NWMO submits new report, Creating the Future Together

By Mike Stimpson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thunder Bay Source

IGNACE – Canada’s approach to nuclear waste has the world’s attention, according to a regional spokesperson for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

“I think one of the exciting things for Canada is, we really are world leaders in this area – which is why we do have, really, the eyes of the world, especially the nuclear community, on what we’re doing here in Northwestern Ontario,” Vince Ponka said Wednesday in an interview with Newswatch.

“We really are leading the way in terms of the process of getting used fuel from temporary containers on the surface, where they could be a potential environmental hazard, into long-term disposal where they won’t bother people and the environment,” he said.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization submitted its 2023 annual report, entitled Creating the Future Together, to the federal minister of Energy and Natural Resources this week. The document is to be tabled in Parliament in the coming weeks.

NWMO president Laurie Swami said in a news release that the industry-funded body has demonstrated readiness “for what is next: a new phase of Canada’s plan for used nuclear fuel, and taking on an important new mandate that closes the remaining gaps on nuclear waste management.”

One highlight of the report, according to the NWMO, is the strengthening of “important partnerships with international counterparts,” including the U.S. energy department and France’s agency for nuclear waste management.

Those partnerships are important because “international cooperation is an essential part of this process,” said Ponka.

“We have cooperation agreements with many countries around the world that are all in the process of developing their own deep geological repositories, because really every nation in the world with a domestic nuclear power program is in some phase of developing a deep geological repository,” he said.

A deep geological repository, or DGR, is a facility hundreds of metres below the surface for the long-term storage of nuclear waste.

Finland recently completed construction of the world’s first such repository, and the NWMO hopes to start constructing one for Canada by about 2034 at an as yet undetermined site.

The NWMO, headquartered in Toronto, has the Revell Lake site between Ignace and Wabigoon Lake on its list of two finalists for the repository. The other site under consideration is near Saugeen Ojibway Nation and South Bruce in southern Ontario.

Each potential host community is undergoing its own “willingness process” to confirm community support before the NWMO decides on a site late this year.

The willingness process in Ignace has included a tour of Finland’s deep geological repository, an ongoing “willingness study” by a consulting firm, and community engagement events.

Some Ignace representatives attended the Canadian Nuclear Association’s 2024 conference Feb. 28 to March 1 in Ottawa.

A delegation toured a Cameco uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan in mid-March.

A Northwest Nuclear Exploration Event similar to one held last September at the Ignace Recreation Centre is set for April 12-13 at the rec centre.

The township of roughly 1,200 is to make its decision on whether it is willing to host an underground repository in the area this spring and communicate that decision to the nuclear organization by July 31.

Members of Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, west of the potential repository site, have the same timeline for their own willingness decision.

The First Nation’s willingness process has included community gatherings and sending a delegation of 18 to visit Finland’s repository.