Opening Remarks by President Velshi at the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council Advanced Reactor Summit VIII
Good morning everyone.
Thank you, Bud, for that kind introduction – and thanks to the organizers for inviting me here today.
I am delighted to help kick off day 3 of this year’s summit.
So much has changed since we last met a little over a year ago, and much uncertainty remains, including how much longer we will need to continue meeting virtually like this.
The responses to the global pandemic in the nuclear sector around the world have been remarkably similar and strong.
Throughout the crisis, we have demonstrated how well prepared we are to respond to unexpected events.
And we have shown the importance of strong and continued international collaboration through information sharing and exchanges of best practices and lessons learned.
At the same time, we regulators have had to continue our work to be ready for the future because the introduction of innovation in the nuclear sector has maintained momentum even in this tumultuous year.
CNSC overview and priorities
At the CNSC, we are doing just that.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the CNSC, is Canada’s independent nuclear regulator and regulates all things nuclear in Canada.
That keeps us very busy because Canada has one of the most diverse nuclear sectors on earth, covering the full nuclear fuel cycle short of reprocessing and nuclear weapons.
Our focus is safety at all times, in all we do, and in everything we regulate.
An independent administrative tribunal – the Commission – makes licensing decisions and sets conditions for major nuclear activities and facilities in Canada.
It is set up at arm's length from the Canadian government and with no ties to the nuclear industry.
As part of its decision making, the Commission conducts public proceedings and considers information from proponents, CNSC staff, and intervenors, or third parties.
Almost 900 staff spread throughout Canada ensure compliance with the Commission’s decisions.
We have a bold vision at the CNSC, which is to be one of the world’s best regulators, and are guided by 4 priorities to help realize it.
As you will note throughout my remarks, each of these priorities is vital to our regulatory readiness for small modular reactors.
The first priority is to have a modern approach to nuclear regulation.
That means using science-based, risk-informed, performance-based and technically sound regulatory practices that take into account uncertainties and evolving expectations.
A modern approach allows us to evaluate new and innovative nuclear technologies – and to have a culture of openness, professionalism and respectful scientific debate free from any fear of reprisal.
Second, we strive to be a trusted regulator.
We want Indigenous groups, the public, industry, government and stakeholders to recognize us as independent, fair, competent, strong, transparent, and a credible source of information.
To do so, we are continuing to strengthen trust in us based on meaningful dialogue and relationship building, which I will expand on in a few minutes.
Our third priority is sharing our knowledge and our systems and processes to enhance international safety, particularly through collaborative efforts.
As a mature nuclear regulator of a Tier 1 nuclear country, we want to continue having a positive influence around the globe.
This is particularly important as we ready ourselves for greater innovation.
And finally, our fourth priority is being an agile regulator – one that is diverse and inclusive, where staff feel empowered and equipped, and where people are able to adapt quickly to an evolving work environment.
These priorities allow us to respond to our current regulatory reality and prepare for an innovative future.
Our agility in particular has been tested over the last year in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.
Responding to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to be simultaneously reactive and proactive.
We have had to quickly make adjustments to how we maintain oversight and enforce compliance.
Being agile and committed to continuous improvement has served us and our regulated community very well throughout the pandemic.
We have found opportunities to develop new and innovative ways of working.
This includes conducting remote inspections of nuclear establishments, which has proven both successful and cost effective.
It has also meant conducting desktop inspections by teleconference or videoconference with licensees.
CNSC inspectors have continued surveillance and monitoring activities remotely.
How? By participating in licensees’ daily meetings, by accessing licensee networks to retrieve nuclear power plant information and by monitoring licensee corrective action programs.
In short, we have been able to maintain strong regulatory oversight over major nuclear facilities throughout the pandemic, including the successful completion of a refurbishment of a power reactor at the Darlington site in Ontario – a major feat for both the licensee and the regulator.
And we have done it without compromising safety.
The crisis has forced upon us an imperative to innovate. Once we are over this pandemic, I expect lessons learned will result in several other innovative technologies and approaches being proposed by licensees.
We are already witnessing new ideas and innovative technologies, and we must look critically at ourselves as regulators to ensure we are not an unnecessary barrier to their adoption.
