Radioactive waste ranges greatly in the level of risk it presents – from exposed overalls and mop heads that can be handled safely, to spent fuel bundles that must be contained for many years – while some legacy waste that predates Canada’s rigorous controls requires long-term cleanup projects.
National and international regulatory organizations ensure that the same controls that apply to the handling of valuable radioactive fuels and isotopes in Canada also apply to radioactive waste, both now and in the future. These organizations also encourage the nuclear industry to adopt innovative ways to reduce the amount of radioactive waste it produces.
To store radioactive waste, the Canadian nuclear industry applies a variety of measures that correspond to the varying levels of risk involved. These range from onsite storage of low-level waste until it is safe to handle and dispose of, to specialized cooling and long-term containment of spent fuel bundles.
Sustainability in the nuclear industry involves very long-term thinking – in the order of thousands of years. Two initiatives are now underway to find potential repositories for radioactive waste that will be safe and secure for many generations to come.