Creating the future together – Annual Report 2023
Creating the future together – Annual Report 2023

We continue to collaborate with Canadians and Indigenous peoples on Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of intermediate- and high-level radioactive waste.

Welcome to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s (NWMO) annual report for 2023.

The NWMO is a not-for-profit organization tasked with the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel, in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come. The NWMO is also responsible for implementing the plan for Canada’s intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste. Our annual report provides an overview of our activities to implement Canada’s plan over the past year and an update on our financial position.

Submitting this annual report to Canada’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and making it available to the public fulfils one of our obligations under the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA) (2002).

As this year’s report shares, we have made significant progress implementing Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel throughout 2023. We continued to collaborate with Indigenous peoples, communities, industry experts, government decision-makers, our international counterparts and others to prepare for what is ahead, including site selection for Canada’s deep geological repository and the regulatory process to follow.

This milestone, which we expect to reach in late 2024, will mark a major turning point for our organization, and we are proud to say that we are ready. Along with advancing technical studies and building awareness through social engagement this year, we continued to engage in meaningful discussions with communities in and around the two remaining potential siting areas: the Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation (WLON)-Ignace area and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON)-South Bruce area, both in Ontario.

We also began the work of developing partnership agreements with the potential host communities. These agreements outline roles, investments and expectations that we will have for each other once the site is selected, and how we move forward together in the regulatory process.

In addition to progress on Canada’s plan, we are also beginning to prepare for an exciting new mandate. In 2023, we reached a key milestone in our work on Canada’s Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste (ISRW), a comprehensive strategy that outlines the safe, long-term management of low-level, intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste.

The federal government accepted the NWMO’s recommendations in the strategy, which we developed following two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples, waste generators and other key members of the public. The endorsement from the government sets in motion a new mandate for the NWMO to develop the safe, long-term management plan for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste.

Each year, the NWMO publishes a report that provides an update on the amount of used nuclear fuel in Canada, as well as projections for future amounts from existing reactors and announced new nuclear projects. As the organization responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel, we will be responsible for managing used fuel from expanded or new nuclear facilities built in the future, including small modular reactors.

We remain committed to co-creating a shared future built on rights, equity and well-being for Indigenous peoples. For example, this year, we continued mandatory staff Reconciliation training, continuous learning opportunities, informal training opportunities, staff support systems and community-driven work plans.

The NWMO is also committed to meeting all applicable regulatory standards and requirements for protecting the health, safety and security of people and the environment. The projects we are implementing are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), which administers its licensing system in co-operation with other federal, provincial and municipal government departments and agencies in areas such as public and worker health and safety, environmental protection and transportation. To learn more about how our work is regulated, visit our regulatory oversight web page.

Following our commitment to continually adapt, we have developed an integrated digital experience that includes videos, animations, a search function and more. We encourage you to keep exploring this digital annual report.

Adaptive Phased Management

Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel, known as Adaptive Phased Management, involves a technical plan and a phased and flexible implementation strategy. It is both a technical method (what we plan to build) and a management approach (how we will work with people to get it done). The technical method involves developing a deep geological repository in a suitable rock formation to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel. The management approach involves phased and adaptive decision-making, supported by public engagement and continuous learning.

Initially, 22 communities expressed interest in learning more and exploring their potential to host the project. Through progressive technical studies and engagement efforts designed to help interested communities learn more about the project, that list was gradually narrowed down. Since early 2020, we have been focused on two potential siting areas: the WLON-Ignace area and the SON-South Bruce area, both in Ontario. The WLON-Ignace area and the SON-South Bruce area have both been deeply involved since 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts. Working together with the communities in the potential siting areas, we continue to explore the potential for partnership, provide support for the processes they will use to evaluate and express willingness, and discuss how the project could be implemented in a way that enhances community well-being.

We are now approaching a significant milestone: we expect to select a site by late 2024. The work we are conducting today is laying the foundation for a transition to a new series of activities. Once a preferred site is selected, we will initiate the regulatory decision-making process, construct a Centre of Expertise and begin to transition our operations to the site.

Canada’s plan is adaptive by design. The next phase of our work is fast-approaching, and we will be ready. This project is important for the potential siting areas, for the environment, for industry, and most of all, for protecting Canadians and Indigenous peoples for generations to come.

Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste

In June 2023, we submitted the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste (ISRW) to the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources for consideration. The Minister then endorsed our recommendations in October.

The strategy, which we developed at the request of the Minister, was intended to address some gaps in Canada’s radioactive waste long-term disposal plans, particularly for low-level, intermediate-level and a small amount of non-fuel high-level radioactive waste. It does not duplicate or replace existing, long-term disposal plans already in place and progressing.

The strategy — a first-of-its-kind for Canada — makes two key recommendations:

  • The disposal of low-level radioactive waste in multiple near-surface disposal facilities, with waste generators and waste owners managing implementation; and
  • The disposal of intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste in a deep geological repository, to be implemented by the NWMO.

The integrated strategy was built through more than two years of engagement with Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and waste generators and owners, as well as studies of both technical considerations and international best practices.

With the endorsement of the Minister, the NWMO will now start developing a consent-based siting process for the deep geological repository recommended for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste. This planning process is expected to conclude in 2025.

In addition to our work implementing Adaptive Phased Management, this new siting process will require informed, willing hosts. Communities that have participated in the siting process for the deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel may wish to participate in this new siting process if they would like, but it is not required.

Types of radioactive waste

Low-level waste mostly comes from power plants, and medical, academic, industrial and other commercial uses of radioactive materials (e.g., mop heads, rags, paper towels). These items do not produce heat and contain radioactive levels that require containment and isolation for up to a few hundred years.