I’d like to reiterate an oft-used message of mine: our role as the regulator is to protect Canadians from risk, not from progress.
One way to ensure we regulators are not an unnecessary barrier or impediment to the introduction of innovative technologies is for proponents to ensure regulators are involved at the earliest stages.
That early involvement will ensure we are able to access the necessary expertise and are in a state of readiness.
We are taking that approach for an innovation already before us – small modular reactors, or SMRs. I’d like to note that in Canada, the term SMR also includes small advanced reactors.
Readiness for SMRs
Much has happened with respect to SMRs in Canada since we last met last year.
Most notably, the pan-Canadian SMR Roadmap released in November 2018 was bolstered by the release of the SMR Action Plan in December 2020.
The Action Plan is Canada's plan for the development, demonstration and deployment of SMRs for multiple applications at home and abroad.
It represents commitments and actions from all of the key players in Canada’s nuclear sector to help realize the goal of making Canada a leader in the rapidly developing SMR market.
It also reflects the CNSC’s SMR-related priorities on public, community and Indigenous engagement; regulatory efficiency; nuclear security; and international collaboration.
As an independent regulator, we were glad to contribute to the development of the Action Plan.
There are several other exciting SMR-related developments to report.
We are continuing with our environmental assessment for the first proposed micro modular reactor project in Canada, which began in July 2019.
Four provinces have agreed to cooperate on advancing the development and deployment of SMRs.
Both our federal government and a provincial government have provided funding for various SMR vendors to participate in our pre-licensing process.
Our vendor design review, or VDR service – a pre-licensing assessment of a proposed design’s progress toward achieving compliance with Canadian requirements – continues to be very popular.
Twelve different vendors are at various phases of the process.
The VDR is no guarantee of regulatory approval but gives a good early indication of any potential fundamental barriers to licensing.
It provides our staff the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the various technologies, none of which are like the CANDU, or pressurized heavy water technology, that we are accustomed to.
It is particularly relevant for the fuels being proposed.
We expect applicants to demonstrate the qualification of the fuel and address any design uncertainties through safety and control measures.
And through collaborative efforts, we leverage technical information from other regulators and national laboratories wherever possible.
We also continue to be very engaged internationally.
We remain a prominent voice in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s, or IAEA’s, SMR Regulators’ Forum and working groups, as well as on the Nuclear Energy Agency’s, or NEA’s, SMR-related working groups.
And I continue to advocate strongly for harmonization to the greatest degree possible, which I think is a pre-requisite for the ready and safe deployment of SMRs around the world.
Harmonization is essentially smart regulation, and builds off decades of experience on the part of mature regulators.
As the head of a mature regulator, I was honoured to be named Chair of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards, or CSS, in February 2020.
The CSS establishes standards relevant to nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety; and emergency preparedness and response.
My colleagues on the CSS have agreed to prioritize work to establish harmonized international standards for SMRs that are technology-neutral, commensurate with the risks presented, and minimally sufficient for the needs of all countries.
I participated in a Canada–United Kingdom colloquium last November with many prominent thinkers and policy makers on challenges and opportunities around the nuclear agenda.
There was broad consensus among that group over the importance and need for harmonization of regulatory requirements and standards for SMRs.
Last December, the CNSC and the NEA co-hosted a multi-sector workshop on innovative regulation that looked at challenges and benefits of harmonizing the licensing process for emerging technologies.
It allowed us to learn from other sectors, such as aviation, transportation, finance and medicine, on their experiences with harmonization – the good and the bad, including how to deal with shifting expectations and establishing the proper mindset.
The road to harmonization will be challenging for sure, and we must be deliberate, which likely means starting with the sharing of regulatory reviews with like-minded regulators.
And we are doing exactly that with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United Kingdom’s Office for Nuclear Regulation.
We signed agreements with both of these regulators in September 2019 and October 2020, respectively.
Under these agreements, which guide our collaborative efforts on SMRs, reviews of technologies by one of us can be used by the others.
While we continue to make good progress under these agreements, much important work still remains to be done.
Other nuclear countries, particularly nuclear newcomers, should take great comfort in reviews conducted by 3 mature, respected regulators that conclude we have no reservations licensing a technology.
