Guided by Science. Grounded in knowledge. Committed to partnership - Annual Report 2021
Guided by Science. Grounded in knowledge. Committed to partnership - Annual Report 2021

Engineering, safety and technical research

A person standing next to a truck

Dr. Jeff Binns, Corrosion Scientist at the NWMO, inspects the borehole worksite following the successful installation of Engineered Barrier Science test modules. The installation was completed with the help of the NWMO Site Investigations team and contractors Solexperts and Weatherford.

In 2021, despite ongoing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted many of our key vendors, partners, universities and institutions, the NWMO’s Technical team remained focused on advancing the design and development of the deep geological repository, and further developing the project’s safety case.


Over the past year, the Engineering team continued physical prototyping and testing the engineered-barrier system, to prepare for full-scale emplacement trials in 2022 at our proof test facility in Oakville, Ont. Those trials will test and demonstrate the NWMO’s ability to make and deploy the engineered-barrier system at the quality and performance similar to that needed for the future repository.

The team completed the design, fabrication, installation and commissioning of the key equipment and components needed for the trials. The team also fabricated several Used Fuel Container prototypes using our finalized manufacturing techniques and updated equipment.

The results of the emplacement trials, along with the conceptual designs of the repository facility, will form the basis for site-specific repository layouts.

Work progressed in 2021 on improving the design for the deep geological repository and its systems across their full life cycle – including site preparation, construction, operations, decommissioning and closure. The team continued developing the conceptual repository facility designs and documented them in the 2021 Conceptual Design Report. This information will support the initial regulatory decision-making phase.

Additionally, the associated cost estimates for the designs were updated in support of the 2021 Lifecycle Cost Estimate, which the NWMO prepares every five years.

Safety and technical research

Repository safety remains of paramount importance, both during the deep geological repository’s operating period and after being filled, sealed off and closed. Case studies previously developed for generic sites demonstrate that regulatory requirements for safety can be met in a suitable site.

For the two specific sites of interest to the NWMO, the Safety and Technical Research team continued developing the safety case, including advancing site-specific and regional studies. Preparations were made for site-specific safety analyses that will be conducted in 2022 in support of the selection of a preferred site in 2023.

Materials test modules were installed in a deep borehole at the potential repository site in the Wabigoon-Ignace area. These tests will expose materials used in our engineered-barrier system to actual underground conditions, particularly water chemistry, to test their real-world performance. The team also conducted preliminary flood hazard and external hazard assessments.

A person standing in a room and giving a lecture

The NWMO meets with researchers at Western University and online during the annual Ontario Research Fund – Research Excellence Award Program meeting to discuss their latest results investigating the long-term stability of engineered barriers.

We will continue to conduct research in 2022 to maintain and develop an understanding of critical processes relevant to safety, methods to characterize those processes, and expertise to support the regulatory decision-making phase.

In 2021, the NWMO supported 28 research projects with 15 Canadian universities and assisted several university research groups in obtaining multi-year Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance grants. We also collaborated on 17 research projects with international partners. The work was published as 21 journal papers on a variety of topics, including glaciation erosion, Canadian Shield hydraulic conductivity and the long-term effects of radiation on copper.

In 2021, the Safety and Technical Research team continued to improve its understanding of Indigenous Knowledge, including conducting an Indigenous Knowledge and western science workshop. As work progresses, the team will seek Indigenous input into its safety assessments, including considering local lifestyles representative of the communities in the potential siting areas.