Remarks by President Velshi at the Generation IV & Small Reactors (G4SR-3) Virtual Summit

Speech

November 15, 2021

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Introduction

Good afternoon everyone. 

My sincere thanks to the organizers for inviting me back and to Lisa for the kind introduction.

It is a pleasure to join you again almost exactly 1 year after we last convened to discuss developments and prospects for generation IV and small reactors.

We have already heard from some very interesting and accomplished speakers, with many more to come.

I would like to spend the next few minutes updating you on what the CNSC has done and is doing on SMR readiness, as well as what I see as priority areas for the regulator and industry.

A very different future lies ahead

Although the pandemic still lingers, impacting us in ways that none of us would have imagined less than 2 years ago, there are signs that it is fading.

While some countries are starting to see hints of normalcy return, catastrophic climate change from greenhouse gas emissions shows no sign of fading and is a consistent threat that we all continue to face.

The United Nations climate change conference, COP26, which concluded last week, gives hope that the world is poised to seriously turn attention to this urgent challenge.

It goes without saying that an all-hands-on-deck approach will be needed in tackling the challenge, and for many that means leveraging all clean technologies, including nuclear.

Increasingly, reports from various groups and organizations are calling for a greater role for nuclear to help meet the challenge of net-zero by 2050.

The International Energy Agency’s roadmap for net-zero by 2050 calls for at least a doubling of nuclear in the global energy mix by 2050 to decarbonize the global energy sector. 

In the Canadian context, a March 2021 report by SNC Lavalin on net zero in Canada lays out a scenario for a future electricity generation mix that includes full electrification by 2050. This would translate into the construction of 20 large reactors and 45 SMRs.

It would see nuclear provide almost a quarter of electricity generation, demand for which the report predicts will triple by 2050. That is more than 5 times the nuclear generation capacity that we have today.

Those scenarios, or others in the same vein, would result in a very different nuclear industry in Canada and globally in the not-too-distant future.

Significant efforts would obviously be required from all involved to be ready to deliver, including regulators.

It would require a fundamental paradigm shift, one that takes the approach of looking at nuclear as a global fleet.

We are monitoring developments closely, but all of this suggests that we at the CNSC will need to continuously challenge ourselves on how we currently do things.

Our work to date on readiness for small modular reactors, or SMRs, should give everyone confidence that we are up to the task.

SMR readiness

As I am sure many of you know, our SMR readiness work is multi-faceted.

Canada’s SMR Action Plan, released last year, includes four key actions for the CNSC.

I am happy to report that we are making good progress delivering on each of them.  

Nuclear security

Our first action is to revise our Nuclear Security Regulations with the goal of making them more performance based and less prescriptive. 

This is a clear example of where we have needed to challenge ourselves to do things differently.

We have made good progress since last year. 

We have engaged industry, environmental non-governmental organizations and the public, and have reached out to Indigenous groups.

We have publicly consulted on a discussion paper with proposals to amend these regulations, and on another dealing with cyber security and protecting digital information. The latter could have implications for technologies proposed to be operated remotely. 

We are targeting spring 2022 for formal public consultation on proposed changes to the regulations. 

Regulatory efficiency

On regulatory efficiency, our second action, we put a great deal of effort over the last decade to ensure that our regulatory framework is as performance-based and technology neutral as possible.

This also includes applying a graded approach, which is an ongoing area of focus within the CNSC and with our international colleagues.

When done right, a graded approach means that our regulatory oversight and requirements are commensurate with the risks presented and that licensees can establish safety and control provisions accordingly. 

It is an integral part of our work on regulatory readiness – not only must we be safety focused and risk informed in all that we do – but we must also be effective and not impose inappropriately burdensome requirements.

This work inevitably results in frank and challenging discussions within the CNSC and with other regulators, as well as with industry, Indigenous groups and the public.

It is more important than ever that we have these discussions as we are likely to be asked to review and approve projects using novel technologies with new fuels, different ways of operating and employing new safety measures.

What we have required before and how we have done things until now may not be entirely appropriate or applicable for what is coming next.

