WL WR-1

Whiteshell Reactor #1 (WR-1)

The WR-1 reactor was a research reactor that played an important role in building Canada’s scientific and industrial capacity. When operating more than 31 years ago, WR-1 reached a maximum of 60 megawatt thermal (MWt), which is significantly less than power reactors, which operate at values greater than 1,500 MWt. The safe shutdown of WR-1 was done in a planned and controlled manner. Shutdown in 1985 and de-fuelled thereafter, WR-1 has been safely maintained in a state of "storage with surveillance."

As part of its work to manage Canada’s decommissioning and waste-management responsibilities on behalf of AECL, CNL is proposing to decommission and leave in-situ the research reactor (WR-1) at the WL site. All fuel and liquids have been removed from the reactor, and what remains are the structural components of the reactor, such as the vessel and piping. The proposed approach will provide a safe, secure and effective disposal solution for the existing contaminated below-grade building. This approach minimizes the risks to the health, safety and security of the public, workers and the environment.

In-situ decommissioning of reactors has been demonstrated successfully at other nuclear sites. The technique minimizes radiological exposure to workers, reduces the need for handling and transportation and overall, minimizes risk to workers and the environment. As CNL advances this project, it will meet or exceed regulatory requirements that protect the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.

Project Timeline

CNL is proposing the decommissioning of the WR-1 reactor over a four-year period. Starting in 2016, as part of a thorough Environmental Assessment process, CNL will be preparing an environmental impact statement for submission to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for consideration.  

All activities and site remediation work are conducted under the strict regulatory oversight of the CNSC - Canada's independent nuclear regulator - and are subject to ongoing rigorous environmental monitoring and reporting, that is publicly available.

The team is now undertaking the environmental modelling to demonstrate safety to the public and environment.

Planning documents related to the proposed in-situ decommissioning of the WR-1 research reactor were submitted to the CNSC. This initiates the Environmental Assessment process. A first step in a comprehensive process that includes public consultations and environmental assessments.

Download the fact sheet

Status of WR-1’s decommissioning

At the time of the WR-1 shutdown in 1985, deferred decommissioning was the preferred strategy for management of the main reactor building and the ancillary buildings that remain today. The deferment period has allowed a significant reduction of radiation fields within the facility and the associated systems.  This reduction has helped to reduce the risks to staff preparing to complete the decommissioning project.

Due to the decreased radiation fields at WR-1  it is now in an ideal position for completion of the required decommissioning activities. The decommissioning project will safely reduce Canada’s nuclear liabilities at this property.

Proposed end state

The technique CNL is proposing involves pouring a specially-engineered grout into the reactor to lock contaminants in place, essentially making a giant, underground, block of concrete. A protective cover will then be added on the surface which will also serve to channel water away from the site and protect it from the elements

Long-term care, maintenance activities and decommissioning site environmental monitoring will continue to ensure that the site remains safe and the decommissioning approach performs to expectation.

The decommissioning of the Whiteshell Laboratories has been safely underway for more than 10 years. Approval to proceed with decommissioning activities was received in 2003 from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s independent nuclear regulator, following completion of an environmental assessment that included public consultation. All activities and site remediation work are conducted under the regulatory oversight of the commission, and activities are subject to ongoing rigorous environmental monitoring and reporting that is publicly available.

The proposed end state leaves approximately 10,800 acres of land unaffected, and only a small portion, approximately 0.5 per cent of the former laboratories site, would be maintained under institutional control.

What is an environmental assessment?

The WR-1 reactor project is subject to a federal assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is the responsible authority for the WR-1 project Environmental Assessment (EA).

In simple terms an EA is a process, planning and decision making tool used to predict environmental effects of proposed initiatives before they are carried out.

An environmental assessment:

  • identifies potential adverse environmental effects;
  • proposes measures to mitigate adverse environmental effects;
  • predicts whether there will be significant adverse environmental effects, after mitigation measures are implemented; and
  • includes a follow-up program to verify the accuracy of the environmental assessment and the effectiveness of the mitigation measures.

The objectives of an environmental assessment are to:

  • minimize or avoid adverse environmental effects before they occur; and
  • incorporate environmental factors into decision making.

For more information, please visit the the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission website.

Administrative Protocol between CNL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

The purpose of this protocol is to outline the administrative framework, milestones and service standards for the Environmental Assessment and licensing activities for the WR-1 reactor decommissioning, including CNL’s submission of the technical information in support of the application for Commission approval to in situ decommission WR-1 and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission review of this technical information. This protocol aims to provide efficient project management for the regulatory review of information submitted by CNL in support of the WR-1 reactor decommissioning.

Download the protocol

Stay informed

Staying informed

In regards to all our decommissioning activities at WL, CNL will discuss the project with stakeholders through open houses, information bulletins, site tours, newsletters, and via our CNL website and the dedicated site page for the WR-1 project. We welcome your questions. Please stay tuned for more information on our public information activities.

Meanwhile, for more immediate information on WR-1 or to stay informed on public activities related to the project contact us at or 1- 800-364-6989.