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Setting the Terms of Reference in Environmental Assessments: Canadian Nuclear Fuel Waste Management


  • Brenda L. Murphy
  • Richard G. Kuhn


Although ostensibly a technical issue, the environmental assessment of the proposed concept to dispose of nuclear fuel waste (NFW) deep in igneous rock of the Canadian Shield, caused considerable debate regarding the social, ethical, and political dimensions of the issue. Among other things, those embroiled in the debate, including government, industry and non-governmental organizations disagreed about how to define the problem of NFW management. However, since the current procedure for setting the terms of reference involves only limited public consultation, the full range of alternative definitions was not considered. We deconstruct the negotiations that led to the setting of the terms of reference. Throughout the environmental assessment hearing process, and subsequent to its completion in 1998, the terms of reference were a source of controversy and conflict amongst stakeholders. At the end of the process, the final Environmental Assessment Panel report transcended the scope of the terms of reference and provided both technical and social definitions of the safety and acceptability of the NFW disposal concept. The ramifications of this report will reverberate in all future assessments of complex technological and major resource management projects.

Suggested Citation

  • Brenda L. Murphy & Richard G. Kuhn, 2001. "Setting the Terms of Reference in Environmental Assessments: Canadian Nuclear Fuel Waste Management," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 27(3), pages 249-266, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpp:issued:v:27:y:2001:i:3:p:249-266

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    Cited by:

    1. Ramana, M.V., 2013. "Shifting strategies and precarious progress: Nuclear waste management in Canada," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 61(C), pages 196-206.
    2. Pouyan Mahboubi & Margot W. Parkes & Hing Man Chan, 2015. "Challenges and Opportunities of Integrating Human Health into the Environmental Assessment Process: The Canadian Experience Contextualised to International Efforts," Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management (JEAPM), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 17(04), pages 1-32, December.

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