The Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) has been engaging with the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) since 2005 on Canada’s long-term storage plan for used nuclear fuel. In that time, the MNO and NWMO have held numerous community information sessions and regular meetings involving both staff and elected leadership. While the MNO and the regional consultation committees (RCC’s) of the potential host regions maintain a positive relationship with the NWMO through a number of agreements, there has been no offer of support for the project at this time. Currently the MNO is learning more about the project and how it may affect the Métis way of life.

Vice Chair of the PCMNO Sharon Cadeau, President and CEO of the NWMO Laurie Swami, and PCMNO Region 1 Councillor Theresa Stenlund at the 25th Annual General Assembly of the Métis Nation of Ontario (2018)

In 2002 the Parliament of Canada passed the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act to allow for the creation to the NWMO which would be responsible for the long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. In accordance with the act, the NWMO was formed as a not-for-profit corporation entrusted with the responsibility to design and implement Canada’s long-term storage plan for Canada’s used nuclear fuel. The NWMO refers to the plan it has developed for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel as an Adaptive Phased Management (APM). This plan emerged from a three-year dialogue with specialists, the general public, as well as the MNO and First Nations.

The APM plan is consistent with long-term management best practices adopted by other countries with nuclear power programs, such as Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In June 2007, the federal government selected APM as Canada’s plan. Reflecting the feedback that the NWMO received, the APM plan proposes that used nuclear fuel be stored in a single deep geological repository. This repository will be located in a willing host community possessing suitable geology. Throughout the operation of the deep geological repository, the used nuclear fuel will remain accessible should technological advancements allow for its reuse.

MNO citizens and staff tour the dry storage facility at Darlington Nuclear Power Plant.

The deep geological repository proposed by the NWMO would be approximately 500 metres underground (roughly the height of the CN Tower). The rock formation selected will be dense with low permeability, which means there will be little groundwater present and any groundwater movement will be very slow.

Understanding water and its role in Canada’s plan Understanding the water, its quality, its history, and where it’s flowing is essential for us to be able to make good decisions and protect the environment.

The deep geological repository proposed by the NWMO would be approximately 500 metres underground (roughly the height of the CN Tower). The rock formation selected will be dense with low permeability, which means there will be little groundwater present and any groundwater movement will be very slow.  The NWMO has proposed what it refers to as the ‘multiple barrier system’ of engineered and natural barriers to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel to protect people and the environment. This proposed system is described further below:

  • The first barrier is the solid ceramic fuel pellets that make up the fuel They are hard, dense, and relatively durable. They do not readily dissolve in water and are resistant to extremely high temperatures.
  • The second barrier is the fuel bundle The fuel pellets are contained in sealed tubes made of a strong, corrosion-resistant metal called Zircaloy. Each fuel bundle is composed of a number of these fuel elements.
  • The third barrier is the used nuclear fuel Each used nuclear fuel container holds 48 used fuel bundles in a steel basket within a carbon steel pipe. The pipe has the mechanical strength to withstand the pressures of the overlying rock as well as the loading from a three-kilometre-thick glacier during a future ice age. A copper coating protects the container from corrosion in the oxygen depleted (anaerobic) environment of the deep geological repository.
  • The fourth barrier is the bentonite clay which will surround the used nuclear fuel After the bentonite clay seal, a 10- to 12-metre-thick concrete bulkhead will be used to close the entrance to each placement room. Bentonite clay is a natural material proven to be a powerful barrier to water flow. It swells when exposed to water, making it an excellent sealing material. The chemicalproperties of the bentonite clay would help to isolate any radionuclides in the unlikely event they were to escape from the container.
  • The final barrier is the rock (geosphere)

What is the multiple-barrier system? The multiple-barrier system is a series of engineered and natural barriers that work together in a deep geological repository to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel from people and the environment.

The NWMO’s search for a site for the deep geologic repository began in 2010 by asking communities to express an interest in being a host community. Twenty two communities responded with nineteen of them in Ontario. These communities were evaluated on the suitability of their geology as well as the presence of a willing host community. The NWMO has since narrowed the list down to two communities: Ignace and South Bruce. The NWMO hopes to choose the final site in 2023. 

As Ignace and South Bruce are the remaining potential host communities, the RCC’s actively engaging with the NWMO are the Georgian Bay Traditional Territory Consultation Committee and the Treaty #3, Lake of the Woods – Lac Seul and Rainy Lake – Rainy River Consultation Committees. These RCC’s are learning more about the project and determining its potential impacts to Métis Citizens and collecting feedback from citizens to decide if their region would be a willing host community. Should a region decide that it might be a willing host community the RCC’s would work to determine what conditions the NWMO would have to meet for this to happen.

What is used nuclear fuel?
Used nuclear fuel is generated by Canada’s nuclear power plants and research reactors. Canada’s used nuclear fuel is solid ceramic pellets sealed in corrosion tubes that have been welded together to form a fuel bundle. Each fuel bundle weighs about 24kg or 53lbs.

How much used nuclear fuel is there?
Nuclear power plants have supplied Ontario with electricity for 60 years. How much used nuclear fuel have we produced in that time?

CONTACT: If you have any questions, comments, or concerns with regards to the NWMO’s project or how the MNO is engaging with them please contact the MNO’s Nuclear Policy Analyst Matt Long at mattl@metisnation.org or the MNO’s Consultation Advisor Justin Hunt at justinh@metisnation.org