Effective regulators don’t impede innovation

The role of Canada’s nuclear regulator is to protect people from risk, not get in the way of progress.

In an era of rapid innovation, regulating the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment makes the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) more crucial than ever before. Rumina Velshi, President and CEO, tells us more.

Is nuclear a viable path to reaching Canada’s net zero targets by 2050?

It’s certainly been a topic of interest – including at COP26. There is a growing understanding that to meet net zero goals, nuclear will need to play a larger role. In Canada, some reports are forecasting that our country’s installed nuclear capacity will increase significantly. Whatever that increase might be, we know that the nuclear industry of the future is going to look very different as Canada pursues its net zero targets. A daunting but exciting task, indeed.

Regulators have a reputation of being roadblocks – Is the CNSC a barrier to innovation?

The CNSC welcomes innovation. Our role is clear: we must be ready for – and open to – innovative solutions while never losing sight of our commitment to safety and security. We will never compromise safety. But our role is to protect people from risk, not to hinder progress.

Innovation happens faster than the pace of change – how is the CNSC getting ready to regulate?

We closely monitor the headwinds regarding the future role of nuclear energy. This ensures we are in a state of readiness to effectively regulate new technologies such as small modular reactors (SMRs) while making certain that licensees are adhering to the strict regulations set out by the CNSC. We know innovators want to deploy quickly because the stakes are high – climate change and energy security are critical issues. To that end, we have modernized our regulatory framework to be performance-based, instead of prescriptive. Technology developers can familiarize themselves with our licensing and regulatory process. Our pre-licensing Vendor Design Review provides vendors with early feedback on compliance of their design and design processes with Canadian requirements.

As countries shift attention to nuclear as a solution to address climate change, what needs to be done on a global scale?

If the predicted number of new nuclear plants becomes a reality, we need to have a modern global framework for international governance, collaboration and technical support. That’s the best way to ensure the safe and efficient development and global deployment of innovative nuclear technologies. I happen to be Chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Commission on Safety Standards, which is an international body responsible for establishing standards relevant to nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety, and emergency preparedness and response. I can therefore assure you that nuclear safety is a shared goal for all countries. There is much to be done and the CNSC is ready to take the lead on enabling innovation through global harmonization.

How can Canadians get engaged?

The CNSC is committed to transparency and to creating a healthy safety culture. Commission proceedings are fully accessible to the public. In fact, we encourage anyone who is interested to watch these live webcasts, attend our information sessions (digital and in-person), and learn about what we do by reading our website and following us on social media.

Public trust is critical. We want and need Canadians to have confidence in our actions and decisions, which keep workers, the environment and the public safe. We continue to look for ways not only to strengthen public trust but also to advance reconciliation with Indigenous Nations and communities. For us, building trust is as important as technical competency.

Any final thoughts?

This industry has been a part of our lives for decades. It provides Canadians with everything from cancer treatments to electricity generation. And the key to it all is safety. The CNSC oversees every current application of nuclear in Canada – and it will bring that same rigor and vigilance to the regulation of new technologies. The Commission will only approve the licencing of a project once it is satisfied that it is safe to the public and the environment. We will never compromise safety.

*This article is featured in Canada’s Nuclear Future, a campaign hosted by Innovating Canada.

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