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Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the Canadian Nuclear Association 2020 Conference

February 27, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario

– Check against delivery –

Good morning everyone.  It is indeed a pleasure being here today.

Behind me is a picture of me with my US and UK counterparts at last year’s CNA Conference where each of us shared our perspectives on New Nuclear and the Role of Regulators.  We had a lot of fun and I think the audience enjoyed the session as well.  We have been asked for a repeat or similar performance at the 2020 WiN Global Conference that Canada is hosting in Niagara Falls from October 4th to the 8th.  I hope to see most of you there.

Today, I am delighted to join you, Mark and Tom, for what I hope will be a lively and informative panel.
Although we have different mandates, the World Association of Nuclear Operators and nuclear regulators share a crucial mission: working with skill and dedication to ensure worker and public safety.

I will cover two areas in my remarks today. First, I’ll focus on what the CNSC is doing to promote the international harmonization of regulatory requirements for advanced and small modular reactors. Second, I’ll share a few thoughts on the importance of building and maintaining public confidence and trust – in a time of new challenges and new opportunities. Navigating this bold new future will require the best of all of us, and time is of the essence, because the SMR journey has already begun, including right here in Canada. 

The publication of the 2018 Pan-Canadian SMR Roadmap, the collaboration between New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan to develop a strategy for deployment, and the CNSC’s ongoing environmental assessment for a 15 thermal megawatt micro reactor on the Chalk River Laboratories site all point to a potentially disruptive, perhaps even transformative, future just around the corner.

A changing world also demands new perspectives and responses. Safety is our first and last concern. It’s our touchstone. But we also need a regulatory strategy to encourage collaboration and harmonization, which is something I have been strongly advocating over the last six months. We took a very important step last August when I signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This agreement will guide our work on advanced and small modular reactors.

In fact, we are already making progress together. We’ve agreed to share regulatory insights from technical design reviews – starting with NuScale and Terrestrial Energy. We are also looking at developing common guidance for reviewing new build licence applications.

But it’s not just the U.S. We are likewise involved with the United Kingdom’s nuclear regulator on SMRs and advanced reactors – and welcome a similar arrangement in the near term. It makes sense for us to share our analyses, testing, modelling and research.  Others can learn from us – and we can learn from others.

We can save time. We can avoid pointless duplication. And in so doing, we can help to encourage both innovation and modern regulation. All while remaining squarely focused on the imperative of safety. We all want to get this right. Working together will help us achieve that goal. It is my hope that cooperative undertakings like this will demonstrate to other nuclear regulators the benefits of close collaboration – and perhaps set the stage for progress toward a harmonization of regulatory requirements, like we see in civil aviation.

In fact, there already is a degree of harmonization in the nuclear regulatory community on nuclear substances transport regulations and licensing and certification of transportation packages. With that goal in mind, I was very pleased to hear from Director General Magwood that the Nuclear Energy Agency has agreed to look at different models for greater regulatory cooperation on SMRs.

And I know the World Nuclear Association and the CANDU Owners Group are finalizing a White Paper on how the goal of a worldwide nuclear regulatory environment, where international accepted standardized reactor designs can be widely deployed without major design changes at the national level, can be achieved.  I very much look forward to this White Paper.

I want to be absolutely clear: Regulatory sovereignty is essential. We must and we will always answer to Canadians and their leaders. But I believe it is in our interest – and in the interest of Canadians – to seek out greater harmonization of requirements amongst regulators around the world. If we are successful, we will establish a foundation for embarking nuclear countries – a roadmap for them to follow as they develop their own regulatory systems focused on safety.

Much will be required and expected of us as we navigate this future. In order for regulators to make progress on harmonization, industry will need to seriously consider how many technology designs are sustainable and then work toward a common set of codes and standards. For regulators, it means demonstrating that we are not a barrier to innovation and advancement – that our role as a science-based organization is to protect the public from risk, not from progress.

I think the time is now to think boldly and look critically at regulatory frameworks and be open to the need to re-engineer them. It may be time for a paradigm shift in the regulatory space. SMRs will be first-of-a-kind projects. The public will rightfully expect and demand that they be demonstrated to be safe. Any mis-step on the part of industry or by us, as the regulator, will likely cause public support to quickly evaporate.