A paradigm shift may very well be needed to allow us to stay true to our risk-informed approach to regulation while determining how safe is safe enough in relation to new technologies.

I think we are on the right path here in Canada.

For example, in response to concerns recently raised by global nuclear industry leaders, the Group of Vienna, on regulators being overly cautious, burdensome and not agile enough when it comes to innovative and advanced technologies, Director General Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, mentioned Canada as an example of a country whose nuclear regulator is modernizing and innovative.

We welcome the opportunity to lead on discussions, domestically and internationally, about rethinking how we regulate innovative technologies while remaining committed to our long-standing basic principles and an unwavering commitment to safety.

Vendor design reviews remain another important part of our regulatory efficiency and readiness efforts, with 12 designs at various phases of the process.

We know that New Brunswick Power is committed to 2 SMR vendors and technologies, and we anticipate the technology choice for the Darlington New Nuclear Project by the end of this year, which is likely to add clarity to Saskatchewan’s plans.

It remains to be seen what impact the selection of technologies for near-term application in Canada might have on further or continued interest in our vendor design reviews.

Regardless, as technologies are selected and projects proposed, engagement with potential host communities will be more important than ever. 

Engagement

There are relatively few nuclear host communities in Canada, but the deployment of SMRs could result in many more.

Given that nuclear technologies are often unfamiliar or unsettling to many Canadians, engagement will be key to building relationships and trust.

Public, community and Indigenous engagement in SMRs is our third action under the SMR Action Plan. 

We have recently held over a dozen engagement meetings with Indigenous communities, including throughout Saskatchewan, regarding SMRs and the CNSC’s role in the regulatory and consultation processes for any proposed nuclear project.

And we continue to provide updates and engage all interested Indigenous groups about Global First Power’s proposed micro modular reactor project at the Chalk River site – the first in Canada.

This engagement allows us to clarify our role with respect to SMRs, while learning about interests, concerns and potential impacts. 

It helps to dispel myths about the review and regulation of SMRs, demonstrate what we are doing to get ready, and provide information on how to get involved.

We remain committed to meeting everyone interested or concerned and are working hard to build relationships and trust.

But that relationship and trust building is focused on us as the regulator; it is not a sales pitch by any means on the merits of SMRs – that is not our role. 

The vital work to build trust and social acceptability for projects through a commitment to relationship building rests entirely with project proponents. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is that proponents begin engagement and relationship-building activities as soon as possible in the life of any project.

It is absolutely essential in Canada and should be seen as an international best practice in any nuclear country.

International collaboration

Sharing and learning from best practices internationally is a key element of our readiness efforts and of our fourth action – international collaboration.

It is crucial to advancing nuclear safety and security around the world – we are stronger, safer and more secure when we share and learn from each other’s experiences. 

We continue to show leadership internationally through our participation in many IAEA and NEA fora, including my chairpersonship of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards, where we have agreed to prioritize the establishment of technology neutral safety standards for SMRs.

That work aligns nicely with advancing international harmonization, which is a focus and priority of mine.

It is something I see as essential for the safe and successful broad deployment of SMRs globally.

It includes harmonizing international standards and requirements wherever possible, as well as the possible harmonization of licensing and approval processes.

And much work has happened and is happening on this front. 

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, 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.

It builds off the existing harmonized model for transportation in the nuclear sector, which works very well.

Under the coordination of the NEA, we are also exploring a trilateral licensing initiative with the U.S. and the UK to select and review a few new reactor technologies to find opportunities to harmonize licensing.

We also continue to show strong bilateral leadership with the U.S. and UK regulators under cooperative agreements signed in 2019 and 2020.

We are still sorting out the details with the UK, but our work with the U.S. is really starting to show results.

We continue to compare practices, exchange staff, collaborate on reviews of three designs, and share insights from the U.S. certification reviews for another design.

Two joint reports have been issued since we last met, one dealing with standards for a pressure vessel and another comparing regulatory frameworks in both countries.

Other reports are under development and will be released in the months ahead.

This work is demonstrating what is possible when mature regulators pool their talents to deal with innovation in a risk-informed way, and one that is not dogmatic.