The more reviews that are done and shared, the better the baseline we will be able to build.
Using that knowledge, we can take a close look at our regulatory frameworks to ensure that the related requirements are commensurate with the risks presented.
If we conclude they are not, we can work to establish harmonized international standards that are acceptable for all countries.
Regulators can also work concurrently to establish harmonized requirements that are acceptable for all countries.
Approaching it this way, I hope we might gradually build confidence among governments, regulators and the public to eventually get to a point where licensing and approval processes can be harmonized.
Beyond the ongoing great work we are doing bilaterally, there is no doubt that momentum is quickly building more broadly around the world.
In December 2020, the World Nuclear Association, in collaboration with the CANDU Owners Group, released a white paper that presents a 3-phased roadmap for the possible international harmonized evaluation and licensing of SMRs.
This work is building off the existing harmonized model for transportation in the nuclear sector, which works very well.
The European Nuclear-21 think tank has also very recently published its perspective on a paradigm shift with respect to international harmonization and standardization for the design and assessment of future nuclear installations.
Under the coordination of the NEA, we are also collaborating with the U.S. and the U.K. in a trilateral licensing initiative, with representation from regulators and policy makers, to select and review a new reactor technology to find opportunities to harmonize licensing.
And more work is planned by the IAEA and NEA to include stakeholders from around the globe in discussions on unified, generic assessments of technologies.
On a broader regulatory approvals front, nuclear regulators around the world are collaborating on lessons learned from COVID-19 vaccine approvals to look at how we can streamline regulatory approvals, without compromising safety, and further strengthen international collaboration.
Together, I hope that all of this work will help harmonization of regulatory requirements and approvals in the nuclear sector take hold sooner.
However, we need to take care that we are not working at cross-purposes through all of these various efforts.
For that reason, I think it makes a lot of sense to start small and build off of the good work of like-minded regulators before getting too far ahead of ourselves.
Our lessons learned and good practices will be shared with the global community to ensure effective and efficient harmonization without the erosion of national decision-making processes.
Regardless of how, and how quickly, we proceed, success will likely be closely linked to the trust and confidence placed in regulators, proponents and operators.
Both we, as the regulator, and the industry need to be committed to including everyone with an interest in our processes and to establishing meaningful relationships so that all information and perspectives are appropriately considered.
It is very important to honour this commitment for top-of-mind issues such as nuclear waste management, emergency preparedness, security and safeguards.
It applies equally, if not more so, to the proposed introduction of innovative nuclear technologies such as SMRs.
Sustained and sincere efforts will hopefully result in confidence that the best, most informed decision is taken in every instance and that approved projects are indeed safe.
The CNSC as regulator has a key role to play here.
But it is up to the proponents of these projects to do the hard work of spending time and effort in communities – to know the people and to be known by them – in order to establish a basis of mutual understanding.
Building long-term relationships based on respect and active listening is essential to trust building.
When it comes to new technologies and innovations, from SMRs to artificial intelligence applications, the industry will have much work to do to gain acceptance by communities.
As I conclude my remarks, I think it is important to note that addressing our shared priorities of readiness and trust building will help us better address future and current responsibilities and challenges.
Vendors and proponents need to engage early and continually, with regulators and communities alike, and provide as much information as possible at all times.
Operators must continue to operate safely and ensure strong relationships with not only the host communities, but also communities in the vicinities of their proposed projects.
Governments need to demonstrate a commitment to finding acceptable long-term waste management solutions.
Regulators need to remain ever vigilant, and ensure regulation always prioritizes safety and is commensurate with risk.
And we all need to do everything possible to guard against complacency at all times.
We are just a couple of weeks past the 10-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident and the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I think there are 2 key takeaways from these 2 crises.
First, we must never stop imagining the unimaginable so that we are best prepared for whatever might come our way.
Second, excellent communications and trust are key in times of uncertainty or crisis to minimize uncertainty, fear and harm.
By being ever mindful and committed to both of these lessons at all times we will help prepare ourselves, and everyone interested or potentially impacted by nuclear innovation, to journey safely together into our innovative future.
If we don’t, these innovative nuclear technologies might join a long list of other “what if” or “could have been” technologies in the history books.
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