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International focus: Canada

January 1, 2024

Article originally published July 4, 2023

Many countries are moving forward with plans for Geological Disposal Facilities (GDFs) as a long-term way of managing radioactive waste, including Sweden, France, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Canada.

The Canadian plan for geological disposal has been named the ‘Adaptive Phased Management (APM) initiative’, being implemented by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) – subject to securing regulatory approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CSNC).

The aim of the APM is the containment and isolation of Canada’s used nuclear fuel within a GDF, which will be constructed several hundred metres below the ground in stable rock – and only in an area with a willing host.

In Canada, 22 communities initially registered interest in hosting a GDF. Communities were gradually ruled out through surveys, suitability studies, geology and opting out of the process.

Two communities remain, Ignace and South Bruce, both in Ontario but about 1,000 miles (1,600km) apart, and preparations are being made for detailed site evaluations. There will also be a test of public support before a final decision is made and NWMO is aiming to select a preferred location in 2023.

Finding a suitable location and securing regulatory approval alone will take many years, with construction of the GDF then expected to take around a decade.

Fuel transportation, handling and placement will take 40 years or more, then the GDF will be monitored for an extended period before decommissioning and closure.

The NWMO has said this national infrastructure project has an estimated cost of $26 billion (£16.6bn) and will create “many” jobs – as well as bring “significant economic benefits”.

The NWMO estimates that more than 1,000 jobs will be created in the first 15 years (the site selection phase), with 3,500 in the following decade (site preparation and construction). The next 40 years (operations) will bring around 3,100 jobs, with nearly 500 roles in the 70-year extended monitoring phase and more than 750 jobs for decommissioning and closure (30 years).

Required skill sets involved include everything from engineering to safety, construction and finance.

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