Remarks by President Velshi at the International Conference on Fire Safety and Emergency Preparedness

October 28, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario

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Good morning everyone.

Thank you Honorary Chair for that kind introduction. As you noted, my name is Rumina Velshi, and I am the President and CEO of Canada’s independent nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

It is my great pleasure to join you all at this great event.

My congratulations to the organizers as I understand that this is the first time the conference and seminar have been held jointly, which must have required considerable planning and collaboration.

I am very glad to see so many nuclear professionals participating in this conference. It is an important forum for networking, exchanging information on developments in the industry, and sharing lessons learned from research, reviews, drills and major exercises.

Fire safety and emergency management are an integral part of protecting public safety, security and the environment. The CNSC, other regulators, the industry and the public all have a strong interest in the effectiveness of fire safety and emergency management.

We hold annual emergency exercises in Canada to test and continuously improve our emergency management posture. In fact we held one just last week, Exercise Huron Resilience, which focused on the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station.

While emergency management is probably the more publicly recognizable aspect of this conference, from my time in the industry, I know that fire safety is equally important.

Uncontrolled fires anywhere in a nuclear station are a cause for immediate concern. And while there have been important steps taken over the years to remove or isolate any combustible materials in nuclear plants, knowing that there are dedicated and well-trained experts on site in case something unexpected does arise should give all of us the confidence we seek.

Knowing that those experts get together to learn and share regularly is also very encouraging and reassuring. Exchanging information and lessons learned are key for continuous learning and improvement, and are especially important in the era of increasing innovation that we presently find ourselves in.

I am proud to lead an organization committed to learning and continuous improvement as we navigate this era of innovation.

Briefly, for those of you who might not be familiar with us, the CNSC’s focus is safety.

Over 900 staff are located across the country and work diligently every day to ensure the licensing decisions and conditions made by our five-member Commission are implemented and respected at all times by licensees.

Our vision is to be the best nuclear regulator in the world, for today and tomorrow, and we have four key priorities in place to bring that vision to life.

First, we must ensure a modern approach to nuclear regulation that uses science-based, risk-informed, and technically sound regulatory practices that take into account uncertainties and evolving expectations. This positions us to be able to evaluate the regulatory implications of new and innovative nuclear technologies.

Second, we must be a trusted regulator, one that is recognized by the public, Indigenous peoples and industry as independent, competent and transparent. Trusted also means that we are seen as a credible source of scientific, technical and regulatory information.

Our third priority is to maintain our global influence by continuing our efforts to enhance international nuclear safety, particularly through collaborative efforts.

Finally, we are improving management effectiveness to ensure our organization is agile, highly skilled and representative of Canada’s diverse population. It means that we are supported by modern management practices and tools, which allow us to respond to an evolving workforce and industry.

In addition to these priorities, I have a personal commitment to promote careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – for women and girls.

As an engineer with almost 40 years in the nuclear industry, I have seen positive steps being taken to break down barriers for women in STEM. But there is still a long way to go. In the nuclear sector, women still make up only twenty percent of the workforce. We must start to recognize and address the cultural biases and systemic barriers that are obstacles for women to enter and thrive in these fields. This is everyone’s responsibility. When we empower women, everyone benefits. I challenge every person in this room to be an ally and take action to make positive changes toward gender balance in the workplace.

As you know, innovative and sometimes disruptive technologies are driving changes in many industries at a pace never seen before, and we can expect the same for the nuclear industry in the years ahead. Innovative technologies and approaches are already being used in the nuclear industry in Canada and around the world. These include small modular reactors, 3-D printing of parts, and the use of predictive analytics for maintenance of components.

Drones are also being used by some nuclear operators as part of their inspection process. When innovation is done right, it can help save lives and make best use of limited resources. As we saw during the recent Notre Dame fire in Paris, drones and extinguisher robots were used to help fight the fire. These applications allow for new tactical choices and help reduce risk to human lives. This type of innovation could be very useful in the nuclear industry and

I suspect some of you out there might be working to incorporate it into your programs already. As with the introduction of any new technology or approach, the public will expect operators to have considered, tested and be able to defend its use.

As regulators, we need to understand how these technologies work too. To ensure we are not caught unprepared, we have already begun to take the steps necessary to be ready for innovation. Those steps include continuing to modernize our regulatory framework to make it as technology neutral as possible, using risk informed regulation so that we use the best approach in each circumstance. It also includes recruiting over 70 new graduates in recent years to respond to our projected retirements and transferring valuable corporate knowledge. That last point is especially important, particularly for those of you here with many years of experience and are nearing or thinking about retirement.

Losing the valuable knowledge and experience you have gained throughout your years of service by letting you walk away without transferring it to the next generation is not only unconscionable, it is contrary to a healthy safety culture. Your knowledge and experience will form the base on which the next generation will stand to operate and regulate what exists today and whatever comes our way in the future. Plus, you are too expensive for us to bring you back as contractors! But even after taking steps to ensure that we have the right workforce in place, one that is agile enough to respond to whatever comes our way, that is no guarantee any one of us will have all the knowledge necessary.

Safety is a shared goal in all nuclear countries and that requires us to work together, particularly when dealing with innovative technologies. That is why communication and sharing of information are so important whether domestic or international, and among vendors, operators, regulators and governments.

We work closely with international peers through organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (or IAEA), the Nuclear Energy Agency, and through bilateral and multilateral relationships. Through those relationships, we are often able to leverage particular expertise that we might lack. And we invite those experts to review and report on how we manage our responsibilities for nuclear safety in Canada.  That is why this past June, we were glad to be the first country with a large nuclear power programme and the first G7 nation to host the IAEA’s Emergency Preparedness Review Service. The Government of Canada requested this review to assess Canada’s emergency preparedness and response framework for nuclear and radiological emergencies.

We were encouraged that the review found that Canada has a well-developed and mature emergency preparedness and response system in place across all levels of government. The review did make recommendations and suggestions that will be addressed through an action plan that Canada will develop. The knowledge gained and experiences shared between Canada and the review team will help facilitate improvements in Canada and other IAEA Member States. Later this morning, Chris Cole, our Director of Emergency Management Programs, will talk more about the EPREV review.

Real-world nuclear-related emergency management and response was last in the public spotlight during and following the events at Fukushima. It led to important lessons learned and hopefully an increase in public confidence in nuclear response readiness. We were quick to adopt those lessons learned in Canada and had our initial progress against them reviewed by an IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service Follow-up Mission in 2011, two years after our first full IRRS Mission. We had completed all actions arising from that 2011 follow-up well in advance of the second full IRRS Mission we hosted last month.

We all need to welcome and encourage regular, public peer reviews to confirm that we are set up and functioning as we intend, or receive recommendations on how to get there. Reviews by independent, international experts are important and demonstrate our commitment to continuous learning and improvement.

What I would like to leave you with is that every one of you has an important role to play in effectively implementing fire safety measures and emergency management to protect workers, the public and the environment. You will of course have to adapt, as will all industry players and regulators, as we continue our march through this era of innovation. And you must be ready and willing to transfer your knowledge to the next generation so they can continue your great work. As a great leader once said, “When you share knowledge, a part of you lives on forever.” Isn’t that what each and every one of us desires? As a regulator, we must not be an unnecessary barrier or bottleneck to innovation, but we must always prioritize safety.

Safety is all of our responsibility, at every moment and in every scenario.

I wish you a successful conference and enjoyable stay in Ottawa over the next few days. I know you have a busy schedule while you are here, but hope you will find a little time to explore some of what this great city has to offer.

Thank you.

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