Thunder Bay

Nuclear Waste Management Organization to spend millions on community engagement, stakeholders in coming years

The group responsible for finding a place to bury Canada's spent nuclear fuel says it will work on community engagement as one of its key priorities over the next handful of years.
Fuel bundles, such as the one pictured here, would be used at the nuclear waste repository that could be located near Ignace, Ont. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) released its tri-ennial plan on how it is preparing for a site to be operational by the 2040s. (Supplied by Nuclear Waste Management Organization)

The group responsible for finding a place to bury Canada's spent nuclear fuel says it will work on community engagement as one of its key priorities over the next handful of years.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), released its tri-ennial report, highlighting its successes over the past three years, and also looking to the future.

The NWMO said it will have a site selected by 2023 for its nuclear waste repository, with construction starting a decade later. The site would be in operation by 2040.

Ignace is about 250 km west of Thunder Bay, and is one of the two communities in the running for the repository. The other, in southern Ontario, is near the Bruce Nuclear plant.

However, the land for the Ignace site has already been selected, as it is Crown land, and three boreholes have been drilled, with three more planned. Some of the above work has been completed in the Southern Ontario sites, with some land agreements signed, "that will allow sufficient access to land for studies at a potential deep geological repository location."

The Ignace location also has a preliminary closure plan completed, and has some basic infrastructure, including roads leading to the proposed site.

The NWMO said it will continue to focus on education, particularly through its local Learn More centres, and also through a site in Oakville, where a mockup of the actual emplacement room, where the spent fuel would be stored.

The group said in the report it is looking at transportation options, mainly rail and road, to get the fuel to the proposed sites, which would see 90 per cent of the waste coming from four nuclear plants in Southern Ontario. The remainder would come from Quebec, New Brunswick and a fraction from Manitoba.

The NWMO said it would look for public input on transportation options through 2020, with the first shipment of nuclear waste shipped in 2043.

Public consultation over the past three years noted safety, transportation, and site selection are the major concerns with the project. Local risks and benefits were also noted as major priorities for those who are closest to the proposed sites.

"People in the siting communities have developed a deep understanding of the project," the report stated. However, more focus is needed to determine what groups need to be part of the NWMO's consultation.

Community engagement is also a priority for the NWMO, with the group budgeting up to $50 million annually within the next five years. An additional $5 million will be spent on stakeholder relations.

The NWMO said it has increased social confidence in the project over the past three years.

"Beyond support for the project, some areas had stronger potential to identify a socially acceptable repository site than others. This is an important step in the siting process and one of the factors considered as part of narrowing down decisions," the report stated.

Over the past three years, the NWMO has sponsored, or partaken in over 70 community events in the Dryden and Ignace area. There are also dozens of school-related activities sponsored by the NWMO as well.

The total price tag of the project, from 2020 to construction and operations of the repository is estimated to be $9.6 billion. The site would hold up to 5.2 million bundles of spent nuclear fuel.

Other communities in northwestern Ontario previously involved with the NWMO were Ear Falls, Nipigon, Hornepayne, Red Rock, Schreiber, White River and Manitouwadge.


  • A previous version of this story said the NWMO was still working with three communities to host the repository, when in fact, it is two. The tri-ennial report released by the organization did not have the updated figure.
    Apr 06, 2020 10:25 AM ET


Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.