NSDF Frequently Asked Questions

A proven, environmentally sound, safe solution, designed to address CNL’s nuclear legacy liabilities.

CNL has made application to initiate the regulatory approvals process, including a federal environmental assessment, for a proposed Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) for the management of CNL's low-level radioactive waste and other suitable waste streams.

What is an Environmental Assessment (EA)?

Consideration for the environment is part of every project undertaken by CNL. The NSDF project seeks to establish a nuclear waste disposal facility for low level radioactive waste and other suitable waste streams at the Chalk River Laboratories site; this proposed facility is subject to federal assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is the responsible authority for the NSDF project EA.

As part of the project proposal phase the EA process thoroughly assesses and predicts environmental effects of proposed initiatives.  The EA:

  • provides opportunity for stakeholder input,
  • 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:

  • minimization or avoidance of adverse environmental effects before they occur;
  • incorporation of environmental factors into decision making.

For more information on the environmental assessment process, please visit the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 

What is it for?

It is the crucial first step in the transformation of Chalk River Laboratories site into a centre for world class science and technology innovation. 

The revitalization of Chalk River Laboratories involves the decommissioning of more than 100 buildings that have reached the end of their useful lives – the NSDF will provide safe disposal for the demolition waste. 

It will provide safe and permanent disposal of waste from: 

  • more than 65 years of operations, which is now in interim storage 
  • small quantities of waste from other Government of Canada nuclear decommissioning activities 
  • ongoing management of waste from Canadian sources, such as hospitals and universities 

The NSDF will enable CNL to meet its obligation, as licensee, to responsibly manage the waste liabilities arising from its activities and to reduce risks to workers, the public and the environment.

What exactly is it?

The NSDF is an engineered containment mound built at the Chalk River Laboratories site to safely dispose of solid, low-level radioactive waste. 

The mound will hold 1,000,000 cubic metres of waste and feature 10 waste disposal cells to be built in two phases. 


The mound will feature a multi-layer base liner and cover system, with the waste placed in between the liner and the cover system. The waste is covered as each disposal cell is filled. 

The mound will feature a multi-layer base liner and cover system, with the waste placed in between the liner and the cover system. The waste is covered as each disposal cell is filled. 

The NSDF will also feature a waste water treatment plant to remove contaminants from precipitation that drains through the waste placed in the mound before the cover is installed, as well as waste water from operational activities.

What will it look like?

While in operation the NSDF will physically resemble a municipal landfill with one active waste cell in operation at a time within the engineered containment mound. 

Following its closure, the mound will resemble a grassy outcrop built into an existing hillside, which will be approximately 18 metres tall and the mound will occupy a 16-hectare footprint on the 4,000 hectare Chalk River Laboratories site. 

The mound will not be visible from the main campus at Chalk River Laboratories or from the Ottawa River. 

While in operation, the NSDF will have a waste water treatment plant and several support facilities such as an office, change room, weigh scales and a truck wash facility. These will be decommissioned and removed following the end of operations. The site will be permanently fenced and feature roads, utilities and surface water management ponds.

What is the timeline?

The public comment period on the draft Environmental Impact Statement is closed

The public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed NSDF Project closed on August 16, 2017.  Comments from members of the public, Indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations on the draft EIS as well as a consolidated table of federal and provincial comments have been received by CNL.  

CNL is currently addressing all comments received, as well as complying with CNSC staff request for additional information. 

CNL appreciates all feedback received to date on the project and remains committed to continuing discussions with the public, Indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations on the NSDF Project.  CNL will continue engagements throughout the environmental assessment process but please should you have questions about the project.

How much will it cost?

The estimated cost to build the NSDF for 1,000,000 m3 of CNL waste is $475 million.  This estimate includes licensing, site preparation and construction of the engineered containment mound, supporting facilities and buildings, and access roads.  Operating cost associated with a 50-year operation life, site closure costs and surveillance and long-term maintenance costs for a 30-year period following the end of operations are estimated at $275 million.  This results in a total lifecycle cost of $750 million for the NSDF Project.

