Community Questions and Answers

From May 2015

Will you be inviting Dr. Gordon Edwards to White River to speak on the nuclear waste topic?

The White River CLC, in collaboration with the NWMO, plans to develop a speaking program. We understand that as part of the program the CLC will be contacting Dr. Gordon Edwards to invite him to speak at an upcoming meeting.

From May 2015

Once the Deep Geological Repository (DGR) placement rooms are closed and sealed how long after would you no longer require ventilation?

Following placement of used fuel containers in the repository, the NWMO will work with the community and others to continue to monitor and study long-term safety and performance of the repository system.

During this extended monitoring period, placement rooms would be backfilled and sealed, but access tunnels and perimeter tunnels would be left open and maintained to support in-situ monitoring activities. The extended monitoring phase could last several decades (70 years has been assumed for financial planning purposes).

Following this phase and after receiving a decommissioning licence, the facility could be decommissioned and closed. Ventilation would no longer be required after this as it involves sealing of access tunnels, perimeter tunnels, shafts and service areas.

From May 2015

At what time will the DGR be closed?

Once the repository is constructed, it is expected to operate for a period of about 40 years or more, depending on the inventory of used fuel to be managed. After that, the repository will be monitored for an extended period of time (70 years has been assumed for financial planning purposes) before decommissioning and closure.

From May 2015

Would it be closed once all the placement rooms are full?

Following placement of used fuel containers in the repository the placement rooms are planned to be backfilled and sealed, but access tunnels and perimeter tunnels would be left open during the extended monitoring period.

From May 2015

How would you calculate that there would be enough power, resources to construct and operate a DGR?

The NWMO will work with the community to develop the needed infrastructure to support the project.

Infrastructure development may include road access to the site and installation of a regional high voltage power line to meet the facility’s electrical demands, estimated to be about 30 megawatts (MW). During the construction period, accommodation will be required for the construction personnel. These workers could be housed in the community and surrounding area, or there could be a need to develop temporary infrastructure outside the main complex to provide sleeping quarters, kitchen, dining, laundry, medical and recreation facilities. NWMO will work with the community and surrounding area to plan for and contribute to development of community infrastructure required during construction and operation to house and integrate personnel into the area. Community preferences will be an important consideration in development of implementation plans that will meet the needs of communities.

From May 2015

What exactly is being ventilated in the DGR?

The ventilation system will bring fresh air from the surface to all the underground facilities to create safe working conditions. Repository system performance and safety activities will include monitoring air quality – both above and below ground.

From May 2015

During construction and operation there will be low and intermediate level radioactive waste being produced. Where are these wastes being transported off site to?

Radioactive solid waste will be generated in the used fuel packaging plant and the active liquid waste treatment process. This low and intermediate level radioactive waste includes things like filters and cleaning materials. The radioactive wastes that are not or cannot be decontaminated to allow reuse or recycling will be placed in a licensed management facility for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste. This facility could be on-site or off-site.

From May 2015

When will the placements of the fuel waste begin to be put into the DGR?

There is no fixed timeline for implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term safe management of used nuclear fuel – the NWMO will take the time necessary to do it right. Flexibility in the pace and manner of implementation is key for meaningful engagement of communities and demonstration of safety.

The NWMO initiated the site selection process in May 2010. Site selection may take about 15 years to complete, followed by a 10-year period to construct the facility. Following construction and after receiving an operating licence and a licence to transport used nuclear fuel, the repository is expected to open and then operate for a period of about 40 years or more, depending on the inventory of used fuel to be managed.

By necessity, any timelines developed to date are conceptual, for planning purposes only.  Actual timelines will be driven a variety of factors, including the time it takes to identify a suitable site with an informed and willing host; the time required to assess technical safety; and time required to obtain regulatory approvals.

From May 2015

Will the fuel waste begin being placed in the DGR while it is still being constructed or only once completed?

Used nuclear fuel will only be placed in the repository following construction and receipt of an operating licence and a licence to transport used nuclear fuel.

Each group of placement rooms, also known as a placement panel, would require about three to four years to develop and 4 years to fill with used nuclear fuel.

Each placement panel would be excavated in parallel with container placement operations in other panels of the repository.

The development plan ensures the maximum possible separation between development activities and placement activities.  Used fuel will only be placed in a panel once it is fully developed. When used fuel placement in one panel begins, the next panel would be developed at the opposite side of the repository.

