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e-4676 (Natural resources and energy)

Initiated by Ole Hendrickson from Ottawa, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), a former Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) subsidiary, has initiated Canada’s first-ever major projects for permanent disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear reactors;
  • These projects involve the Government of Canada’s "legacy" waste: in-situ disposal of two shut-down AECL reactors, and a precedent-setting Near Surface Disposal Facility at AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario;
  • Project approvals could violate Article 29(2) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.”;
  • At Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) hearings, radioactive waste management experts have questioned the conformity of these projects with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety standards;
  • The IAEA has an “ARTEMIS” review service that provides independent advice on radioactive waste management and could inform decisions on these projects;
  • A CNSC official informed international regulators in May 2018 of plans for an ARTEMIS review, but none has taken place; and
  • Section 19 (1) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act gives the Governor in Council the power to issue directives of general application on broad policy matters to the CNSC’s Commission.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to issue a directive to the CNSC that it shall make no decision on licensing of a radioactive waste disposal facility unless Canada’s UNDRIP obligations are met, and request an IAEA ARTEMIS review of CNL’s major projects for permanent disposal of the government’s legacy radioactive waste.

Response by the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): THE HONOURABLE JONATHAN WILKINSON, P.C., M.P.

The Government of Canada is committed to the safe, effective, and environmentally sound management of radioactive waste. Advancing reconciliation and protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the environment is the government’s top priority when it comes to nuclear energy and radioactive waste.  In addition, the Government of Canada recognizes the unique status and rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and is committed to upholding these rights and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the UN Declaration) in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples, with regard to radioactive waste management and decommissioning.

The development, production, and use of nuclear energy and materials are regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s independent nuclear regulator, which comprises the Commission and CNSC staff. All nuclear projects, including the Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) proposed by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) and other proposed legacy radioactive waste projects, require the Commission’s authorization, under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), and they may also require an environmental assessment or an impact assessment. Pursuant to its mandate and responsibilities set out in the NSCA, the Commission is as an independent quasi-judicial tribunal that makes science and evidence-based decisions and solicits information from interested Canadians and Indigenous Peoples through public engagement and hearings. 

Federal departments, such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Natural Resources Canada, as well as other levels of government, participate in and contribute to environmental assessments, where applicable, for proposed major nuclear projects based on their expertise and knowledge. Along with public participation and input, including from Indigenous Peoples, this ensures an open, balanced process that strengthens the quality and credibility of a project’s review. The Commission approves projects under the NSCA if it concludes that they will be safe for the public and the environment, both now and into the future, that Canadians have been engaged, and that Indigenous Peoples have been sufficiently and appropriately consulted. The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources has no role in the Commission’s independent licensing decisions under the NSCA and did not participate in the environmental assessment decision of the NSDF project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA, 2012).

The Commission ensures that all decisions it carries out under federal legislation uphold the honour of the Crown and that consultations with Indigenous Peoples and groups are undertaken whenever the Commission’s decisions or conduct may have a potential impact on Aboriginal or treaty rights protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As Canada’s nuclear regulator, the CNSC is committed to long-term relationship building and to enabling meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples and groups in Commission proceedings and CNSC regulatory processes.

On June 21, 2021, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (UN Declaration Act) received Royal Assent and came into force. This Act requires the Government of Canada, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples to: take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws (including regulations) of Canada are consistent with the Declaration (section 5); prepare and implement an action plan to achieve the Declaration’s objectives (section 6); and, table an annual report on progress to align the laws of Canada with the UN Declaration Act and on the action plan (section 7). The Action Plan was released in June 2023 and provides a roadmap of actions Canada needs to take in partnership with Indigenous peoples to implement the principles and rights set out in the UN Declaration and to further advance reconciliation in a tangible way.   

Canada’s nuclear regulatory framework, including for radioactive waste management and decommissioning, is aligned with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards that are internationally well-regarded, as confirmed by peer reviews of international nuclear experts. In 2019, an IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Services (IRRS) Mission to Canada was requested by the Government of Canada. The purpose of the 2019 IRRS Mission was to perform a peer review of Canada’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety against IAEA Safety Standards, with a focus on radioactive waste management and decommissioning. The scope was more comprehensive than an IAEA Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) review. The Mission concluded that Canada has a comprehensive and robust regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety covering current facilities and activities. It also recommended that the Government should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in Canada’s former Radioactive Waste Policy Framework (1996). A follow-up IRRS Mission will occur in June 2024, to review Canada’s progress on meeting the recommendations of the 2019 Mission. In 2022, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) found that Canada does a good job of managing low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

In 2023, the Government of Canada released a modernized Policy for Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning and accepted the Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste developed by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and associated partners. Both reflect international best practices and enhance Canada’s framework so that radioactive waste management and disposal are carried out in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, and integrated manner, now and for generations to come.

Canada’s commitment to nuclear safety is further reinforced through participation and leadership in the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (the Joint Convention). The Joint Convention is the first legally binding international treaty governing all aspects of spent fuel and radioactive waste management. Under the Joint Convention, delegates, including from Canada, participate in review meetings every three years to review the work of their peers to fulfill their obligations under the Convention.  

The Government is confident that the CNSC will continue to follow international standards and best practices in its licensing decisions and as needed, conduct international peer reviews as part of its commitment to continuous improvement in the management of radioactive waste and decommissioning.

Open for signature
December 11, 2023, at 2:07 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
January 10, 2024, at 2:07 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Sophie Chatel (Pontiac)
January 29, 2024 (Petition No. 441-02021)
Government response tabled
March 18, 2024
Photo - Sophie Chatel
Liberal Caucus