Facilities that handle radioactive waste, including nuclear power plants, mines, and medical facilities are licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). These facilities must meet all of the required regulations and license conditions. CNSC also is responsible for making sure that radioactive waste is transported according to regulations.
The regulations and license conditions that apply to handling, storage and transportation of radioactive waste are designed to ensure the safety of workers, surrounding communities, and the environment. These regulations and conditions correspond to the types of radioactive waste and their associated levels or risk; most radioactive waste in Canada represents a low level of risk.
Higher-level waste is stored in waste facilities, which are licensed by CNSC and monitored by specially trained people. The facilities are also monitored by provincial and federal authorities, and by international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. As an added layer of protection, Health Canada monitors and issues reports on radiation exposure of workers in these facilities. Despite these layers of government protection, the costs of waste-management facilities in Canada are borne by the producers and owners, rather than the taxpayer.
For the transportation of nuclear material, including radioactive waste, Canada applies the international standards established by the International Atomic Energy Agency for package design, which allows safe transportation by virtually any means. Packages are designed to properly contain the nuclear substance, ensuring that it poses no danger to the carriers, the public, or the environment. Carriers can include shipping lines, airlines and air-cargo shippers, rail companies, couriers, and trucking companies.
All used fuel is stored at the facility it originated from. More than one million packages containing nuclear substances are shipped to, from, and within Canada every year. The majority of shipments are routine, containing low-risk quantities of nuclear substances, including consumer products such as smoke detectors; medical products such as radioisotopes used for diagnostic imaging procedures; nuclear fuel-cycle products such as uranium ore and uranium fuel bundles for nuclear power plants; and industrial products such as gauges used in construction.
All facilities that produce radioactive waste are expected, under their licenses from the CNSC, to minimize the amount of waste they produce. For example, they are asked to reuse as much as possible, limit potential for contamination of other materials, and assess and use new technologies that can reduce waste. In the future, the nuclear industry may find new uses for used fuel, as technologies continue to evolve.