I remain convinced that this good work is helping to lay the foundation for additional strong collaboration between regulators while setting the stage for possible eventual international licensing.

But it is not all up to us regulators – the industry has a big role to play in harmonization efforts.

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 continue to 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.

As you can see, there are many moving pieces in play in Canada and around the world by regulators, industry, policy makers and international organizations on SMRs.

But we need to continuously challenge ourselves to think bigger and bolder. 

For example, if SMRs become an important part of the climate change battle globally, what will be necessary – from the regulatory point of view – to ensure the safe deployment of maybe thousands of SMRs around the world? Do we have the right international governance and support models in place to take us into this future?

In order for us to truly be ready for SMRs, we need to start asking these types of questions now and moving on possible solutions. 

Before I conclude, there are 2 other critical areas for readiness that I would like to speak to you about today – the workforce of the future and safety culture.

Workforce of the future

As I mentioned in my opening, there is a possible scenario that sees demand for nuclear in Canada enter an expansive new phase.

This may occur as we continue to navigate a demographic transition that will see a good portion of our existing workforce retire in the years ahead.

That is true both for the industry and for regulators around the world.

There is already strong competition for the next generation of nuclear workers in Canada and internationally.

We need to bring more people into the pipeline by increasing awareness early in students’ lives of the rewarding employment opportunities in the nuclear  sector – at the regulator, operators and throughout the supply chain.

We need to encourage young people, particularly girls and women, to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which I’m sure many of you know is a long-standing passion of mine.

The workforce of the future must be inclusive, and diverse. 

That means prioritizing greater participation of women and welcome the unique talents women have to offer.

It also means greater participation by marginalized people and groups, including Black, Indigenous and people of colour and LGBTQ2+.

Our workforce must be representative of the communities and societies in which we work and live.

A diverse and inclusive workforce will help enhance safety and trust in nuclear operations and regulation.

We are stronger, safer and more trusted when people of all backgrounds are able to bring their knowledge, perspectives and skills to the table.

And we will be more trusted by communities when they can see themselves reflected in the workers and regulators who are responsible for safety. 

With greater equity, diversity and inclusion, we will be better equipped to achieve operational and regulatory excellence and deliver what is expected of us.

For the full potential of innovation to be unleashed in a safe and smart way, we need to attract the best and brightest to the regulator and the industry. 

Safety culture

Of course, the prospect for global development and deployment of SMRs is highly unlikely if safety isn’t the focus at all times.

A nuclear accident anywhere is likely to stop any momentum that is building.

For that reason, a continued commitment to foster a healthy safety culture needs to be a top priority throughout the nuclear sector.

It needs to start at the top and permeate throughout every organization.

Everyone needs to know and be reminded that safety is job number 1, always. 

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 and boards of directors, especially those that are considering nuclear or are new to it.

We are pleased to be advancing this issue in Canada by hosting a Country-Specific Safety Culture Forum in collaboration with the NEA and World Association of Nuclear Operators in April 2022.

The forum will provide the CNSC and Canadian licensees an opportunity to reflect on the influence of national cultural characteristics on safety across Canada’s nuclear sector.

Conclusion

I mentioned at the start of my remarks an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed in tackling the climate crisis. 

Nuclear could very likely play an important role.  

What you might be asked to deliver could be monumental for the industry, and for us as a regulator.

It would require a scale unlike anything ever seen before in Canada, including the project management and resources – capital and human – needed to realize it.

From the regulator’s perspective, we are committed to being ready.

Building off our readiness efforts, and with the right resources, I am confident we will be able to respond efficiently and effectively while remaining focused on safety.

I welcome you to consider what would be needed from the industry to go about responding to the related project delivery, relationship building, and safety case requirements.

It is becoming a truism in my remarks by now, we at the CNSC want to make sure we do all we can to not be an unnecessary barrier or impediment to the development and deployment of innovative nuclear technologies as  long as a safety case can be made.  

I have been in the nuclear sector for over 40 years now.

With so much attention now focused on combatting climate change and many looking for nuclear to play an important role, I think the brightest and best times for the sector lie ahead. 

I am excited to see what comes next.

Thank you for your attention. 

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