How does the CNSC define safety?

August 11, 2014

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has recently received inquiries about its definition of safety as it relates to the regulation of the nuclear industry. To respond to these third-party inquiries and comments, read how the CNSC defines safety in order to carry out its mandate.

Our mission

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.

How does the CNSC define safety?

photo of a cnsc hearing

The Nuclear Safety and Control Act is the guiding legislation by which the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulates the nuclear industry. Simply put, the Act assigns to the Commission how to determine what constitutes unreasonable risk and how to regulate the nuclear industry in order to prevent that unreasonable risk. In the act, the statutory purpose (s.3), the Commission’s mandate (s.9), its discretion in licensing (s.24) and its regulation-making power (s.44) all contribute to the conclusion that Parliament assigned to the Commission the job of determining what risks would be unreasonable, and in so doing, to define what is safe, for the nuclear industry. The objects of the Commission include regulating in order to prevent unreasonable risk to the environment, health and safety and national security and to ensure Canada complies with its international obligations.

A history of safety

A federal court of appeal decision - (Canada v. Berhad, 2005 FCA 267) - provides guidance on the statutory mandate related to safety. Under the Canada Shipping Act, steamship inspectors exercising statutory powers ordered the detention of a ship in the Vancouver harbor, in 1997, because of safety concerns. The ship’s owners sued the Crown for negligence, alleging that the inspectors had been negligent and that the inspection was flawed, as there was no real safety risk. The Court ruled as follows: “It is also important to underline … that safety is not measured. It is judged and it is judged according to an assessment of an acceptable risk: ... An acceptable risk is essentially a value-based proposition determined by policy and/or by those authorized by governments to judge safety and/or by those exposed to the risk”... The Court also concluded that the inspectors had fulfilled their duties: - “It belonged to them, not to the court, to appreciate the acceptability of the risk to human life and the marine environment.”

What is the Nuclear Safety and Control Act?

The Nuclear Safety and Control Act is a document that insures national and international standards are applied to the development, production and use of nuclear energy. The document plays a vital role in contributing to the conclusions made by the Commission when it comes to safety. If you are interested in reading more, check out the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.