The organization responsible for managing Canada’s nuclear waste and the U.S. Department of Energy have pledged to work together on the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.

On May 16, the U.S. Department of Energy and Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) signed a joint statement of intent in Washington, D.C. A key tenet of the agreement is “robust information-sharing” when it comes to science and technology programs, joint technical studies and best practices on managing used nuclear fuels, including from small modular reactors.

Both countries recently highlighted the prominent role they want nuclear power to fill in terms of addressing climate change and global energy security issues exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While some governments and advocates tout nuclear power as a key solution to the climate crisis, opponents point out it takes a long time to get facilities up and running when deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions are needed by 2030 to limit the devastating impacts of climate change. The technology for small modular reactors remains in its early stages, but Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan all intend to deploy SMRs in the coming decades. Beyond timelines and concerns of nuclear weapons proliferation, the big question is how to safely deal with the radioactive waste created by nuclear energy production.

Tuesday’s statement of intent “is a great example of how the international community can come together to support safe and responsible nuclear development and ensure that socially acceptable radioactive waste strategies are developed early,” said Debbie Scharf, assistant deputy minister of the energy system sector with Natural Resources Canada. “I look forward to seeing this collaboration in action.”

Established in 2022, the NWMO is a Canadian not-for-profit tasked with managing the country’s used nuclear fuel. It is in the midst of selecting a site to store Canada’s nuclear waste roughly 500 hundred feet underground in what is called a deep geological repository. The NWMO has said it will come to a decision in 2024 after it extended the decision deadline earlier this year to make time for more consultations with First Nations communities and municipalities. The site selection process began in 2010.

There are two possible sites, both in Ontario. The first potential site is in Ignace, 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, and the second is roughly 180 kilometres northwest of Toronto in South Bruce.

According to the NWMO, the storage project will only proceed in an area with informed and “willing hosts,” where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it.

The U.S. currently has one deep geological repository near Carlsbad, N.M., that permanently houses nuclear waste created by the nation's nuclear defence program 2,150 feet underground in salt formations. Specifically, it permanently stores clothing, protective equipment, tools, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other human-made radioactive elements, according to the Department of Energy’s webpage for the pilot program.

The organization responsible for managing Canada’s nuclear waste and the U.S. Department of Energy have pledged to work together on the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.

This type of product at the U.S.’s aforementioned Waste Isolation Pilot Project falls into the category of low-level nuclear waste. Intermediate-level waste is typically used reactor core components, resins and filters used to purify reactor water systems, according to the NWMO, while high-level waste is the used nuclear fuel itself, which is highly radioactive, long-lived and requires careful, long-term management. The latter is what Canada’s deep geological repository will house.

For the time being, all nuclear waste is stored on-site at Canada’s four major nuclear power plants, three of which are in Ontario. Nuclear power is a key part of the province’s energy mix. In 2019, nearly 60 per cent of Ontario's electricity was produced by nuclear power, according to Canada’s energy regulator.

The statement of intent signed Tuesday does not come as a surprise. In March, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Energy released a joint statement on the two countries’ intent to collaborate.

“Nuclear power provides affordable low-carbon energy while contributing to the security of energy supply as a reliable, clean energy source,” read the statement, published March 27. Canada and the U.S. “recognize that advanced nuclear technologies such as small modular reactors present an opportunity to strengthen global energy security, and lower emissions while creating economic growth,” it said.

Both the March statement and the recent agreement emphasize “consent-based siting for the long-term management of radioactive waste” is part of a “common vision” shared by the countries.

The NWMO has a similar co-operation and information-sharing agreement with Andra, its French counterpart.

— With files from Matteo Cimellaro

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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If you're in the northwestern Ontario area, join us at We the Nuclear Free North in opposing the plan to make a plan to bury and abandon high-level nuclear waste 500 m underground.

If you at all think that more nuclear is the way forward, check out this recent video of Gordon Edwards speaking in Thunder Bay, and remember, 2000 hamsters in hamster wheels can generate almost enough energy to power a house, but we don't pursue that as a climate solution.

"According to the NWMO, the storage project will only proceed in an area with informed and “willing hosts,” where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it."

Only one generation — ours — makes the decision, on behalf of all future generations.
If future generations do not wish to be hosts, too bad. They are SOL.

Let's be clear. If you are banking on new modular nuclear reactors — decades down the road — instead of renewables, you are abandoning 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. Blowing past dangerous warming limits.

From the day of the first new-tech SMR demo to wide-scale adoption is how many decades?
Betting on nuclear just punts emissions reductions down the road to the 2070s and beyond. That would make the O&G industry happy.
The nuclear option leave centre stage to the fossil-fuel industry for decades. (Kiss 2030 and 2050 emissions targets goodbye.) Which may explain why fossil-fuel boosters support nuclear.

The nuclear option implies a big overshoot past 1.5 C. Locking in decades, if not centuries, of warming and of climate disaster.
So you'd better hope that your as yet to be invented large-scale direct carbon-removal gadgets work. Otherwise, we are hooped.
Nuclear is a plan to fail.

Plutonium, which can still be used for nuclear weapons for thousands of years, can be searched for, and dug up by any state, or any non-state terrorist organization. That's where the most likely danger is. Do we really want to sentence humanity to that danger for thousands of years? Add to that the dangers of it entering the water table in our ever changing geology, etc. Choosing nuclear power is needlessly putting more tools of death Into our future when there are already better, less costly alternatives. See link:

Oh, great! Teaming up with the Americans, because the Americans are just soooo good at this. Not.

I mean, Ontario seems to have been totally incompetent thus far at finding safe ways to store nuclear waste--probably just as bad as the Americans. But if they team up with the Americans, that just makes the institution that much bigger and harder to stop when they're doing stupid things.

2150 ft underground for US mildly readioactive waste. 500 ft underground for Canadian wildly radioactive waste.
Canada has mines 3 km deep.
I guess 500 ft is deep enough, if one's absolutely certain there wouldn't be any geological disruptions in ... what? The next 100,000,000 years?
And why would anyone want to mine salt from a salt deposit, at some point in the future? Not that salts are noted for being impervious.

Seems to me these people have some answers to provide to the public. Perhaps first off about their expertise.