CELA Gives Canada’s Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning Policy a Failing Grade

Immediate Release

April 4, 2023

Toronto – Late Friday afternoon last week, the federal government released its long overdue Policy on Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning.

CELA has reviewed the policy and compared it to the clear expectations stated by the public during the federal consultation held between 2020 and 2022. CELA gives the new policy a failing grade.

In 2019, an International Atomic Energy Agency peer review committee urged Canada to update its nuclear waste policy. Members of the public and organizations provided thousands of comments to Natural Resources Canada last year when it consulted on a draft radioactive waste policy. At that time, civil society, through the leadership of Nuclear Waste Watch, produced an alternative policy document to address the shortcomings in the federal government’s initial draft.

CELA and colleagues called on the government to ensure that the following five principles be met:

  • Canada needs an independent agency, arms-length from government and industry, to oversee radioactive waste management and decommissioning
  • Radioactive waste should NOT be abandoned; policy should direct perpetual care and monitoring
  • Government and industry must be open and transparent in the management of radioactive waste and its transportation; Indigenous Peoples and Canadians have a right to access information, engage in decision-making, and know the risks
  • No importing of radioactive waste from other countries
  • No plutonium extraction (reprocessing or pyro-processing) of radioactive fuel waste

CELA has evaluated the new policy against these five principles. After comparing the new policy to the expectations of the informed public, the overall grade is “F”.

There is no provision for independent management of nuclear waste; it is left to the industry producing this waste to manage it in both the short and long terms. There is no provision that will prevent the continuance of current projects that will result in the abandonment of nuclear waste including the Rolphton and Whiteshell projects; and, the policy fails to deal with tailings and mill waste for which there is a demonstrated pattern of abandonment in Canada.

While there is a nod to transparency, there is no provision as to how this situation will be improved over the status quo where transparency is a significant concern. The policy not only fails to preclude importing nuclear waste from other countries; it admits it is occurring and will continue.

Finally, the policy not only fails to ban reprocessing of nuclear waste to extract plutonium, but also dissimulates on the basis that there is no reprocessing “purpose of which would be to extract fissile material from nuclear fuel waste for further use for the purpose of weapons” and thus states that such a ban is outside of this policy. This misses the mark and ignores the clear message from nuclear non-proliferation experts, conveyed to the government of Canada over the last three years, and reinforced by the submissions of the Canadian public, that the proliferation risk arises from the separation process itself; not from the alleged intent.

CELA is extremely disappointed to find itself obliged to give a failing grade to Canada’s new Policy on Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning.

CELA was a member of the Radioactive Waste Policy Steering Committee during the course of the consultation and assisted members of the public to understand the importance of participating in the consultation. More information is available at www.nuclearwastewatch.ca

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Theresa McClenaghan, Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Law Association
theresa@cela.ca or 416-960-2284 ext. 7219

Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is a public interest law clinic dedicated to environmental equity, justice, and health. Founded in 1970, CELA is one of the oldest advocates for environmental protection in the country. With funding from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO),  CELA provides free legal services relating to environmental justice in Ontario, including representing qualifying low-income and vulnerable or disadvantaged communities in litigation. CELA also works on environmental legal education and reform initiatives.