Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the G4SR-2 Virtual Summit
November 18, 2020
Virtually from Toronto, Ontario
– Check against delivery –
Many thanks to the organizers for inviting me to give keynote remarks this afternoon and thank you Stephanie for that kind introduction.
It is my great pleasure to join you and provide an update on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s efforts to ensure readiness to regulate small modular reactors, or SMRs.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or CNSC, is Canada’s full lifecycle, nuclear regulator.
The Commission is comprised of an independent Commission, which is a quasi-judicial tribunal, and a staff body of almost 900 dedicated professionals across Canada.
Combined with the experience of our predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board, we have licensed and regulated nuclear facilities and activities in Canada for almost 75 years.
For the last several years, it has been clear to us at the CNSC that SMRs are poised to potentially be the next chapter in the evolution of Canada’s nuclear industry.
In early 2016 we received our first request from a potential SMR vendor for a review of their technology under our pre-licensing vendor design review service.
Our vendor design review service is a pre-licensing assessment of a proposed design’s likelihood of compatibility with Canadian requirements, but it is no guarantee of approval.
However, it gives a good indication of any potential fundamental barriers to licensing in Canada and provides important learning opportunities for both vendors and our staff.
This service has been very well received by vendors, with 12 different designs currently at various phases of the process.
It has given CNSC staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with various new technologies, often in discussion with international colleagues, which reflects our priority for being an agile organization.
Separate from the design reviews, we have taken steps to ensure that our regulatory framework is ready for SMRs.
The Canadian nuclear regulatory framework is comprehensive and in large part technology neutral, which means that it allows for all types of technologies to be safely regulated.
It sets technology neutral expectations that are drawn from decades of experience and based on globally recognized fundamental safety objectives.
We are currently reviewing it to ensure that it is ready for emerging technologies like SMRs, and applies objective-based performance criteria in support of regulatory decision making.
That includes reviewing our Nuclear Security Regulations with the goal of moving from a prescriptive to a more performance based security regime.
We have been consulting on potential approaches both within Canada and internationally, including through a workshop on the security of SMRs that we hosted in Ottawa last November.
We have selected an option and will be consulting on it in the coming months.
We have also continued our work to clarify what a graded approach - making sure our assessments are commensurate with the risks presented - means in terms of day-to-day regulation.
We have already hosted one workshop on this important subject, and will be hosting another in early 2021.
Of course, none of this work is possible if we do not have the right people in place, or access to them.
We implemented an aggressive staff renewal initiative in recent years to ensure a timely transfer of valuable knowledge and experience from our veteran staff to the next generation.
Through our commitment to an open, inclusive and diverse workplace, we will continue to attract and retain the best staff.
The expertise and professionalism of CNSC staff has enabled the CNSC to be a leader in the global nuclear community and a champion of international collaboration for many years.
We are an important contributor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, and the Nuclear Energy Agency, or NEA.
We regularly lead and host IAEA peer review missions.
A 2019 Integrated Regulatory Review Service mission by the IAEA confirmed the CNSC is a world-class regulator with a robust regulatory framework.
I was honoured in February this year to be named Chair of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards for a four year term.
This appointment is testimony to the high regard and respect the CNSC is held in internationally.
We have leveraged our good standing to take a leadership role on SMRs.
We are a prominent voice on the IAEA’s SMR Regulators’ Forum and working groups, as well as NEA SMR-related working groups.
We cohosted a workshop with the NEA last November on regulatory framework and licensing issues and are cohosting another one next month on ways to enhance international harmonization.
We have a long proud, history of bilateral cooperation with many nuclear embarking countries around the world.
In the last two years we have allied with likeminded regulators to try to promote greater international harmonization of regulatory requirements and practices for SMRs.
Harmonization is not new for nuclear regulators as there is already a degree of harmonization on nuclear substances transport regulations and licensing and certification of transportation packages.
Our first big step in trying to move the goalposts on harmonization began in August 2019 when we signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to guide our collaborative efforts on SMRs.
Those efforts include sharing regulatory insights from technical design reviews and looking at developing common guidance for reviewing new build licence applications.
