Deep Geologic Repositories

April 9, 2014

Recent events at the U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) have drawn attention to proposals for deep geological repositories (DGRs) around the world.

What are DGRs?

What are DGRs?  Simply put, they're underground storage facilities for radioactive waste. But the story goes deeper than that.

Image: In 2013, CNSC staff visited the ONKALO underground rock characterization facility in Finland to learn about research being conducted for a deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel. There is no used nuclear fuel in the ONKALO facility.

DGRs are excavated underground – usually at a depth of several hundred metres or more – in a stable rock formation, and are carefully regulated to ensure that the radioactive waste at the facility will be safely contained and isolated for thousands of years.

Canada has two proposed long-term radioactive waste management initiatives underway that may result in a deep geological repository.

The first, Ontario Power Generation's Deep Geological Repository (OPG DGR) will store its low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations.

The second, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization's Adaptive Phased Management approach (NWMO APM), focuses on the long-term management of Canada's used nuclear fuel.

We are not alone

We are not alone. Deep geological repositories for high-level radioactive wastes are being considered, in countries around the world, including the United States, Finland, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Germany is also considering a deep geological repository for the long-term management of their low and intermediate level radioactive wastes.

Safety First

Just what exactly does the CNSC do?

Start: Safety First

Nuclear regulators in these countries, along with the CNSC, share information and best practices to ensure the safe long-term management of radioactive waste in geological repositories.

For example, Canada has been following closely the events at the U.S.'s WIPP and tracking their important lessons learned.

While the WIPP is deep geological repository, it is different in both design (in a salt formation) and type of waste (in this case, the by-product of the U.S.' nuclear defence program) that those being proposed in Canada.

Nevertheless, the events will provide operational experience, which any Canadian licensee or applicant for a repository will be required to consider in an application for an operating licence.

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.