Remarks by President Velshi at the World Nuclear Association Symposium 2021 


September 8, 2021

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Hello everyone.

My thanks to Director General Sama Bilbao y León and the World Nuclear Association for the invitation to address you today.

I am pleased to be able to discuss international harmonization and coordination in nuclear energy regulation.

It is an important and timely issue and a priority of mine.

Momentum continues to build on innovative nuclear technologies, even during this past tumultuous year and a half.

One notable learning from the pandemic is that regulators, in this case health regulators and the approval of the COVID 19 vaccines, can quickly adapt to innovation when required to do so.

That should be informative to our approach to nuclear innovation, where coordination and harmonization is pivotal, not only among regulators but also among vendors and proponents, to allow for technology development and deployment, when safe to do so.

That makes turning our collective focus to these technologies more important than ever.

In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the CNSC, is Canada’s independent nuclear regulator and regulates all things nuclear.

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 the CNSC’s 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.

Our bold vision at the CNSC is to be one of the world’s best regulators, and we are guided by 4 priorities to help realize it.  

Our priorities are to:

  1. have a modern approach to nuclear regulation
  2. be a trusted regulator
  3. have a global influence
  4. be an agile organization

As a mature regulator in a Tier-1 nuclear nation, these priorities, combined with our experience, have allowed us to take a leadership role in advancing international harmonization and coordination in nuclear energy regulation.

We know that industry is looking at new ideas and technologies, including how they can be leveraged within existing nuclear facilities.

Most immediately, we know there is great and growing interest around the world in small modular reactor, or SMR, technologies for various applications.

That makes it incumbent on regulators to do all the prep work possible to be ready for this innovation.

In Canada, our role as the regulator is to protect the public from risk, not from progress.

Our robust, flexible and internationally recognized regulatory framework is a great advantage in navigating that distinction. 

It establishes safety as the clear and immutable baseline but is technology-neutral and performance-based, which gives proponents and licensees flexibility to meet requirements.

This approach is key to enabling the development and adoption of innovation.

A technology-neutral, performance-based regulatory framework should be the goal in all nuclear nations, existing and prospective.

But that is not the reality in all nuclear nations, so international collaboration is essential to ensuring that a harmonized approach is taken to the greatest extent possible.

That is especially true for SMRs, which are gaining momentum in many countries, particularly as a tool in the fight against climate change and achieving energy security.

I am a strong advocate for harmonization to the greatest degree possible, which I think is a pre-requisite for the ready, safe and successful deployment of SMRs around the world.

Harmonization is not new for nuclear regulators as there is already a degree of harmonization on nuclear substances transport regulations and the licensing and certification of transportation packages.

Harmonization is essentially smart regulation, and builds off decades of experience on the part of mature regulators.

As a mature regulator from a Tier-1 nuclear nation, we are therefore pleased 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 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.

In 2020, I was honoured to be named Chair of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards, or CSS. 

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.

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 Office for Nuclear Regulation in October 2020 and are optimistic that our work with the ONR will progress as well as it has with the U.S. NRC.

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 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 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 even 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 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, including how to deal with shifting expectations and establishing the proper mindset.

Also in December, our host for this symposium, the World Nuclear Association, in collaboration with the CANDU Owners Group, released a White paper on harmonization. 

That paper 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 as I stated earlier works very well.

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 both regulators and policy makers, to select and review a few new reactor technologies 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 harmonization of regulatory requirements and approvals in the nuclear sector take hold sooner.

But the industry has a big role to play in harmonization efforts.

The expectation should not be only on regulators to come together and figure out a practical and realistic approach to harmonization.

In order for regulators to make progress on harmonization, industry will need to seriously consider how many SMR technology designs are sustainable and then work toward a common set of codes and standards.

Industry must also bring regulators into the process as early as possible – we cannot be expected to be ready to review and regulate if we are an afterthought.

And we need complete information – do not expect us to be able to make timely, risk-informed decisions, particularly decisions on a graded approach, if we are provided incomplete information.

This coordinated approach is likely to dramatically increase the prospects for SMRs’ successful global development and deployment.

Of course, the prospects for global development and deployment are nil if safety isn’t the focus at all times because a nuclear accident anywhere is likely to abruptly stop the momentum that is building.

For that reason, a commitment to foster a healthy safety culture needs to come from the boardroom and permeate to the shop floor.

Employees take their direction from the leaders of an organization and the importance that the leaders place on safety.  

This affects individuals and teams, and their attitudes about safety, which affects overall performance.  

While our focus, to date, as the regulator has been on operators, we have a role to play in highlighting the importance of safety culture principles to all leaders and decision makers in the nuclear sector. 

That includes government policy makers, industry associations and, of course, boards of directors.

There are few sure bets in life and harmonization in the nuclear sector is definitely not one of them.

We regulators want to make sure we do all we can to not be an unnecessary barrier to the development and deployment of innovative nuclear technologies.

Success will of course be contingent on vendors and proponents involving regulators early, providing complete information and demonstrating the safety case.

It will also depend on working to develop the relationships and trust necessary for social acceptance of proposed projects.

We at the CNSC are doing all we can to advance the cause of harmonization, and are pleased to collaborate with other mature nuclear regulators to help lead the way.

Regardless of our role in the nuclear sector, I challenge each of us to think about what contribution we can make to advancing harmonization.

Thank you for your attention. I will take a few questions, time permitting.

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