Remarks by President Velshi’s at the Global America Business Institute Virtual Workshop
Good morning everyone.
Thank you, Alan, for the introduction and for inviting me to participate today.
International coordination in nuclear energy innovation is an important and timely issue and one I am glad to be able to discuss with you.
Momentum has continued to build on innovative nuclear technologies, even during this tumultuous year.
That makes turning our collective focus to these technologies more important than ever.
But, before I get to that, a bit on my organization.
CNSC overview and priorities
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.
Combined with the experience of our predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board, we have licensed and regulated nuclear facilities and activities in Canada for 75 years.
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 process , the Commission conducts public proceedings and considers information from proponents, CNSC staff, and intervenors (or third parties); we provide funding to many intervenors to help them participate.
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 that vision. Our 4 priorities are to have a modern approach to nuclear regulation, be a trusted regulator, have a global influence and be an agile organization.
These priorities allow us to respond to our current regulatory reality and prepare for an innovative future.
Readiness for innovation and SMRs
We know that industry is looking at how new ideas and technologies can be leveraged within existing nuclear facilities.
Everything from robotics to quantum computing, to using artificial intelligence, to streamlining the frequency of inspection and maintenance activities.
And we can be sure other innovations lie just over the horizon.
Developing, adopting and regulating nuclear innovation require a methodical and transparent approach by all involved – regulators, industry and the public.
Regulators must do all the prep work possible to be ready for innovation.
Our role as the regulator is to protect Canadians from risk, not from progress.
Industry and proponents must include regulators from the outset; if they don’t, there is a real possibility of unnecessary delays in reviewing and potentially approving innovative technologies.
The public should also be engaged in the process so that all perspectives are appropriately considered prior to licensing decisions.
This is the approach we are taking for an innovation already before us – small modular reactors, or SMRs, around which much is happening in Canada.
Most notably, a pan-Canadian SMR Road Map released in November 2018 and the SMR Action Plan in December 2020.
The SMR 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 the key players in Canada’s nuclear sector to help realize the goal of making Canada a leader in the rapidly developing SMR market.
Interest in SMRs is gaining momentum in Canada.
The CNSC is currently reviewing a proposed micro-modular reactor project. Four provinces have agreed to cooperate on advancing the development and deployment of SMRs.
Just yesterday, the premiers of those provinces released a feasibility study, which found that 3 separate streams of SMR development are feasible. A strategic plan is now being prepared on the integrated deployment of SMRs and should be completed in the spring of 2021.
And 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, the pressurized heavy water technology that we are accustomed to.
This work has made it clear that we do not have all the answers.
We therefore regularly engage with international colleagues to share information and insights from our respective review work to try to fill in any gaps.
International collaboration and harmonization
International collaboration is pivotal here because SMRs are gaining momentum in many countries, particularly as a tool in the fight against climate change.
We are therefore pleased to be able to leverage our long-time good standing in the international nuclear regulatory community to take a leadership role on SMRs.
We are a prominent voice in the IAEA’s SMR Regulators’ Forum and working groups, as well as on the SMR-related working groups of the Nuclear Energy Agency, or NEA.
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.
Harmonizing international standards for SMRs is an important first step toward greater harmonization in the nuclear regulatory community.
I am a strong advocate for harmonization to the greatest degree possible, which I think is a prerequisite 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.
Harmonization is not new for nuclear regulators, as there is already a degree of harmonization on nuclear substances transport regulations and on the licensing and certification of transportation packages.
The road to greater harmonization will be challenging for sure, and we must be deliberate and thoughtful, which likely means starting with the sharing of regulatory reviews, and with like-minded regulators.
Our first big step in trying to move the goalposts on harmonization began in August 2019 when we signed a memorandum of cooperation with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to guide our collaborative efforts on SMRs.
Those efforts include sharing regulatory insights from technical design reviews and looking at developing common guidance for reviewing new-build licence applications.
We are making good progress under that agreement and are comparing practices, collaborating on reviews of 3 designs, and sharing insights from the U.S. certification reviews for another design.
We are also exchanging staff and preparing joint reports.
We signed a similar agreement with the United Kingdom’s nuclear regulator in October 2020.
Reviews conducted by 3 mature, respected regulators under these agreements that conclude we have no reservations with licensing a technology should provide great comfort to other nuclear countries, particularly nuclear newcomers.
The more that reviews 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 work concurrently to establish harmonized requirements that are acceptable for all countries.
Approaching it this way, I hope we might gradually build confidence among policy makers, 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, momentum is quickly building more broadly around the world.
Last month, I spoke at the United States Nuclear Industry Council’s Advanced Reactor Summit, where harmonization was a running theme, including in my remarks.
Last December, the CNSC and the NEA co-hosted a multi-sector workshop on innovative regulation. The workshop 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 how to establish the proper mindset.
Also in December, 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.
Last November, I participated in a Canada–UK colloquium with many prominent thinkers and policy makers on challenges and opportunities around the nuclear agenda. There was broad consensus within that group over the importance and need for harmonization of regulatory requirements and standards for SMRs.
Under the coordination of the NEA, we are also collaborating with the U.S. and the UK 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.
Together, I hope that all of this work will help the harmonization of regulatory requirements and approvals in the nuclear sector to take hold sooner.
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 include everyone with an interest in our processes and to establish meaningful relationships so that all information and perspectives are appropriately considered.
That is paramount with Indigenous groups in Canada, so that their concerns and potential impacts on their rights can be addressed.
Trust building will be vitally important in 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 Canada’s 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 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 to 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 need to be ever mindful and committed to 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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