Nuclear Power

18 May 2023

Canadian-US Cooperation on Management of Used Fuel

18 May 2023  by   

Canada's Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) and the US Department of Energy have signed a Statement of Intent to cooperate on used nuclear fuel management.

The signing of the Statement of Intent (Image: NWMO)

The agreement was signed at Canada's Embassy in Washington, DC, by NWMO President and CEO Laurie Swami and Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the DOE Kathryn Huff.

The Statement of Intent will foster information sharing on a consent-based siting process, science and technology programmes, engagement activities and joint technical studies. It also lays the groundwork for a programme of exchanges and visits, enabling NWMO and DOE leaders to learn from each other through hands-on experiences in each other's organisations.

At a ceremony to mark the signing of the agreement, NWMO and DOE leaders committed to implementing the agreement and expanding cooperation through the specific, standalone agreements that the Statement of Intent permits.

"The agreement reflects the US and Canada's shared commitment to safely managing used nuclear fuel, including that from small modular reactors," NWMO said.

In March, Natural Resources Canada and the US DOE released a joint statement saying: "As global leaders in advanced nuclear technologies, we have a responsibility to ensure that the global adoption of advanced nuclear technologies, including small modular reactors, continues to be safe and secure and in accordance with non-proliferation obligations.

"Consent-based siting for the long-term management of radioactive waste is part of our common vision and foundational to building trust and support for nuclear energy. We intend to work closely with emerging nuclear markets to promote the accelerated use of advanced nuclear power globally, while ensuring the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, and non-proliferation."

The NWMO is charged with implementing Canada's plan for the safe, long-term management of used fuel, known as Adaptive Phased Management, and launched the site selection process in 2010. The selected site must have the support of "informed and willing" hosts and NWMO is working to ensure that the chosen location will be safe and secure.

By 2012, 22 communities had expressed an interest in learning about the project and exploring their potential to host it. Eleven of those communities went forward to the second phase of the NWMO's preliminary assessment process. By the end of 2019, the list of potential host communities had been narrowed down to two: the Revell Site, some 43 km northwest of the town of Ignace, and 21 km southeast of the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation; and the South Bruce Site, about 5 km northwest of Teeswater in the Municipality of South Bruce. The preferred site is expected to be announced in late-2024.

"For more than two decades, the NWMO has demonstrated our commitment to engaging with communities, conducting scientific research and developing innovative technologies for safely managing used nuclear fuel over the long term, which we are eager to share with our international partners," Swami said.

The US DOE is working to create a consent-based approach to siting an interim storage site for US used nuclear fuel. The move represents a restart of the federal programme after plans for a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada were dropped in 2009.

"As the US develops our consent-based siting process, we need to hear from diverse perspectives to build a stronger approach - and that includes lessons learned from our colleagues in Canada," said Huff. "Sharing information and collaborating will bring a sustainable, clean energy future closer to reality."


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