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e-2849 (Natural resources and energy)

Initiated by Lynn Jones from Ottawa, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

  • Radioactive waste is dangerous, poses risks to all living things and must be kept out of the biosphere for as long as it poses a radioactive hazard (many thousands of years);
  • Canada is a party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, and as such, is obligated by Article 11 of the treaty to "ensure that the generation of radioactive waste is kept to the minimum practicable";
  • Small modular nuclear reactors, currently under consideration for taxpayer-funded development in Canada would produce long-lived hazardous nuclear waste as part of normal operations;
  • Production of plutonium and other fuels for small modular nuclear reactors would also create long-lived hazardous nuclear waste;
  • Small modular nuclear reactors would themselves become hazardous, long-lived nuclear waste;
  • Too hot to handle after their short lifespan of a few decades, and too costly to transport, they would likely be abandoned in place leaving permanently contaminated, radioactive exclusion zones (a few hectares in size) everywhere they were deployed;
  • Low-carbon alternatives to nuclear technology for electricity generation are readily available, faster to deploy and do not generate radioactive waste; and
  • Federal support and funding for development of small modular nuclear reactors would constitute an abnegation of Canada’s international commitment to minimize generation of radioactive waste.
We, the undersigned, citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to:
1. Uphold its commitment as a signatory to the Joint Convention to minimize the generation of radioactive waste; and
2. Cease all support and taxpayer funding for small modular nuclear reactors.

Response by the Minister of Natural Resources

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Seamus O’Regan Jr., PC, MP

The Government of Canada thanks the petitioners for expressing their views regarding safety and radioactive waste, particularly with regard to small nuclear reactors (SMRs). Protecting the health, safety, and security of Canadians and the environment is the government’s top priority. This is especially important when it comes to regulating nuclear energy and materials.

Currently, all radioactive waste in Canada is safely managed in facilities licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s independent nuclear regulator. The commission is recognized as a world-class regulatory body. The CNSC will not authorize any activities involving radioactive waste management if a licensee or applicant does not meet its requirements or expectations.

As a contracting party to the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, the Government of Canada is fully committed to making sure its provisions are implemented. Participating countries are dedicated to achieving and maintaining a consistently high level of safety in the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This is part of the global safety regime that ensures the protection of people and the environment. Canada actively participates in the Joint Convention process, which includes the publication of national reports on the CNSC’s website. 

The Government of Canada’s Radioactive Waste Policy Framework is another component of the safety regime. Established through Natural Resources Canada, the framework sets the stage for institutional and financial arrangements to manage radioactive waste in a safe, comprehensive, environmentally sound, integrated and cost-effective manner.  In accordance with the "polluter pays" principle, waste owners are responsible for the funding, organization, management and operation of the facilities required to safely manage their waste. Moreover, they are required to manage waste in a safe and secure manner for both the short- and long-term.

Canada has adopted waste minimization practices to ensure the generation of radioactive waste is minimized to the extent practicable by the implementation of design measures, operating procedures and decommissioning practices. The priority is to reduce waste production or recycle waste that is produced before moving to disposal. The CNSC requires licensees to implement and maintain a waste management program that considers this waste hierarchy and includes strategies to meet this challenge. These efforts must be undertaken while ensuring the health and safety of workers and the environment.

Nevertheless, the government recognizes the importance of constant monitoring and improvement, when necessary. Which is why, in September of 2019 and at Canada’s request, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertook an Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission. The agency evaluated the safety of the country’s regulatory infrastructure against IAEA safety standards. The scope of the 2019 mission included all activities and facilities licensed by the CNSC, including the regulation of waste management activities. The results of the 2019 IRRS mission confirmed that the commission has a strong regulatory framework and continues to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities in Canada. The review included a recommendation that the Canada enhance its existing waste management policy to ensure adherence to the principles stated in the Radioactive Waste Policy Framework.

The government is acting on this recommendation. Natural Resources Canada is reviewing its Radioactive Waste Policy to ensure it still aligns with international standards and reflects Canadian values. The government values the views of Canadians and invites them to get involved by visiting Canada’s virtual hub. A wide range of experts and stakeholders are also weighing in.

The government is also developing a strategy to ensure proper management of all types of waste, including SMR waste if this technology becomes operational. Other federal government departments are part of the working group examining the existing policy. They are identifying areas where changes would improve clarity and enhance protection for Canadians and the environment. The objective is clear: to ensure the radioactive waste management regime will meet or exceed international standards. The government is also committed to building trust with Canadians, including Indigenous Peoples, and ensure a long-term plan is in place for all types of waste. Waste minimization is an important part of the conversation during this policy review and is considered further in discussion papers.

These actions are being taken within the context of a government-wide drive to beat Canada’s 2030 Paris target and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The government’s climate plan, announced on December 11, 2020, includes 64 new measures and $15 billion in spending. The government wants to support renewable and next-generation clean energy, to encourage the retrofitting of homes and buildings, which will create thousands of jobs, and to make zero-emission vehicles more affordable while investing in more charging stations across the country.

Nuclear energy is one part of the toolbox needed to reach Canada’s climate goals. It makes an important contribution to Canada’s current energy mix and it will continue to play a key role in achieving Canada’s low-carbon future. It is the second largest source of non-emitting electricity in Canada after hydro, providing approximately 15 percent of national electricity generation, including 38 percent of electricity generated in New Brunswick and almost 60 percent in Ontario. The sector also delivers a wide array of benefits to Canadians. It contributes $17 billion per year to Canada’s gross domestic product and accounts for approximately 76,000 jobs. More than 200 small- and medium-sized enterprises make up Canada’s nuclear energy supply chain.

The pathway to net-zero by 2050 is the challenge of this generation. To be successful, the government has to consider all options. The International Energy Agency, in its 2019 report Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System, found that taking nuclear energy out of the equation would not only increase the risk of failure to meet climate targets, it would also result in higher electricity prices for consumers. According to the report, it would cost an estimated US$1.6 trillion more to achieve global climate targets without investments in nuclear energy. The government takes these recommendations seriously and believes all low-carbon technologies should be evaluated and allowed to compete on their merits. This is why the government convened the SMR Roadmap in 2018, and launched Canada’s SMR Action Plan in December 2020. The government recognizes that SMRs, while still at the development phase, have potential applications in electricity generation, resource extraction, desalination, and can offer a clean energy alternative in rural and remote communities. Canada has a long history in nuclear energy, and SMRs represent an opportunity to demonstrate the country’s leadership in next generation clean technologies.

Open for signature
September 17, 2020, at 4:31 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
January 15, 2021, at 4:31 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
David McGuinty (Ottawa South)
January 28, 2021 (Petition No. 432-00458)
Government response tabled
March 22, 2021
Photo - David McGuinty
Ottawa South
Liberal Caucus