Canadian CEO of NWMO takes centre stage at global radioactive waste management conference

Laurie Swami

When it comes to the safe and effective management of radioactive waste, collaboration between countries is crucial. That is the message Laurie Swami, President and CEO of Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), delivered in Vienna, Austria, as keynote speaker at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Conference on Radioactive Waste Management.

The IAEA was set up as the world’s “Atoms for Peace”  organization in 1957 within the United Nations family. With its 173 Member States and multiple partners worldwide, the agency is the world’s intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation to advance the safe and peaceful use of nuclear power and technologies, and it reports to the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.

From Nov. 1 to 5, the conference brings together senior government officials, leaders from industry and civil society organizations, and technical and scientific experts from around the globe.

Ms. Swami’s remarks kicked off the first technical session, which explored the current progress and solutions pursued by the national radioactive waste management programs of eight countries – from those with established nuclear industries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, to emerging nuclear states like Turkey, which is constructing its first nuclear power facility.

Despite some differences in their approaches, Ms. Swami said that every national radioactive waste management effort is ultimately working towards the same common end.

“The urgency of the climate crisis is real,” Ms. Swami said. “There is a mounting global imperative to implement solutions for the safe and effective long-term management of the radioactive waste of today and tomorrow.”

Canada and other countries are leading the way to set a new global standard through either the implementation of deep geological repositories for used nuclear fuel or other proven storage methods for lower-level waste. In Canada’s case, the plan is to safely contain and isolate used fuel inside a deep geological repository in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come. When the site selection process launched, 22 communities expressed interest in learning about Canada’s plan for the safe, long-term management of used nuclear fuel. After a gradual narrowing down process based on technical study and social engagement, the communities of Ignace and South Bruce remain in the site selection process, with a view to selecting a site in 2023.

Since our establishment in 2002, the NWMO has worked closely with our international counterparts, sharing information, leveraging research and development, demonstrating new technologies and learning from one another. The organization has a number of bilateral co-operation agreements, including with Belgium, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Finland, South Korea and Japan.

“International collaboration has been key to every advancement and accomplishment in our field,” Ms. Swami added. “To earn the public trust and acceptance required for the success of programs around the world, all countries must continue to partner on the science of tomorrow and hold one another accountable to progressively higher standards.”

On Oct. 31, the day before the conference, Ms. Swami also participated at the Young Professional Programme. This associated side event to the main conference provides participating young professionals a tailored opportunity to explore diverse career paths in radioactive waste management, and to connect with a broad range of professionals ahead of the week’s events.

“I have long had a personal passion for supporting young professionals, particularly young women, in the nuclear sector,” said Ms. Swami. “It is always inspiring to share experiences and hear insights from these future leaders.”

About Laurie Swami:  Laurie Swami joined the NWMO in 2016 after a 30-year career at Ontario Power Generation, where she rose to the position of Senior Vice-President of Decommissioning and Nuclear Waste Management. She is also the co-founder of Driving the Advancement of Women in Nuclear (DAWN), an initiative that looks to remove structural and cultural barriers for women to establish successful careers in the nuclear sector.

About the NWMO:  The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is a not-for-profit organization implementing Canada’s plan to safely contain and isolate used nuclear fuel inside a deep geological repository in a manner that protects people and the environment for generations to come.

Canada’s plan will only proceed in an area with informed and willing hosts, where the municipality, First Nation and Métis communities, and others in the area are working together to implement it. The NWMO plans to select a site in 2023, and two areas remain in our site selection process: the Ignace area and South Bruce, both in Ontario.