Uranium processing and fuel fabrication
Nuclear power facilities use domestically produced fuel products, based on natural uranium. Uranium processing and fabricating facilities typically refine uranium ore concentrate (generally called “yellowcake”) into fuel bundles through several processing stages. Uranium processing facilities must meet the CNSC's safety and security requirements.
While Canadian nuclear power plants use naturally occurring uranium as fuel, the uranium ore must first be processed.
Facilities for the processing of uranium for fuel are regulated by the CNSC under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
The CNSC's licensing process for uranium processing facilities follows the stages laid out in the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations, proceeding progressively through site preparation, construction, commissioning, operating, decommissioning, and abandonment phases.
Currently, there are 5 licensed uranium processing and fuel fabrication facilities operating in Canada:
- Blind River Uranium Facility
- Port Hope Conversion Facility
- Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc.
- BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada Inc. - Toronto
- BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada Inc. - Peterborough
At each licensing stage, the CNSC determines whether the licence applicant is qualified and has made adequate provisions for the protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons, and the maintenance of national security.
Before a licence is issued, environmental assessments may be carried out to determine, and help mitigate, foreseeable risks. Applicants must also demonstrate that the required measures are in place to implement international obligations to which Canada has agreed. The CNSC encourages licensees to not only meet applicable standards, but to exceed them in order to make them as safe as possible for Canadians.
If satisfied with the application submitted and the programs required for safe operation, the CNSC may issue a licence that contains appropriate conditions. CNSC operating licences are for closed term periods, and are subject to renewal on the basis of compliance with the licence conditions. Currently, most licences are valid for a period of 10 years; however, in 2023 the Commission granted its first 20-year licence. CNSC oversight of licensed activities is independent of the length of a licence and is based on a robust regulatory framework.
CNSC staff conduct inspections of licensed facilities to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and licence conditions so that facilities are operated safely and securely. Regulatory compliance activities follow a risk-informed approach based on the licensed activities.
Another important aspect of CNSC oversight of uranium processing and fuel fabrication facilities involves the protection of nuclear materials as part of Canada's international obligations for nuclear safeguards. As part of these obligations, Canada has a national accounting system for nuclear materials including inspections to ensure that all materials are verifiably accounted for.
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