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Corporate Information for the 2019–20 Departmental Results Report

Raison d’être

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) was established on May 31, 2000, with the coming into force of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA). It replaced the Atomic Energy Control Board established in 1946 by the Atomic Energy Control Act.

The CNSC is a departmental corporation listed in Schedule II of the Financial Administration Act, and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources.

Mandate and role

The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.
Under the NSCA, the CNSC:

  • regulates the development, production and use of nuclear energy in Canada to protect health, safety and the environment
  • regulates the production, possession, use and transport of nuclear substances, and the production, possession and use of prescribed equipment and prescribed information
  • implements measures respecting international control of the development, production, transport and use of nuclear energy and substances, including measures respecting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices
  • is responsible for disseminating objective scientific, technical and regulatory information concerning the CNSC’s activities, and about how the development, production, possession, transport and use of nuclear substances affect the environment and the health and safety of persons

Operating context

To deliver on its mandate effectively, the CNSC continuously monitors the external environment to ensure that it is ready to adapt to changes that may impact its priorities. In 2019–20, the CNSC carried out its mandate against a backdrop characterized by changes in the nuclear industry, growing interest in how the Canadian nuclear industry manages radioactive waste, evolving expectations for public and Indigenous consultation and engagement, and technological innovations that may affect nuclear operations.

Nuclear energy accounts for 15% of electricity generation in Canada. In Ontario, nuclear energy supplies approximately 60% of electricity; in New Brunswick, it supplies almost 40%. The Government of Canada has reaffirmed the role of nuclear energy as part of Canada’s clean energy mix and low-carbon future. This includes national efforts such as the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap (SMR Roadmap) and international initiatives such as the Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future. Much of the nuclear energy industry’s focus has been on the refurbishment projects at the Darlington and Bruce nuclear generating stations, but the CNSC is also working on projects such as licence applications for SMRs and new uranium mines and mills. The CNSC is committed to the safety of all of these projects through robust regulatory oversight.

Canada’s nuclear sector generates various forms of radioactive waste each year. This waste includes used nuclear fuel, which is considered high-level waste, along with low- and intermediate-level waste. The management, storage and transportation of all radioactive waste continue to be issues of interest to some Indigenous communities, the public and other stakeholders. To ensure the safe management of radioactive waste in Canada, the CNSC has a robust regulatory regime that includes strong oversight and enforcement of compliance with regulatory requirements. In 2019–20, the CNSC’s public and Indigenous engagement and consultation remained largely focused on waste-related projects in Canada.

There are also social changes impacting the CNSC’s regulation. In an era of increasing public expectations for citizen engagement, coupled with proactive government efforts towards greater openness and transparency, it is essential to provide people with an interest in nuclear regulation with as much information as possible. It is equally important to make that information easily available and accessible across a variety of formats. Addressing these concerns is central to the CNSC’s core responsibility of nuclear regulation, in ensuring that Canadians – including Indigenous peoples – have meaningful information about, and the opportunity to participate in, the nuclear regulatory process. In 2019–20, the CNSC continued to make great strides in increasing the availability of information on its website, and continues to expand the scope and accessibility of licensing and compliance information.

Finally, technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. A growing gap can be observed between this rate of advancement and the pace at which government adopts policies and regulations. In the context of the CNSC, regulation will need to account for any number of industry-neutral disruptive, innovative and emerging technologies that may impact regular operations in the nuclear industry in the coming years. For example, drones, robotics and artificial intelligence may be used to assist safety inspections in any type of industrial plant, in construction sites as well as in operating facilities. There are also industrial applications for additive manufactured (3-D printed) components, for example in the automotive, aerospace, medical or energy industries. These technologies, among others, can be also applied to the nuclear industry and may require consideration of new regulatory approaches. In addition, nuclear-specific innovation, such as SMRs or new medical therapies, also needs to be considered and analyzed within the context of the CNSC’s regulatory framework. As discussed in its 2019–20 Departmental Results Report, the CNSC has made significant progress in accounting for new nuclear applications in its oversight of the nuclear industry, through the development of regulatory strategies, including a working group focused on innovative technologies, and through its pre-licensing vendor design reviews.

Key risks

Risk management is a fundamental part of the CNSC’s mission to protect health, safety, security and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public. Four of the CNSC key risks are described below.

Nuclear reactor accident

There is a risk of an accident at a nuclear reactor. While power reactors apply a defence-in-depth approach that anticipates and mitigates many potential challenges caused by both internal and external events, there remains a possibility, however unlikely, that an event could lead to an accident at a nuclear reactor. Much of the CNSC’s compliance verification activities exist to avoid this scenario in particular. To mitigate this risk further, many of the CNSC’s research projects in 2019–20 emphasized preparation for the long-term and post-refurbishment operation of nuclear power plants. The CNSC has also continued its significant efforts into regulatory documents that would mitigate this risk, such as those for operators’ fitness for duty and safety culture.

Nuclear fuel processing facility accident/event

There is a risk of an accident/event at a nuclear fuel processing facility. The CNSC anticipates and mitigates many potential challenges caused by both internal and external events. The possibility remains, however unlikely, that an event could lead to accidental releases of radiological, industrial or chemical hazards. In 2019–20, the CNSC began developing regulatory documents on controlling environmental releases.

Malevolent activities

There is a risk of malevolent activities, including cyber security events, diversion or loss of control of nuclear materials, equipment and technology of Canadian origin, including prescribed information. Nuclear facilities in Canada are not immune to the same security threats that terrorist groups pose to other infrastructure and other states, especially given the strategic importance of the energy sector. A Canadian nuclear facility may be the target of a malevolent act and/or Canadian nuclear materials, equipment or technologies may be diverted or stolen and used for non-peaceful or malevolent purposes.

To mitigate these possible risks, the CNSC is making significant strides in the area of nuclear forensics, working with federal partners on the development of a strategy to formalize nuclear forensics operations within the Government of Canada. Nuclear forensics is the scientific analysis of nuclear or other radioactive materials, or evidence contaminated with radioactive materials, which contributes to the broader investigation of a nuclear security event.

In addition, the CNSC is implementing recommendations and suggestions stemming from the IAEA’s 2015 International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission to Canada. The IPPAS assists IAEA member states, upon request, in strengthening their national nuclear security regimes, systems and measures.

Lost or stolen nuclear substances and transportation accidents

The CNSC regulates close to 1 million shipments of radioactive material in Canada every year. Several industrial and commercial applications involve the use of portable radiation devices. Medical isotopes are increasingly being produced by cyclotrons and being imported from overseas. As the use and transport of nuclear substances increases, there may be an increase in their loss or appropriation, and increased potential for transport events, resulting in an incident and/or risks to public safety. The CNSC mitigates this risk through, for example, the implementation of REGDOC-2.12.3, Security of Nuclear Substances: Sealed Sources, which sets out the minimum security measures that licensees must implement to prevent the loss, sabotage, illegal use, illegal possession, or illegal removal of sealed sources during their entire lifecycle, including while they are in storage, in transport or being stored during transportation. Licensees are also required to have a transport security plan as well as an emergency response assistance plan.

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