Standing Committee on Natural Resources

Opening remarks for: President Michael Binder

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My name is Michael Binder and I am the President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. I’m joined by Ramzi Jammal, CNSC Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer.  It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss the future of nuclear in Canada from the regulator’s perspective.

The CNSC is Canada’s nuclear regulator. Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the CNSC carries out its three-fold mandate:

  • Regulating the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security, and the environment,
  • Implementing Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and
  • Disseminating objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public. 

The CNSC is an independent quasi-judicial administrative tribunal. We regulate all things nuclear in Canada, including uranium mining, nuclear fuel fabrication, nuclear reactors and power plants, the production and use of medical isotopes, the decommissioning and remediation of nuclear sites, and the safe management of nuclear waste.

I would also like to note that this year we are celebrating 70 years of nuclear regulation in Canada. Since 1946, the CNSC and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board, have safely regulated Canada’s nuclear sector by continuously strengthening Canada’s laws, regulations and licensing requirements; and by enforcing compliance by licensees.

Looking to the future, there are five key areas of focus that we – as the regulator – need to be ready for.

I will start with refurbishments. As part of the 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan, the Ontario government committed to maintaining nuclear energy as the backbone of Ontario’s electricity supply through the refurbishment of the Darlington and Bruce sites. The CNSC will be there every step of the way until the reactors are returned safely to service.

The second significant area is decommissioning. At the CNSC, we are ensuring that we are ready. The Gentilly-2 nuclear facility in Quebec has begun decommissioning. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has applied to accelerate the decommissioning of Whiteshell Laboratories and the Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor.

Nuclear waste management is the third area where increased regulatory effort will be needed in the future. Internationally, consensus has been reached that deep geologic repositories – or DGRs – are the safest mechanism for the long-term storage of nuclear waste. Looking forward, there are potentially two DGRs that may be built in Canada – OPG’s proposed DGR for low and intermediate level radioactive waste and the NWMO’s DGR for used nuclear fuel.

The CNSC also regulates waste from uranium mines and mills. Our aim with legacy sites such as Gunnar, Lorado, Cluff Lake and Beaverlodge is to have them restored and released from regulatory management.

Finally on waste, last week the CNSC held a public meeting in Port Hope, Ontario at which a progress update was provided on an initiative to clean up historic low-level radioactive waste. After more than a decade of analysis and planning, on November 1 the environmental cleanup began with the first truckloads being transported to a newly-built facility.

Next, at the CNSC we are making sure we are prepared to regulate new technologies in a manner that is thorough – while at the same time efficient and flexible enough not to be a roadblock to innovation.

In particular, we have been preparing for small modular reactors – or SMRs. At the moment, five SMR vendors have engaged the CNSC in vendor design reviews to verify, at a high level, if the design meets regulatory requirements and to identify any fundamental barriers.

The last area that I believe will continue to take on an increasingly important role is the dissemination of information and engagement on major projects.
Today, both the Canadian public and Indigenous peoples have high expectations of the regulator and licensees to provide information early and continuously, to provide ongoing opportunities for engagement, and to be transparent in our decision-making processes.

This leads me to the next section of my talk today – how the CNSC is ready for the future. First, the CNSC has approximately 800 highly qualified staff, the majority of whom have degrees in nuclear engineering, chemistry, physics, environmental, and radiation science fields. They operate within a strong safety culture, and their scientific and technical expertise enables the Commission to make informed science-based decisions.

The CNSC also has a thorough environmental assessment process in place. As a responsible authority under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, we conduct the EAs for all nuclear projects. Our EAs are robust and translate directly into licencing requirements. Since 2000, the CNSC has completed 69 EAs. 

At the Commission we work hard to foster public trust through ongoing communication with Canadians. Our website is populated with research, publications, and information related to the health and safety of Canadians. We also regularly participate in community events and leverage social media platforms to get our messages out.

Furthermore, the CNSC is a leader in engaging with Indigenous peoples. The CNSC is an agent of the Crown and has a responsibility to meet the duty to consult and where appropriate, accommodate.

The CNSC is recognized as one of the most open, transparent, and respected nuclear regulators in the world. We are one of only a few nuclear regulators that conduct public licensing hearings and webcasts the proceedings. Each year we produce reports on the safety performance of our licensees that are made available for comment and also discussed in public proceedings. To ensure members of the public and Indigenous groups are able to participate, we offer participant funding to interested intervenors. 

At the CNSC, we are committed to continuous improvement. A recent audit by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development provided recommendations for improving the documentation of the nuclear power plant site inspection program. The CNSC accepted the findings of the audit and took immediate corrective actions.

At the same time, the CNSC is making great progress in the modernization of its regulatory framework to make sure our regulations are clear, take into consideration the most current safety knowledge, and are flexible enough to address current and future requirements.

We are the only regulator in Canada that subjects itself to international peer reviews of its operations. The CNSC has recently undergone three International Atomic Energy Agency reviews. The outcomes showcase Canada as a leader in nuclear regulation, with a strong emphasis on operational safety and security.

Our leadership role extends to the world stage as well. I am proud to tell you that our Vice-President Ramzi Jammal, who is here with me today, was elected to be this year’s President of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, an international group of member countries devoted to promoting nuclear safety standards. The CNSC also regularly leads peer review missions across the globe. Recently, Mr. Jammal led missions in Russia, China and India. These three countries are seeing the largest growth in the use of nuclear energy.

In closing, there is no other industry that is so tightly scrutinized and regulated, with so many checks and balances for ensuring the protection of health, safety and security of people and the environment. There are new challenges and opportunities ahead, and we are well positioned to address them.

I would be pleased to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you.