Deep geological repositories

A deep geological repository is constructed underground, usually at a depth of several hundred metres or more below the surface in a stable rock formation.

There is one long-term radioactive waste management initiative underway in Canada that may result in a geological repository. Known as the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s Adaptive Phased Management initiative, it seeks a solution for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel – a solution that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible and economically feasible to Canadians.

Licensing of geological repositories

As Canada's nuclear regulator, the CNSC is responsible for licensing geological repositories intended to provide long-term management of radioactive waste.

The CNSC uses a comprehensive licensing system that covers the entire lifecycle of a geological repository – from site preparation to construction and operation, to decommissioning (closure and post-closure) and, finally, abandonment (release from CNSC licensing). This approach requires a separate licence at each phase, although the site preparation and site construction licences can be combined.

The CNSC's regulatory oversight of radioactive waste stems from the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA) and its associated regulations. This oversight is further articulated in CNSC regulatory documents:

The CNSC also considers international guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The CNSC can make a licensing decision on a deep geological repository only after the completion of the impact assessment process under the Impact Assessment Act.

In a licence application, an applicant must include information associated with a facility's operation and future decommissioning, including financial guarantees for each phase. Financial guarantees ensure the licensees have sufficient funds to cover the cost of decommissioning work from the licensed activity. The outcome of the licensing process feeds back into a compliance program that verifies that the licensee fulfills the regulatory requirements.

Independent research

Since 1978, the CNSC has been involved in independent research and assessment, including international collaboration, on the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel in geological repositories.

International deep geological repositories

Deep geological repositories are being considered in countries around the world including the United States, Finland, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom for the long-term management of their high-level radioactive wastes. Nuclear regulators in these countries, including the CNSC, share information and best practices to ensure the safe long-term management of radioactive waste in geological repositories. The only operating deep geological repository is in the U.S. at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP); however, this is for the long-term management of a different type of radioactive waste resulting from their defence program.

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