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Section A


A.1 Scope of the section

This section is a general introduction to the main themes of the report.

A.2 Introduction

Canada's federal government has jurisdiction over nuclear energy, and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is the department responsible for nuclear energy policy. The Government of Canada has long funded nuclear research and supported the development and use of nuclear energy and related applications. As a result of this investment:

  • nuclear energy now supplies about 15 percent of Canada's electricity,
  • cancer therapies and diagnostic techniques are improved,
  • the nuclear industry contributes billions of dollars a year to Canada's gross domestic product and accounts for more than 30,000 highly skilled jobs, and
  • Canada has become the world's largest supplier of uranium, which continues to rank among the top 10 metal commodities in Canada for value of production.

The federal government provides $100 million in annual funding to AECL's Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), which undertakes research and development activities related to CANDU (Canadian Deuterium Uranium) technology. In addition to this base level funding, the federal government also provides funding to renew infrastructure at CRL and support the development of the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR).

Radioactive waste has been produced in Canada since the early 1930s, when the first radium and uranium mine opened in Port Radium, Northwest Territories. Pitchblende ore was transported from the Port Radium mine to Port Hope, Ontario, where it was refined to produce radium for medical purposes and, later, uranium for nuclear fuel and military applications. Research and development on the application of nuclear energy to produce electricity began in the 1940s at CRL. At present, radioactive waste is generated in Canada from the various stages and uses associated with the nuclear fuel cycle:

  • uranium mining and milling,
  • refining and conversion,
  • nuclear fuel fabrication,
  • nuclear reactor operations,
  • nuclear research, and
  • radioisotope manufacture and use.

The Government of Canada gives high priority to the safety of persons and the protection of the environment from the various operations of the nuclear industry, and has put in place modern legislation that provides the basis for Canada's comprehensive and robust regulatory regime. Canada's nuclear regulatory body is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (the CNSC). In addition to NRCan and the CNSC, the major federal government organizations involved in the Canadian nuclear industry include:

  • Health Canada (HC) - recommends radiological protection standards and monitors occupational radiological exposures.
  • Transport Canada (TC) - develops and administers policies, regulations and services for the Canadian transportation system, including the transportation of dangerous goods.
  • Environment Canada (EC) - contributes to sustainable development through pollution prevention, to protect the environment and human life and health from the risks associated with toxic substances. They are responsible for the administration of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEA Agency) - contributes to both sustainable development and ensures public participation in the environmental assessment process. CEA Agency is responsible for the administration of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEA Act) and its regulations.
  • The Major Projects Management Office (MPMO) - provides overarching project management and accountability for major resource projects in the federal regulatory review process, and to facilitate improvements to the regulatory system for major resource projects. The MPMO serves as the single point of entry into the federal regulatory process for all stakeholders, and it also works collaboratively with other departments and agencies where the federal regulatory process for major resource projects can be improved, both in the short- and long-term.

Other federal and provincial departments are involved to a lesser extent. Annex 1 provides detailed descriptions of these departments.

The Nuclear Energy Act (NEA), the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (NFWA) and the Nuclear Liability Act (NLA) are the centerpieces of Canada's legislative and regulatory framework for nuclear matters. The NSCA is the key piece of legislation that ensures the safety of the nuclear industry and radioactive waste management in Canada. A detailed description of this legislative and regulatory framework is provided in Annex 2.

A.3 Nuclear substances

Under the NSCA, the CNSC regulates nuclear substances, in order to protect human health and the environment. The nuclear substances defined in the NSCA include any radioactive substance, plus deuterium, or any of their compounds, as well as any substance defined by regulations as being required for the production or use of nuclear energy.

Both radioactive waste and spent fuel contain nuclear substances, and therefore are regulated in the same manner as any other nuclear substance. Refer to subsection B.5 for a description of Regulatory Policy P-290, Managing Radioactive Waste.

A.4 Canadian philosophy and approach to safety

Canada actively promotes and regulates safety within the nuclear sector. Canada's approach is based upon several factors, including the review of international standards, (i.e. IAEA standards and guides), improvements to regulatory policies and standards (i.e., Regulatory Policy P-299). Canada considers the adoption of international recommendations, such as those regarding radiological dose limits to the public and workers in International Commission on Radiological Protection Publication 60, Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP-60, 1990), as well as protection of the environment. For example, limits for controlled release of gaseous or liquid effluents or solid materials are adopted from complementary regulatory regimes (such as the Provincial Water Quality Objectives or Metal Mining Limits for Liquid Effluent Releases), or derived from specific licence conditions (such as the Derived Release limits). Other standards, established by organizations like the CSA, or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), may also be adopted by the CNSC.

The Commission Tribunal sets the standards and conditions; it is then the responsibility of the person in possession of the associated nuclear substance, or the operator of the associated facility to ensure the safety. For example, it is the licensee's responsibility to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the regulatory body that a spent fuel facility or radioactive waste management facility can and will be operated safely throughout the lifetime of the facility. The regulatory regime is flexible about how licensees comply with regulatory requirement. The licensee must demonstrate how the design meets all applicable performance standards and will continue to do so throughout its design life.

A.5 Fundamental principles

The Canadian regulatory approach to the safety of spent fuel and radioactive waste management is based on three principles:

  • lifecycle responsibility and licensing,
  • in-depth defense, and
  • multiple barriers.

A.6 Main safety issues

The two main safety issues addressed in this report are interim storage and historical and contaminated lands.

Currently, interim storage is being conducted in a safe manner. The Canadian nuclear industry and the Canadian government are developing long-term waste management solutions that will protect health, safety, security and the environment. Key initiatives underway are described in section K. Some of the most important challenges will be to bring these initiatives to fruition and develop and implement appropriate long-term solutions that have the confidence of the public.

Historical and contaminated lands have presented the Canadian and provincial governments with challenges to developing and implementing appropriate remedial strategies and long-term waste management solutions. Several initiatives have been completed or are underway to address theses sites, as described in sections H.6.1 and K.5.3.

A.7 Survey of the main themes

The main themes in this report are:

  • Canadian government departments and agencies and the nuclear industry have roles and responsibilities - confirmed in the 1996 Radioactive Waste Policy Framework - to ensure the safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
  • The primary responsibility for safety rests with the licensees. All licensees take their responsibility for safety seriously and are able to raise adequate revenue to support safe operations.
  • The Canadian safety philosophy and requirements, applied through the regulatory process, ensure that the risk to the workers, the public and the environment that is associated with the operation of spent fuel management and radioactive waste management are kept as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA), social and economic factors taken into consideration.
  • The Canadian regulatory body has sufficient independence, authority and resources to ensure compliance and enforcement of regulatory safety requirements that pertain to the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste.
  • Industry and various levels of government are engaged in a number of initiatives to develop and implement long-term solutions for spent fuel and radioactive waste, as well as clean up of wastes from past practices such as uranium mining and processing.

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