From May 2015

Once the bentonite clay is in place to seal the hole, how and what will be done to remove it in case of an accident? What is the procedure?

Our analysis does not show any credible accident scenario occurring after the fuel is placed and the room sealed. However, work has been done on the procedure for retrieving a container.  So as to not disturb the placed used fuel container, an expansion agent would be used to break the concrete seal so it can be moved.  A controlled expansion chemical agent would then be used on the bentonite clay.  While not a rapid process, this method is well controlled and can be used in conjunction with hydrodynamic approaches to remove the bentonite to access the used fuel container.

From May 2015

What is the cradle to grave program?

“Cradle to grave” implies the safe management of used nuclear fuel from its removal from the reactor at the end of its useful life to its eventual placement in a long-term management facility. Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel, called Adaptive Phased Management (APM), calls for the centralized containment and isolation of used nuclear fuel in a repository deep underground in a suitable rock formation in an area with an informed and willing host.

The NWMO will monitor the deep geological repository throughout the operations phase, including a period of time after the last used fuel containers have been placed and before decommissioning begins.

Following placement of used fuel containers in the repository, the NWMO will work with the community and others to continue to monitor and study long-term safety and performance of the repository system.

Decommissioning activities would begin after sufficient performance monitoring data have been collected to support a decision to decommission and close the repository. This phase would end when the repository is sealed and all surface facilities have been decontaminated and removed.

From May 2015

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said that they might not be able to overlook a site due to social unacceptance. Why not?

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), as Canada’s independent regulatory authority, regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians and the environment; and to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The CNSC also disseminates objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.

As described in a presentation from President Binder in October 2014, the CNSC makes science-based, risk informed decisions.  CNSC does not make determinations based on social acceptance or economic benefits.

Additional information on the CNSC’s mandate and the presentation from President Binder can be found on their website at:

From May 2015

Where can I find your emergency plans for the DGR?

Detailed emergency response plans will be completed once a preferred site has been selected.  The NWMO will provide these plans to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and other federal agencies as well as to the provinces to demonstrate that appropriate emergency measures are in place and that information is available to relevant public emergency response agencies.

From  Jan. 2015.
Does used nuclear fuel have to be a minimum of 30 years old before it can be stored in a DGR?

No. Used fuel is its hottest when it comes out of the reactor, and it cools over time. After 10 years, one fuel bundle produces about 5.4 Watts. After 30 years a fuel bundle produces about 3.5 Watts, and after 50 years it is down to about 2.5 Watts.

Each repository used fuel container ‎is designed to hold 48 fuel bundles with a total heat generation ability of about 170 Watts. If we filled the repository container with 30-year-old fuel, it would equal the maximum heat load for the container. However, we can also mix fuel bundles of different ages in any container, as long as the sum of the heat loads for all bundles in that container is not more than 170 Watts.

From Summer 2014.
White River is currently at Step 3 Phase 1. Should White River move on to Phase 2 (Step 3) and choose areas in our ??? for further study do you have a list of licensed natural resources stakeholders that may be impacted? What type and level of public and stakeholder consultation is required prior to the removal of surface rights, staking privileges and placing land alienations on any areas identified for further study in the White River forest?

White River is one of 14 communities currently involved in the NWMO process to identify a potential host community for Canada’s used nuclear fuel repository and centre of expertise. In White River, Phase 1 Studies are now underway and are expected to be completed by early 2015.  Once completed, the study results will be published in a series of reports and the NWMO will make a recommendation regarding the potential of the community to continue with Phase 2 Studies.

If Phase 1 studies suggest land areas in the vicinity that may meet technical safety requirements and warrant further study, the NWMO’s practice has been to ask the province to temporarily remove land from mineral staking and exploration to allow studies to be conducted. This is simply a starting point for planning and discussion. Involvement in research studies is not interpreted as an indication of support for the project, nor of a particular site. Typically the areas of land identified for study are much larger than would be required for a repository and associated facilities, with the understanding that several more years of study will be required before specific sites are identified.

The NWMO will work closely with the interested community, aboriginal peoples in the area and surrounding communities to plan and implement technical studies. Surface activities such as trapping, tourism, hunting, fishing, berry picking and gathering of medicinal plants will continue to be encouraged. The temporary removal of lands from mineral staking is not intended to affect these activities.

