Nuclear waste management plans in Canada

NWMO experts provide details on adaptive phased management

Anthony Marrelli

As part of Lakehead University’s ongoing speaker series, Patt Patton, Director of Aboriginal Relations at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), and Sean Russell, acting vice president of Adaptive Phase Management (APM) Technology presented Canada’s first long-term management plans for Canada’s used nuclear fuel in the Agora last week.
Ever since the first nuclear generator, Chicago Pile-1, was up and running during the early years of the Manhattan Project, its use as an energy source became just as controversial as its use as a weapon. With the poorly regulated Chernobyl plant causing an unfair social image of nuclear energy’s safety, funding has been tight and nuclear technology has been at a relative standstill for decades compared to breakthroughs in other alternative energy sources that may help wean our reliance on oil during the slide down peak oil.
The two speakers outlined the NWMO’s new Adaptive Phased Management (APM), adopted by the Canadian government in 2007, for dealing with nuclear waste produced by Canada’s various reactors, 57% of them being located here in Ontario. It was outlined very clearly that this management would be for Canada’s waste only, while we will not be accepting used up fuel bundles from other countries, the NWMO will be collaborating with other nations in developing similar APM systems.
The APM system is an alliance between science and social science with the technical aspect of storing used fuel bundles being just as important as educating, and communicating with the suitable host community of the dry storage facility, a deep geological depository.
The APM system has been most successful in providing a positive relationships with Aboriginal communities that may be hosts to such a facility, through the use of Aboriginal values to “protect and preserve all creation: air, land, water, plants, medicine, animals and human kind – guided by the seven universal teachings of love, trust, sharing, honesty, humility, respect and wisdom.”
Aboriginal communities have been given extensive educational seminars on the dangers and risks of fuel bundle depositories, including their transportation as well as their decay.
It was here that many audience members found difficulty in understanding how they could communicate the geological time scale that these fuel bundles decay over, in hundreds of thousands of years, to any individual. The APM system focuses on a seven generation planning period, which comes no where near the hundreds of thousands of years that it takes for a fuel bundle to no longer become dangerous.
The dry storage facility where the fuel bundles would be held has been tested for many variables that may affect its structural integrity over this large geological timescale. One main variable includes earthquakes, which have risen in number in Ontario, including Thunder Bay over the past decade. The NWMO is not ready to rest on these initial targets as the APM system aims to “incorporate new learning and knowledge to guide decision making and re-evaluate decisions where warranted, maintaining the option to change course and being prepared to act on new knowledge.”
This philosophy provides the APM with an elastic design method, one that is always changing to the scientific and social climate, which is important given the longitudinal responsibility required for maintaining used fuel bundles over hundreds of thousands of years.
Despite the relative safety that is promised, nuclear energy is still a finite resource with a waste product that is almost infinite in our limited perceptions of time.  Focused research is needed on establishing technologies, such as the hydrogen fuel cell, that breaks away from cradle to grave designs and instead embraces a cradle to cradle design where waste equals food within earth’s natural systems. The hydrogen fuel cell’s waste product would be clean, potable water, a true cradle to cradle energy source indeed.
The NWMO is always taking feedback from Canadian citizens, a main feature of APM, simply visit their website at to voice your opinion on nuclear energy waste today.