What will go in it?

95% is CNL-managed waste, which is owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. 

Of this, 90% is radioactive waste that is already stored, or that will be produced out of activities at the Chalk River site. This includes waste resulting from: 

  • building decommissioning and demolition debris including concrete rubble, masonry, structural steel, rebar, wooden supports and structures 
  • remediation of impacted soils and related structures 
  • legacy waste from 65 years of past operation that is now in interim storage on site 
  • less than 5% is radioactive waste originating from decommissioning projects including the Whiteshell Laboratories project, in Manitoba and other Atomic Energy of Canada Limited sites, such as the prototype reactors, like Douglas Point and Gentilly-1 

Less than 5% of the total waste is from Canadian hospitals, universities, research entities and industry clients; this activity is aligned with existing commercial arrangements that have been in effect for decades.

What are the Waste Acceptance Criteria?

The Waste Acceptance Criteria are specifications that define what waste is acceptable for disposal in the NSDF. The specifications set limits on the physical, chemical and radiological characteristics of the waste. For example: 

  • building demolition debris size and weight will be limited 
  • the Waste Acceptance Criteria will limit the waste to solid waste; waste with free-flowing liquids will not be permitted 
  • ozone depleting substances, explosive materials, compressed gases, and biomedical, infectious and pathogenic materials will be prohibited 
  • the Waste Acceptance Criteria will limit the radioactivity and chemical hazards of waste disposed in the NSDF 
  • limits will be set on the level of radiation of both the package, and of the waste itself, to assure worker safety and long-term safety performance

Waste that does not meet the Waste Acceptance Criteria for the NSDF will be managed in interim storage until a final treatment or disposal solution has been established. 

Before waste is placed in the NSDF, it must be characterized to determine its physical, chemical and radiological characteristics. The material will then be assessed to determine whether it meets the Waste Acceptance Criteria in order to be accepted for disposal in the NSDF. After the waste is accepted and transferred to the NSDF, a final operations check is made before the actual disposal.

How is CNL ensuring safety?

The NSDF will be built to protect people and the environment using decades of our own waste management experience combined with international best practices. 

The engineered containment mound includes base liner and cover systems that will fully contain the waste and prevent the release of contaminants to the environment. 

The multi-layer base liner, cover system and monitoring are key safety features of the engineered containment mound: 

  • the base liner system will be approximately 1.5 metres thick. 
  • the cover system will be approximately two metres thick. 
  • the design also includes features to enable inspection of the system performance and to allow for repairs if necessary. 
  • an array of environmental monitoring systems that will sample air, water and groundwater quality will surround the NSDF. 
  • the water discharged from the waste water treatment plant will meet discharge criteria set by the federal government and protect the environment, including the Chalk River wetlands and the Ottawa River. 

Every step of the process will be overseen by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s nuclear regulator.

Who is CNL talking with about this?

CNL has held regular briefings with local municipal councils and with CNL’s Environmental Stewardship Council (an advisory group of stakeholders and local communities) to provide updates and answer questions on the NSDF Project. 

As the NSDF Project has been ramping up in the last year, CNL is regularly reaching out to the broader community. A series of public information sessions were held in the summer and fall of 2016 to give the public an opportunity to learn more about the NSDF and to gather community feedback on CNL’s plans.

CNL is also engaging Indigenous communities to discuss the project and is assessing the significance of potential adverse impacts and taking into account asserted rights, historical or traditional practices and land claims.

How can I learn more?

Ask us: 

Email: communications@CNL.ca 

Telephone: 1-800-364-6989

How do I get involved?

Participate in the Environmental Assessment process by sharing your thoughts: 

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 EA and licensing activities for the proposed NSDF, including CNL’s submission of the technical information in support of the application for Commission approval to construct 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 NSDF.

Download the document and Appendix A