Which brings me to my second topic: building and sustaining public confidence and trust in the regulator. More than any other industry, nuclear relies on building and maintaining a relationship of trust with Canadians, including Indigenous communities. People need to be confident that nuclear plants are operating safely – and are well-protected in the event of the unexpected.

So, let’s talk about the recent false alert at Pickering – because it teaches us an essential lesson. It can take years to build trust and confidence. And a split second to lose it. When it comes to nuclear power, there is no room for error – not on design, not on safety, and not in how we communicate with the public. The responses to that alert were far too slow on all sides, including ours. Public confidence and trust was clearly, undeniably and rightfully diminished.

Our shared task now is: Understand what went wrong. Learn from it. Make the changes required to ensure it never happens again. We, at the CNSC, are conducting a thorough review. So is the Province of Ontario.
We all need to make it a priority to learn from this incident – and to tell the public how we’re going to do better. Now, with the topics of trust and confidence in mind, I’d like to share with you some of the results of a recent public opinion survey we commissioned from Nanos Research.

I must admit, I had a lot of trepidation commissioning this survey, which was a first for the CNSC and especially considering the data was being collected two weeks after the Pickering false alert.

There are two key elements to this research:

  • Interviews with key stakeholders; and
  • A general population survey which was administered to over 1000 Canadians.

I’ll focus on the big-picture takeaways. The first thing I would note is the consistency in responses across the country – even though major nuclear facilities are located in just a few provinces.

Secondly, across all categories of stakeholders interviewed – be it nuclear host community mayors, Indigenous group leaders, members of civil society organizations and industry leaders – all expressed high confidence in CNSC’s professionalism and in our ability to execute our nuclear safety mandate, giving us scores greater than 8 out of 10. This is very reassuring to me and should be to you.

As you can see behind me, the level of awareness of the CNSC as Canada’s nuclear regulator is middling at best. This does not come as a great surprise. For those Canadians who are aware of us, around a quarter are completely positive and only about five percent are completely negative.

There is an untapped 50 percent right in the middle who are neutral – and potentially open to learning more and reaching their own conclusions on whether we are an effective, independent, competent and trustworthy regulator.

Up next, we see a mixed message between confidence in nuclear regulation writ large and the regulator’s independence from the industry. I find it encouraging to see that 83% of the public has confidence in the Government to ensure safe regulation of what is, for many still, a loaded term – ‘nuclear.’ This result gives me hope that if we communicate and engage with the public and communities in ways that resonate with them, we can build or reinforce confidence in the oversight of the nuclear sector.

At the same time, a moderate 62% of respondents have confidence in us to maintain independence from the industry. This suggests that we have to do more to inform, remind or demonstrate to Canadians of our independence – and make clear that our interactions with industry are always in the interest of ensuring safety.

Finally, we see that more than 80% of Canadians want to get involved in nuclear-related decisions in their communities. A full 40% say they want to be highly involved. By way of contrast, only 20% of respondents have complete confidence in our efforts to consult communities.

So, what do we take from this data?

First, the message is clear: We need to do more to establish and strengthen relationships. I have already had the opportunity during my time as President to start building stronger relationships with Indigenous communities, environmental non-governmental organizations, industry and other stakeholders. Strengthening these relationships will continue to be one of my top priorities.

Second, we need to redouble our efforts to become the trusted, “go-to” source for the public for all things nuclear. We already hold community meetings and webinars. We ensure that our Commission proceedings are open and transparent. Through our Participant Funding Program, we provide financial support to increase participation in our regulatory and licensing processes. Clearly this is not enough – we need to do more. And we are determined to do so.

Lastly, we need to consider changes to when and how we consult with the public, with Indigenous groups and with others. We are contemplating important reforms to the Commission’s processes and proceedings to make participation even more accessible and meaningful. Stay tuned on this.

Overall, I am encouraged by the results of the survey. They will help to guide our work and monitor our progress. We are an organization focused on continuous improvement. We have an unflinching commitment to safety. And we are committed to finding ways – meaningful ways, not window dressing – to increase the confidence and trust in the regulator in the years ahead.

In closing, I have worked in the nuclear sector for more than three decades. I am proud of its past. But I am even more energized and excited about the future – the opportunities that await, and the potential that is yet to be achieved. We are at a crossroads in the evolution of our sector. There is much work to do to ensure we navigate it smartly and safely, especially in terms of collaboration, harmonization and trust building.

At the CNSC, we are taking the lead – I hope you will join us.

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