As land is assessed, areas not considered potentially suitable for the NWMO project will be identified to the province so the land can be released. The temporary removal of land from mineral staking is not expected to negatively affect mineral exploration; the NWMO is seeking areas that do not have the potential for, or have known exploitable natural resources.

Please know that the NWMO will share with the community, and publish, the areas for which land has temporarily been withdrawn from mineral staking and will also identify those with an interest in the area for briefing on the nature and timing of the planned studies.  You can read more about how this process was implemented in communities that entered Phase 2 preliminary assessments near the end of 2013 in the document Phase 2 Preliminary Assessments: Working Together to Identify Study Areas:

Will there be any access and/or use restrictions on any licensed com. bait harvesters in the White River forest should their areas of business be located inside areas identified for further testing or study?

The temporary removal of lands from mineral staking is not intended to affect these activities. Surface activities such as trapping, tourism, hunting, fishing, berry picking and gathering of medicinal plants will continue to be encouraged.

What is the clear definition or standard used to identify or confirm a “willing host community?” And who makes the decision of just what that standard?

Ultimately, any potential host will need to be able to demonstrate it is both informed and willing. This demonstration of willingness is not required for several years, as we expect that communities will want to see the results of detailed studies so they can make an informed decision.

The way in which willingness will be identified and confirmed has not yet been fully defined as willingness will not need to be demonstrated for several years and any definition set today may not meet the standard at the time.  Best practice and experience suggest there are a range of approaches a community may use to demonstrate its willingness in a compelling way. These might include documented support expressed through such means as open community discussions, a telephone poll, online meetings or surveys, and/or formal referendum. New approaches may also emerge over the intervening years as societal expectations and decision-making processes continue to evolve. Communities will be encouraged to identify processes which both meet the specific needs of the community and demonstrate clearly to the NWMO whether the project has the support of residents.

Should an area outside of municipal jurisdiction be selected as an acceptable site for a DGR does the closest community still retain final approval rights or will the decision be made by the province regarding site selection and approval on crown land?

Regardless of where exactly the eventual site is located, the NWMO is committed to the project  only proceeding with the interested community, Aboriginal peoples in the area, and surrounding communities working in partnership to implement the project. Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel is a federally mandated project under the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Once an informed and willing host is identified and a site selected, the NWMO must meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to obtain a licence for site preparation and construction.

I’ve noticed that in the step process for site selection and study you ask the affected community to decide to commit to further study before proceeding. However during the further study of candidate areas there isn’t any environmental assessment carried out at that point. In fact the EA isn’t carried out until a much later step (Step #7). Why not do an EA during the further study process to inform the candidate community of any environmental impacts at an early stage rather than waiting for a much later step to conduct an EA?, i.e. “Step #5 Decision on willingness” – “Step #7 – EA”???

The environmental assessment, which must be site specific, will be triggered after a potentially suitable site hosted by an informed and willing community is identified.  This is why the site selection process requires a series of increasingly more detailed social and technical assessments before a preferred site is selected. These assessments include a five-year detailed site characterization study, which would occur in Step 4 of the site selection process, and which we anticipate will involve 1 or 2 communities.

Suitable geology is an important component of the future repository’s multiple barrier system, which will safely and securely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel over the very long time periods required.  The studies conducted during the early phases of the siting process are designed to explore and assess the suitability of the geology and are an important component of any environmental impact assessment, which would be developed and submitted as part of a licensing application.  The siting process is designed to focus studies in areas where there is an interest, and also to involve people in the area in those studies so we learn together.

Safety, security and protection of people and the environment are central to the siting process. All of the critical questions regarding safety, risks to the environment and community well-being must be explored before a community can be expected to commit willingness to host the project in an informed way.  This will take time because some aspects of the design can only be confirmed once a potential site is identified and site specific technical and scientific studies are completed.  In the mean time, communities have no obligation to continue in the process, and will not be asked to make a decision to host a repository.

Any licensing application will require that a site for the repository be identified.  In order to develop and submit the environmental impact assessment there will need to agreement that this site should be the subject of the application.  Once a suitable site has been identified and citizens have made a compelling demonstration of willingness, the community will be asked to enter into a formal agreement with the NWMO as to the conditions under which the project would proceed. This agreement is subject to all regulatory requirements being met and regulatory approval received. In other words, the agreement with the community and construction of the facility can only move forward if all regulatory requirements – including an environmental assessment – are met and the necessary licenses granted.