Intermediate-level waste includes used components such as filters, resins and pumps from power plants, research reactors and medical isotope manufacturers. This waste produces minimal heat, but requires a higher level of containment and isolation for longer time periods than is needed for low-level waste.

High-level waste includes mostly used nuclear fuel, and there is a very small amount of non-fuel high-level waste that comes from other activities such as medical isotope production. This waste generates a significant amount of heat and radioactivity and requires containment and isolation for hundreds of thousands of years in a deep geological repository.

We’re excited to advance Canada’s Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste. Canadians and Indigenous peoples want action now to manage all types of radioactive waste, rather than leaving it as a burden to future generations. We are proud of our work, and with more than 20 years of experience advancing Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel, we are well positioned to develop a consent-based process to identify a site where we can dispose Canada’s intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste.

Sara Dolatshahi

Director of Strategic Projects at the NWMO

Informing and guiding our work

In 2024, the NWMO will undertake work to refresh our vision, mission and values to reflect the evolving nature of our work as we prepare to:


Our vision is the long-term management of Canada’s nuclear waste in a manner that safeguards people and respects the environment, now and in the future.


The purpose of the NWMO is to develop and implement, collaboratively with Canadians, a management approach for the long-term care of Canada’s used nuclear fuel that is socially acceptable, technically sound, environmentally responsible and economically feasible. The NWMO is also responsible for implementing the plan for Canada’s intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level radioactive waste.



We place all aspects of public and employee safety – including environmental, conventional, nuclear and radiological safety – first and foremost in everything we do.


We act with openness, honesty and respect.


We use the best knowledge, understanding and innovative thinking, and seek continuous improvement in all that we do in our pursuit of excellence.


We engage in a manner that is inclusive and responsive, and that supports trust, constructive dialogue and meaningful partnership.


We take responsibility for our actions, including wise, prudent and efficient management of resources.


We communicate openly and responsibly, providing information about our approach, processes and decision-making.

An Ethical and Social Framework

We are guided by an Ethical and Social Framework that was first published in 2004. It was developed with the involvement of leading Canadian ethicists and Indigenous thought leaders during the study phase of our work. We continue to build on this framework as the project moves forward.

The Ethical and Social Framework incorporates the following principles:

  • Respect for life in all its forms, including minimization of harm to human beings and other sentient creatures;
  • Respect for future generations of human beings, other species, and the biosphere as a whole;
  • Respect for peoples and cultures;
  • Justice across groups, regions and generations;
  • Fairness to everyone affected, particularly minorities and marginalized groups; and
  • Sensitivity to the differences in values and interpretation that different individuals and groups bring to the dialogue.

The deep geological repository for used nuclear fuel

This diagram shows a conceptual layout for the surface facilities, as well as an approximate area of 1,500 acres (600 hectares) for the underground services area and placement rooms in the deep geological repository, at the proposed site with crystalline rock. This design will continue to evolve as the project progresses and will adapt to changes in technology and future decisions about nuclear power generation that may change the volume or type of fuel to be managed.

The deep geological repository uses a multiple-barrier system designed to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel over the very long term. Constructed more than 500 metres below ground, the repository will consist of a network of placement rooms that will store the used nuclear fuel.

At the surface, there will be facilities where the used fuel is received, inspected and repackaged into purpose-built containers encased in a bentonite clay buffer box, before being transferred to the main shaft for underground placement. There will also be facilities for administration, security, processing of sealing materials, quality control, and ongoing operation and monitoring of the site.

The repository will include a centralized services area that will allow for underground ventilation through three shafts located within a single, secure area. The layout also includes multiple access tunnel arms that will let our technical specialists situate the placement rooms in areas with the most suitable rock. The buffer boxes will be arranged in the horizontal placement rooms, and any spaces left over will be backfilled with bentonite clay pellets or chips.

The multiple-barrier system

The NWMO completed a Used Fuel Container pressure test using a copper-coated steel container, engineered to resist corrosion and to withstand extreme conditions.

A series of engineered and natural barriers will work together to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel within the repository. Each barrier will provide a unique and stand-alone level of protection, while serving as a backstop to the last barrier. If any of these barriers were to fail, another would be there to ensure any dangerous materials remain contained or isolated.

This diagram shows the multiple-barrier system that will contain and isolate the used nuclear fuel.

1 The first barrier is the fuel pellet. Fuel pellets are a very stable, solid ceramic, made from highly durable baked uranium dioxide powder. They are stored end-to-end in long tubes made of a strong, corrosion-resistant metal.

2 The second barrier is the fuel bundle, made from a highly corrosion-resistant material called Zircaloy, which contains a number of these tubes.

3 The third barrier is a copper-coated steel container. These containers are engineered to resist corrosion and are strong enough to keep the used nuclear fuel completely contained until its radioactivity decreases to safe levels. They are designed to survive underneath 3,000 metres of snow, ice and meltwater, in addition to up to 800 metres of rock and dirt, groundwater and pressure from the surrounding clay.

4 The fourth barrier is a buffer box made of highly compacted bentonite clay that encases each container. Bentonite clay is a natural material proven to be a powerful barrier to water flow. It is very stable, as observed in natural formations that are hundreds of millions of years old. It also naturally prevents microbial growth, which will help maintain the integrity of the container over a long time.

5 The fifth barrier is the rock itself, which will protect the repository from disruptive natural events, water flow and human intrusion.

Our planning timelines

Continuing to work collaboratively with communities, universities and research institutions, regulatory bodies, international waste management organizations and the greater industry, the NWMO continued to progress work on Canada’s plan in 2023. As we progress towards selecting a site in 2024, the NWMO also remains on track to meet our construction and operations timeline. Additionally, as we advance plans for intermediate-level and non-fuel high-level waste, we will publish planning timelines accordingly.