In situ decommissioning of the Whiteshell Reactor #1
The Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into force August 28, 2019. Ongoing projects with environmental assessments initiated under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and led by the CNSC, will continue under their current processes. The IAA contains provisions to enable these projects to advance in this way.
About the project
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is proposing to decommission Whiteshell Reactor #1 (WR-1), a former nuclear research reactor that operated until 1985, using an approach that was not previously assessed when the decommissioning licence was first issued. The WR-1 is located at the Whiteshell Laboratories (WL) site in Pinawa, MB, approximately 100 km northeast of Winnipeg, near the towns of Lac du Bonnet and Seven Sisters.
CNL is proposing an in situ (leaving in place) decommissioning approach. In situ decommissioning involves preparing systems and structures for grouting. The below-grade grouted structure will encapsulate and contain radiological sources and hazardous materials for a defined period of institutional control.
The following activities are being proposed:
- preparation for in situ decommissioning
- grouting of below-grade (underground) structures and systems
- removal of above-grade structures and systems
- installation of engineered cover over grouted area
- final site restorations
- long-term care and maintenance activities
Some temporary infrastructure – such as construction trailers and equipment paddocks, as well as an increase to the electrical services – would also be required in order to facilitate decommissioning. Additional groundwater monitoring wells would be installed, as required, to monitor the performance of the in situ decommissioned facility.
This proposal requires authorization by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). CNL must apply to the Commission to amend their current decommissioning licence and undergo a review pursuant to the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA). The CNSC has also determined that the project requires a federal environmental assessment (EA) pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Before the Commission can make a licensing decision, it must make a decision on the EA that the proposed activities will not cause significant adverse environmental effects.
About the environmental assessment
An EA under CEAA 2012 is a planning and decision-making tool. Its objectives are to minimize or avoid adverse environmental effects before they occur, and incorporate environmental factors into decision making. An EA decision affirming that the proposed activities will not cause significant adverse environmental effects is also required before the CNSC can make a licensing decision on this proposal.
As part of the EA, CNL is also required to provide details on the alternative means that were assessed for carrying out the proposed project. It should be noted that the CNSC does not prescribe methods for waste disposal. However, it is mandated to ensure that the method chosen by the licensee or applicant does not pose a risk to the public or the environment.
On March 8, 2017, the Commission issued a decision on the extent of information to be included in the EA. The decision took into account the public comments received related to the project description, as well as CNSC staff recommendations. The Commission determined that the proposed project must include the factors mandated in paragraphs 19(1)(a) to (h) of CEAA 2012, with no additional factors requiring consideration.
About the CNSC’s review of the proposed project
CNSC staff undertook a review of CNL’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and conducted a licensing review pursuant to the NSCA and its associated regulations. As the responsible authority, and working with other federal departments, CNSC staff have identified a number of areas where additional information will need to be included in the final EIS and other technical supporting documentation. Complete licensing and EIS submissions are required before CNSC staff can complete their assessment and proceed to public hearings. There are currently no timeframes associated with the submission of CNL’s revised documentation.
About public participation
Following receipt of a complete licensing submission and final EIS, CNSC staff’s assessment of the licence amendment and the EA report, by way of a Commission member document, will be available to the public and Indigenous groups at least 60 days prior to the Commission’s public hearing, the date of which has not been set. The public will be offered the opportunity to submit written and/or oral interventions.
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