Protecting people and the environment is an important part of the work of the CNSC.
The CNSC assesses the environmental effects of all nuclear facilities or activities at every phase of their lifecycle. Environmental reviews are based on the scale and complexity of the environmental risks associated with a nuclear facility or activity. Early in the process, CNSC staff determine which type of environmental review applies by reviewing the information provided by the applicant or licensee in their application and supporting documentation. The information below outlines the different types of environmental reviews that may be applicable under the current regulatory framework.
In all cases, the CNSC ensures that the public has an opportunity to participate in the environmental review, and Indigenous consultation and engagement activities are integrated into the review process to the extent possible.
On August 28, 2019 the Government of Canada enacted the Impact Assessment Act (IAA). The IAA broadens the scope of assessments to include environmental, health, social and economic effects, both positive and negative, of a proposed project.
Additional information on the CNSC’s environmental review processes can be found in REGDOC-2.9.1, Environmental Principles, Assessments and Protection Measures.
Impact assessments under the Impact Assessment Act
The Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into force August 28, 2019. The IAA broadens the scope of assessments to include environmental, health, social and economic effects – both positive and negative – of a proposed project. Under the IAA and the Physical Activities Regulations, impact assessments will be conducted on projects identified as having the greatest potential for adverse environmental effects in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Under the IAA, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) will lead the reviews of major projects and work in collaboration with the CNSC to review projects that are also subject to regulation under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA).
In October 2019, the CNSC signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. The MOU confirms the commitment of the participants to work collaboratively in conducting integrated impact assessments under the Impact Assessment Act. The participants wish to ensure that the principle of “one project – one assessment” is followed in reviewing designated projects regulated by the CNSC, and that any reviews are conducted in an efficient and effective manner, without unnecessary delays or duplication of effort.
Federal lands reviews under the Impact Assessment Act
Projects not listed on the Physical Activities Regulations, but proposed to be carried out on federal lands and requiring a decision by the CNSC as a federal authority, are subject to federal lands reviews under the IAA. Facilities that the CNSC regulates that are located on federal lands include sites under the purview of the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). These sites include, for example, the Port Hope Area Initiative and Chalk River Laboratories. The Royal Military College of Canada SLOWPOKE-2 Research Reactor is also on federal lands. Upon receipt of a licence application for proposed activities to be carried out on federal lands, CNSC staff will review and make a determination whether the proposal is subject to a federal lands review under the IAA. In the case that a federal lands review is required, CNSC staff will post a notice of this determination on the Canadian Impact Assessment Registry website.
Where proposed projects are subject to the federal lands provisions of the IAA, the Commission, in accordance with section 82 of the IAA, must determine whether the completion of the proposed project on federal lands is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. The factors that the CNSC must consider are provided in section 84 of the IAA. The IAAC is developing further guidance and materials on federal lands reviews in collaboration with federal authorities, including the CNSC.
Ongoing environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012
Ongoing projects with environmental assessments, initiated under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) and led by the CNSC, will continue under their current processes. The IAA contains provisions to enable these projects to advance in this way.
The CNSC has in place Generic Guidelines for the Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. This document informs proponents of the information requirements for the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for a project that requires an EA under the CEAA 2012. An EIS is a report written by a proponent that presents the technical studies and findings of an EA.
For projects initiated under CEAA 2012, engagement and consultation with the public and Indigenous groups and communities is ongoing throughout CNSC’s EA process.
Environmental Assessment Process under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012
Environmental protection reviews under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act
The CNSC conducts environmental protection reviews (EPRs) for all licence applications with potential environmental interactions, in accordance with its mandate under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), to ensure the protection of the environment and the health of persons. An EPR is a science-based environmental technical assessment by CNSC staff as set out in the NSCA. An EPR under the NSCA is conducted for projects not listed in the Physical Activities Regulations or for projects previously assessed through an environmental assessment (either under CEAA 2012 or its predecessor CEAA 1992).
An EPR under the NSCA is primarily based on information that the applicant or licensee is required to submit to the CNSC through the established licensing process, such as the licence application and its supporting documentation, and information on environmental protection measures. An EPR under the NSCA is also based on compliance and technical assessment activities completed by CNSC staff (e.g., reviews of annual environmental monitoring reports and environmental risk assessments). An EPR under the NSCA may also be supported by independent verification activities such as the CNSC’s independent environmental monitoring program (IEMP), as well as relevant regional health studies, monitoring programs and Indigenous knowledge studies.
The purpose of an EPR is to report the outcome of CNSC staff’s review of licensing and environmental compliance activities conducted under the NSCA. This review serves to assess whether the applicant or licensee will, in carrying out a licensed activity, make adequate provisions to protect the environment and health and safety of persons.
See the list of completed EPRs under the NSCA reports.
Environmental assessments under provincial regimes and land claim agreements
There may be instances where proposed nuclear projects are subject to provincial EA legislation but are not subject to the IAA. Also, in many parts of northern Canada (e.g., Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, parts of Quebec and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador), EA processes established under land claim agreements apply, and the IAA does not. In both cases, the CNSC acts as a technical advisor throughout the EA process and has no role in the EA decision. However, the Commission retains decision making on licensing matters, and uses the information gathered in the EA process to inform its licensing decision under the NSCA. When multiple jurisdictions are involved, these processes are harmonized as much as possible to reduce duplication and promote efficiency.
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