We were pleased to sign a similar agreement with the United Kingdom’s Office for Nuclear Regulation last month.
This close cooperation and collaboration will serve us well, as reviews of technologies by one of us can be used by the others.
If three mature regulators conclude they have no reservations with a design during a pre-licensing review, there should be minimal impediments during the licensing process.
Working more closely together is likely to save time, reduce the duplication of effort and lead to better, quicker and more informed decisions without surrendering regulatory sovereignty or compromising safety.
That will be particularly useful for countries embarking on or considering nuclear technologies, which are often challenged by the resources and infrastructure required to review, licence and regulate.
The CNSC was pleased to take a leadership role and work with the Candu Owners Group and the World Association of Nuclear Operators to develop a white paper on international collaboration, which I hope will be published soon.
SMRs are first-of-a-kind projects and the public rightfully expects and demands that they be safe.
The public wants assurance that in our pursuit of ensuring safety we are committed to cooperating, sharing information and engaging in two-way communication.
Any misstep on the part of regulators or industry will likely cause public support to quickly evaporate, and would likely result in delayed or cancelled projects.
We are already seeing significant public interest and concern over the first proposed micro modular reactor application, which we received in March 2019 and for which the environmental assessment began in July 2019.
Some of those concerns relate to the long term management of radioactive waste, which Natural Resources Canada is considering as part of its update of Canada’s Radioactive Waste Policy Framework.
Other concerns are related to us as the regulator and our licensing and regulatory processes.
I have long believed that Canada’s nuclear licensing and regulatory processes are some of the most open, transparent, thorough and accommodating in the world.
We welcome all perspectives to the table, and often provide funding to support public participation.
International peer reviews have confirmed this.
But we are committed to continuous improvement.
To get a better understanding of public sentiment, we conducted polling for the first time ever in February this year to see the level of public confidence in us, the regulator.
That polling largely confirmed there is confidence in the CNSC as regulator.
It also highlighted areas where we can do better.
Those areas related primarily to a need for more awareness of the CNSC, a lack of adequate engagement with communities, particularly during the time in between licence proceedings, and a perceived lack of independence from industry.
This polling has motivated us to rethink approaches to trust building based on shared values, more meaningful participation, better listening and continuous evaluation.
At base, it’s all about working to build long-lasting, meaningful relationships.
And there are no more important relationships in the work we do than those with Indigenous groups.
The CNSC is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada, and I have been honoured to meet with leadership from many communities.
We have signed terms of reference with several communities to guide our collaborative efforts and help reinforce long-lasting relationships based on open communications, listening and learning, and respect.
We are also revisiting how Commission proceedings are conducted and exploring the use of technology to better engage with stakeholders and Indigenous groups.
Through these efforts, we hope to encourage greater listening, information sharing and collaboration among Indigenous groups, the public, the regulator and the regulated community.
Both us as the regulator and project proponents need to be absolutely committed to including everyone with an interest in our processes, and establish meaningful relationships, so that all information and perspectives are considered.
This will hopefully result in confidence that the best, most informed decision is taken in every instance, and that approved projects are safe.
The CNSC as regulator is working to ensure we understand the values and the concerns of those who participate in our regulatory processes, and to address them as appropriate in our regulatory decision-making.
But it is up to the proponents of these projects to do the very hard work of spending time and effort in communities, to know them and to be known to them, in order to establish a basis of mutual understanding and the communities’ acceptance of their projects.
Our licensing process is not the way proponents go about gaining appropriate social acceptance by those who see their interests at stake.
Understanding and addressing community views and considerations is a process that proponents must invest as much effort in as they do preparing a safety case for us.
Let me be very clear – the Commission works on ensuring we are a trustworthy regulator with a robust, comprehensive and responsive regulatory process.
Proponents are responsible for the trust and acceptance a community has for a particular project.
As you will see in our contribution to the upcoming SMR Action Plan, we are ready to fulfill our role and commitments.
It is now up to many of you participating today to demonstrate the safety of the technologies and a commitment to safety at all times, and establish meaningful relationships and partnerships with communities and earn appropriate social acceptance.
I am sure we are ready to meet our respective challenges – the future of the “next big thing” in nuclear depends on it.
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