Nuclear Waste Q & A

Do you have a question about nuclear waste, and can’t find the answer on this website? Please ask it here, and we will do our best to get you an accurate answer and make it available on this page.

Q: What does high-level nuclear waste mean?

A: High-level nuclear waste (HLW) in Canada refers to highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste, from nuclear energy production; this is what the NWMO wishes to bury west of Ignace in Northwestern Ontario, or in South Bruce in Southern Ontario.

For comparison, low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste – lightly contaminated items, such as tools and work clothing, nuclear reactor parts: comprises 97% of nuclear waste, but only 5% of its radioactivity.


Q: What kinds of nuclear waste come from nuclear reactors, and why is this waste so dangerous?

A: If your eyes are getting tired from reading, view this informative video, Nuclear Waste 101, by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. It’s 14 minutes very well spent.

Q: What is Gamma radiation?

A: Gamma radiation is one type of penetrating radiation arising from the decay of atomic nuclei, such as those present in nuclear waste. Gamma radiation emitted by materials such as high-level nuclear fuel waste can be deadly. There is no proven safe dose of nuclear radiation; when nuclear waste is transported – even in protective casks – drivers, workers and the public are exposed to gamma radiation.

Q: Isn’t nuclear power required to avoid catastrophic climate change?

A: No. (And please follow the links in this answer to the authoritative source materials!) Nuclear power is not a viable solution to the climate crisis. For starters, the nuclear sector will be unable to expand quickly enough to substantially reduce carbon emissions within the necessary time frame, i.e. by 2030. Equally importantly, nuclear power is not “emissions” free. The carbon emissions from building new reactors are substantial, plus there is a carbon impact at each stage along the nuclear chain, from uranium mining, milling and refining, fuel production, and reactor operation – and then from managing the radioactive wastes far out into the future. The life-cycle carbon emissions from nuclear power are greater than wind and solar and are increasing, while those from wind and solar are decreasing.

Not only is nuclear power too slow and expensive to help solve the climate crisis, it is also not necessary. Countries like Austria and Denmark are on track to achieve carbon neutrality without the use of nuclear energy. Countries like Germany and Spain are phasing out nuclear power and looking to renewables and efficiency to fill the supply gap as they move on climate targets.

Nuclear power is prohibitively expensive, especially when we consider the delays and cost overruns that commonly plague reactor construction and refurbishing. When we add in the cost of managing wastes over the very long time scales and the price of cleaning up disasters like Fukushima, the financial toll of nuclear energy becomes enormous.

Moreover, the production of nuclear power is linked to nuclear weapons, since nuclear power and nuclear weapons use many of the same materials and much of the same technology and expertise.

Q: I get confused with all the scientific radiation terms. Is there a reliable glossary to which I can refer?

A: Yes! We have found this very useful Dictionary of Radiation Terms, published online by the US Department of Health and Human Services (Radiation Emergency Medical Management team).

Q: Could surface water (lakes, rivers, drinking water) be affected if a deep geological repository (DGR) for high-level nuclear waste proceeds?

A: Please see our article on this topic, or download the PDF: “What is the Risk that Surface Water will be Affected if a Deep Geological Repository for All of Canada’s High Level Nuclear Waste Proceeds?”.