Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Project Sites

Near Surface Disposal Facility

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has put forward a proposal to construct a Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) to dispose of AECL’s low-level radioactive waste.

The key drivers for this project are AECL’s priority to protect the environment and its obligation to responsibly address its radioactive wastes.

Why now?

The facility will allow for the cleanup and remediation of contaminated land and the revitalization of the Chalk River site.

Since the Chalk River Site was founded in the mid-1940s, radioactive waste has been created as a result of nuclear science and technology activities. For example, the production of medical isotopes for the detection and treatment of cancer has created radioactive waste. This waste is currently temporarily stored on site.

In some cases, temporary waste storage areas and facilities dating back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s has led to the contamination of the surrounding soil. While this contamination is contained at the Chalk River site, it needs to be remediated in order to protect the environment.

Nuclear science and technology activities have also led to buildings becoming contaminated. Some of them are now well beyond their useful life and need to be decontaminated and demolished in order to ensure safety and pave the way for site revitalization.

Overall, the facility will help protect the environment by moving: radioactive materials currently in temporary storage, waste from decommissioning of contaminated buildings which are located close to the Ottawa River, and contaminated soils, into a safe and highly-engineered facility, designed to contain the contaminants.


About the technology:

The NSDF is being built to provide better long-term protection of the Ottawa River and the surrounding environment. The highly-engineered, multi-layer protection facility will isolate the low-level radioactive waste from the environment and offer significantly improved containment and further protection of the environment than what is currently the case at the Chalk River site.

Near surface disposal is an internationally-accepted and proven method of disposing of low-level radioactive waste. The facility would allow for the permanent disposal of the vast majority of AECL’s waste currently in interim storage, as well as waste which will be generated as a result of contaminated land remediation activities, decommissioning activities and continued operations of the nuclear laboratories.


What goes in it?

Only low-level radioactive waste will go into this facility. The facility will take radioactive waste owned by AECL, the vast majority of which (more than 90%) is already located at the Chalk River site or will be produced there as a result of the ongoing nuclear science and technology activities. Of the remaining 10% of waste, approximately 5% is also waste owned by AECL but currently located at its other sites, notably the Whiteshell site located in Manitoba. The remainder – less than 5% – is waste that has been accepted and will continue to be accepted from small Canadian producers such as hospitals and universities.


Who decides?

AECL owns the Chalk River Laboratories and the radioactive waste that is located there. As a federal Crown corporation, AECL has a responsibility to take care of its radioactive waste in order to protect the environment and the interests of Canadians in the long term.

CNL manages AECL’s sites on our behalf and has significant expertise in managing and disposing of radioactive waste. As such, we asked CNL to propose solutions for the disposal of our low-level radioactive waste.

AECL has approved CNL’s proposed plan for the NSDF, and considers the proposed facility to be a sound basis for managing the low-level radioactive wastes at its sites.

That said, only the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has the authority to grant operating licenses for nuclear activities in Canada and the CNSC will determine whether the proposed facility is safe.



The International Review Panel Report

Through an agreement with the US Department of Energy, AECL commissioned an independent international review of the NSDF, with a view to reviewing CNL’s proposal, compare against international best practices, and provide advice and recommendations on the overall safety case. The Department of Energy has also engaged experts from the United Kingdom to participate, to bring their experience and perspective to the assessment. Overall the review concluded that “the facility is being conservatively designed to dispose of the planned radioactive inventory, and contingent on appropriate resolution of outstanding observations as identified, the safety documentation provides reasonable assurance that appropriate safety standards could be met.” As a result, CNL has adjusted its documentation and all recommendations and suggestions from the review are being addressed.

The full report is available here.