposal sites. At present, there are no available disposal sites in Canada for waste which needs to be disposed nor is there likely to in the near future. The arguments for why this is the case are not really appropriate for discussion here but until such facilities are available, then interim storage is the only option and such storage facilities are quite expensive to construct to a standard that meets the safety and security standards for such materials. In addition the cost of building geological disposal facilities are exceptionally high and therefore it is imperative for both the environment and the Canadian Taxpayer that these facilities are as small as possible and reserved for material where there really is no alternative waste routes.

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Matthew Mairinger's picture

After reading the previous responses I see a familiar trend of NIMBY-isim and anti-nuclear blanket statements. We have declared a CLIMATE EMERGENCY and recent analysis (IEA, IPCC, and most recently the EU "Road to EU Climate Neutrality by 2050") declares that nuclear needs to be increased rapidly if we are to meet our climate targets. Fossil fuels continue to be increased and people are dying from the emissions and the environment is under attack (acidification of the oceans, mercury increases in water, SOx and NOx emissions, etc.).

I agree with the current policy about waste hierarchy and I have seen this actively utilized in the nuclear industry (different containers for different types of waste, utilizing a reusable plastic suit, etc.). This also makes sense economically since it is expensive to deal with nuclear waste so whenever possible this process should be followed.

I am worried about statements such as "minimizing the generation of radioactive waste means decreasing the volume of produced waste quantities" for a couple of reasons:

1. There is no mention of optimization or the benefit from a never-ending minimization process. Ultimately the best way to minimize the generation of radioactive waste would be to never continue with nuclear power generation, or research facilities, or medical treatments/research. However, this literal interpretation of the statement would not take into account the net positives that nuclear contributes (i.e. nuclear power is a clean generation source that NASA cites has already saved millions of lives (https://www.nature.com/articles/497539e) and medical isotopes are used for cancer treatment and are utilized in sterilization techniques for food and medical equipment).
2. I also consider the phrase "decreasing the volume" to be misleading - I can utilize various techniques (compaction, incineration, filtration, evaporation) which would decrease the volume but would increase the concentrate the activity into a smaller volume which may alter the strategy for disposal/transportation. Instead the statement should include some mention of activity and volume since the two are interrelated.

Another aspect to consider is new research contradicting linear non-threshold models. The TENORM, LLW, and non-radioactive waste activity limits should be revisited if research shows the low levels of radiation have hormesis/non-harmful effects in which case certain amounts of waste would be dealt with outside of the Radioactive Waste Policy and therefore free up resources for other programs.

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Peter Ottensmeyer's picture
Feb 10, 2021 - 22:59

The four pillars of the waste hierarchy are really not a hierarchy but, properly used, act as a support for minimization of waste and minimization of radiotoxicity as a whole.

Prevention: It could be misinterpreted as not pursuing nuclear and forgoing its huge benefits. That is a self-defeating approach in light of the need for huge quantities of non-carbon energy and, for instance, the many medical applications of radioactivity.

However, prevention should be practiced as part of all designs of structures that are near neutron-emitting cores of reactors. On decommissioning it was realized that the deliberate omission of elements such as niobium as in the stainless steel of a reactor tank would have been a good preventative measure. Niobium becomes activated to Nb-94 with a half-life of 20,000 years, rendering the steel useless for re-use, turning it into long-term radioactive “waste”.

Reduction: Volume is only one aspect. But reduction in radioactivity can be a major factor if the other two pillars, re-use and recycling come into play. Take used CANDU fuel. At the moment its long-lived million-year radioactivity is a major concern. Being a solid, its volume cannot be reduced much.

But examined in detail, used CANDU fuel is not waste at all. Less than 1% of the material has yielded energy from the splitting of its heavy atoms, leaving a fission product residue of medium-sized atoms. Of these about 70% are non-radioactive valuable atoms immediately, while the remainder decay to stable atoms relatively quickly, requiring only safe storage during that time rather than permanent disposition. Only about half a dozen fission products have very long half-lives, with the result that their radioactivity is less than the natural uranium atoms from which they originated.

All the other atoms in used CANDU fuel are heavy, either uranium (mostly) or transuranic elements created in the reactor by neutron irradiation of uranium. Each of them, like uranium itself, can yield about 200 MeV of nuclear energy when split. This energy can all be extracted in a type of SMR, or larger reactor, called a fast-spectrum reactor. Such reactors have existed in research and commercial versions in sizes from 20 kWe to 800 MWe starting in 1951.

This has two major consequences. It extracts over 100 times more non-carbon energy from the used fuel. Second, in splitting the heavy atoms with their million-year radiotoxicity it produces stable fission products (70%) or atoms with much shorter radioactive half-lives.

The choice of such reactors fulfills the first pillar of waste minimization in that massive stockpiles of used fuel waste are avoided.

Second, the amount of material remaining, the fission products, is reduced to less than 1% of the mass of the current used fuel for every MW-h of energy produced.

It all gets done by invoking the third and fourth pillars, re-using the existing used CANDU fuel and recycling it through fast-spectrum reactors.

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