Need for a national policy on decommissioning of nuclear reactors

Petition: 418

Issue(s): Compliance and enforcement, Environmental assessment, Governance, Other, Waste management

Petitioner(s): Canadian organization

Petitioner Location(s): Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario

Date Received: 21 August 2018

Status: Completed—Response(s) to petition received

Summary: The petition raises concerns about what it claims is a lack of federal policies for decommissioning nuclear reactors and managing nuclear reactor waste, asserting that the federal government is not fulfilling its responsibilities under the Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. The petition states that the government lacks approved waste disposal and decommissioning plans for its own reactors, and that entombment is not an acceptable approach to nuclear reactor decommissioning and permanent shutdown, except in emergencies.

The petition asserts the federal government is ignoring international commitments it made under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. It refers specifically to plans for accelerated decommissioning of the Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor and Whiteshell Reactor No. 1 facilities by entombment rather than by dismantling the reactors and restoring the sites to greenfield status. The petition questions why the government is allowing the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to initiate environmental assessments of these two reactor entombment proposals, given that these sites do not align with International Atomic Energy Agency’s guidance on when an entombment option may be considered.

The petition states that according to guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the federal government—not the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission—should be responsible for developing policies for decommissioning and nuclear waste management. It asks the government to develop policies and strategies in these two areas, with input from Indigenous communities and the public, before proceeding with reactor decommissioning and nuclear waste disposal projects. The petition also questions why the government has not carried out a strategic environmental assessment of a decommissioning and waste management strategy for its own shut-down reactors.

The petition asks why radioactive wastes are being removed from federal reactors in the absence of approved detailed decommissioning plans and approved waste disposal plans. It asks how the government assessed the costs and benefits, and the health and environmental aspects, of prompt decommissioning as opposed to prolonged storage of the reactors. The petition also asks whether the government has a position on entombment, and whether it plans to consider entombment for other nuclear reactors.

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Natural Resources Canada