Safety and control area series – Environmental protection

Safety and control areas

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is responsible for evaluating how well licensees meet regulatory requirements and expectations. We consider the performance of programs in 14 different safety and control areas (SCAs). For the next several months, we will be publishing a series detailing each SCA and its significance for the CNSC and its licensees. This feature article will focus on the management system SCA. For a general overview of all SCAs and their functional areas, visit the CNSC’s safety and control areas Web page.

Protecting the environment is a key part of the CNSC’s approach to regulating nuclear facilities. The CNSC assesses, evaluates, reviews, verifies and reports on regulatory requirements under its “Environmental protection” safety and control area (SCA). This SCA covers programs that identify, control and monitor all releases of radioactive and hazardous substances. It also covers the effects on the environment from facilities or as the result of licensed activities.

More precisely, the environmental protection SCA looks at five specific measures:

  • effluent and emissions control (releases)
  • environmental management systems
  • assessment and monitoring
  • protection of the public
  • environmental risk assessment

Together, these measures help the CNSC determine if a licensee is compliant with its licence conditions to protect the environment.

The CNSC also uses several other tools – including environmental assessments, legislation and regulatory documents, and its Independent Environmental Monitoring Program – to safeguard our environment.

Environmental assessments to evaluate potential environmental effects

CNSC staff measuring depths for fish nets near McClean Lake

CNSC staff measuring depths for fish nets near McClean Lake

The CNSC requires the environmental effects of all nuclear facilities or activities to be considered and evaluated before licensing conditions are established or licensing decisions are made. The CNSC does this through an environmental assessment (EA), and conducts EAs for all projects it regulates. As a full-cycle regulator, the CNSC has an EA process that is integrated with the regulatory review process to the extent possible and that continues throughout all phases of a project. In this way, environmental protection is engrained into how a licensee may operate even before it is approved to do so.

Legislation and regulatory documents to provide requirements and guidance

Environmental protection for nuclear facilities and activities is done in accordance with the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA) and the regulations made under it, as well as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. This legislation includes provisions to ensure that licensees are meeting the CNSC’s mandate to protect the environment and the health, safety and security of persons. The NSCA provides the basis for the CNSC’s regulatory framework.

To give greater detail and direction to the NSCA, regulatory documents provide requirements and guidance that help inform CNSC decisions. Now formally part of the licensing basis for many regulated facilities and activities, REGDOC-2.9.1, Environmental Protection: Environmental Principles, Assessments and Protection Measures, sets out the CNSC's regulatory requirements and expectations for programs related to environmental protection. As with all CNSC regulatory documents, REGDOC-2.9.1 underwent an extensive consultation and feedback period. This document will provide guidance for licensees on implementing environmental protection policies, programs, and procedures.

Independent Environmental Monitoring Program to verify licensee compliance

The CNSC’s Directorate of Environmental and Radiation Protection and Assessment (DERPA) manages activities in the environmental protection SCA, verifying that all outlined measures of the SCA are applied and that licensees comply with their regulatory obligations. DERPA also implements the CNSC’s Independent Environmental Monitoring Program (IEMP). This program, which complements existing and ongoing compliance activities, aims to verify that the public and environment around CNSC-regulated nuclear facilities are not adversely affected by releases to the environment. This verification is achieved through independent sampling and analysis conducted by the CNSC.

Whether through this SCA or other programs such as its IEMP, the CNSC is dedicated to policies and programs that safeguard our environment.