Remarks by President Velshi at the United States Nuclear Industry Council Advanced Reactor Summit
April 5, 2022
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Good morning everyone.
Thank you, Jeff, for that kind introduction – and thank you to the organizers for inviting me here today.
I am delighted to help kick off day 2 of this year’s summit.
This is my third time participating in the Advanced Reactors Summit, and many of you are familiar with Canada’s nuclear regulator – so I won’t spend any time telling you who the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is, other than that our vision is to be one of the world’s best nuclear regulators by being a modern, trusted, agile and global organization.
Our focus is safety at all times, in all we do, and in everything we regulate.
But that does not mean being a barrier or an impediment to innovation.
Today, I want to concentrate on how we, at the CNSC, will keep safety paramount while rising to the challenge of conducting SMR licensing reviews efficiently and effectively, and will enable the safe deployment of SMRs to help meet our ambitious net zero goals.
SMRs are impacting the industry and regulators at breakneck speed.
The CNSC is facing the related challenges head on and developing informed solutions, allowing the world to learn from and leverage our experiences.
Effectiveness and efficiency in licensing reviews
In Canada, SMR deployment started in 2019 with the proposed Global First Power project at Chalk River Laboratories near Ottawa. Following this came the December 2021 technology selection for the Darlington New Nuclear Project near Toronto.
These projects make Canada the first among G7 nations to announce the deployment of a grid-scale SMR, and the CNSC the first regulator to review one.
With a plethora of SMR designs being considered around the world, regulators need to be able to effectively review these technologies.
Turning our collective focus to these technologies is therefore more important than ever.
At the CNSC, we are working towards regulatory optimization.
We want to ensure that we are as effective in our safety regulation of SMRs as we have been in regulating existing nuclear facilities and activities for decades.
That means ensuring that our regulatory requirements and approach to regulatory oversight are commensurate with the potential risks from SMR projects.
The CNSC’s regulatory framework is the foundation of our effectiveness.
It is modern, robust, and flexible, and is aligned with international standards and best practices. Our international peers have confirmed this.
It is mostly performance-based, which gives proponents ample flexibility to meet requirements, as long as the safety case can be demonstrated.
We know that greater regulatory certainty, predictability and efficiency by regulators will be key to ensuring the safe deployment of SMR projects worldwide.
It is therefore incumbent on regulators to do all the prep work possible to be ready.
Our mandate is to ensure that there are no unreasonable risks, and we are aware of the impacts we can have on the progress of a project.
Greater efficiency depends on greater regulatory certainty, including clear requirements that are commensurate with the attendant risk.
It will also depend on greater predictability, including realistic review timelines and clear processes.
We are doing our part to be ready for SMR licence applications. However, proponents must also do theirs.
This means that licence applications must be complete, responsive to our requirements, and sufficient for thorough technical reviews.
The CNSC’s progress in SMR readiness
We all have our roles to play in terms of readiness, and the CNSC has made great progress on this front since I spoke to you last year.
As part of our readiness efforts, we recently created new teams focused exclusively on advanced reactor technologies, and on innovation and research, to strengthen our focus on SMRs and to stay ahead of the technology curve.
We are investing now to grow the specific talents and skill sets needed for the demands that lie ahead.
Pre-licensing engagement activities have also been an effective tool in our readiness.
We have a dozen SMR designs at various phases of our vendor design review process, which gives our staff important familiarity with the designs.
Going forward, we will be prioritizing our reviews for those that are proposed for deployment in Canada or that are under serious consideration.
That will allow our staff to use their time better and to be more efficient.
International collaboration and harmonization
We continue to collaborate with international partners to share knowledge and learn from experiences, including at the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, the Nuclear Energy Agency, and the World Nuclear Association.
And our efforts continue to advance international harmonization around SMRs.
Harmonization is a priority for the CNSC and something I see as essential for the timely, safe widespread deployment of SMRs globally.
Harmonizing international standards and requirements will allow for greater efficiency and effectiveness in licensing reviews. And this we can enhance further by leveraging regulatory insights and information from other regulators.
Even in a harmonized world, nuclear regulators will need to continue to maintain independence and sovereignty in licensing reviews and decision making.
Our efforts in international harmonization are already showing returns.
Director General Grossi of the IAEA very recently launched a Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative, and I applaud him on his leadership.
It is very much in line with the direction I have been proposing and I see 2 separate tracks – one regulatory and one industry – to leverage the leadership and expertise of governments, regulators, designers, operators, and many others to advance standardization and harmonization.
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission
I am of course very proud of our strong bilateral efforts with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to show what is possible when like-minded regulators work together.
We issued 2 joint reports last year, one comparing each organization’s regulatory approach to reviewing advanced reactor and SMR technologies, and another on a white paper from X-energy on the construction code for the Xe-100 reactor pressure vessel.
Other projects are underway that could be used to enhance and support our regulatory reviews.
For example, the U.S. NRC has been reviewing various elements of GE-Hitachi’s BWRX-300 design since 2019 as part of pre-application activities. This is the 10th evolution of a design used in the US since the 1950s.
It also happens to be the technology selected by Ontario Power Generation for the Darlington New Nuclear Project in Canada and by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the U.S.
We are applying that knowledge and experience in our joint evaluation of GE Hitachi’s containment evaluation methodology. And we expect to release a joint report this month, when we will also meet with our U.S. NRC counterparts to develop further workplans focused on this technology.
In preparing for September when we expect to receive a construction licence application from OPG for the BWRX-300, we are primed to leverage our memorandum of cooperation with the USNRC. This will help us make best use of their knowledge and experience in our review.
While we are directing considerable efforts to enhance effectiveness and find efficiencies as the regulator, the burden is not all ours.
What can industry do to advance the licensing of SMRs?
There are several things that the industry can do to help further enhance the regulatory process, moving towards harmonization.
First, I can’t stress enough how important it is to engage the regulator early and often.
That includes engagement on any and all uncertainties, including fuel qualification, shutdown systems or even what a fleet licensing approach could look like.
In these areas, proponents need to provide clear justification for their technical approach and tell the regulatory story of how they plan to leverage other regulators reviews.
Second, make sure a design has high reliability.
By this I mean that as the design evolves, the safety case must remain robust.
Significant changes to the safety case after an application has been submitted will result in a cascade of changes that will impact timelines and costs.
Finally, do not underestimate the importance and need for earning social acceptance for projects.
Proponents must engage early with every community that is interested in a project or could be impacted and work to build meaningful relationships.
Proponents will never convince everyone to support their projects – other resource projects and even the pandemic have shown that unanimity on any issue is next to impossible.
Proponents need to understand the issues of interest and concern tied to proposed projects, consider them sincerely and make every effort to address those that are within scope.
With many designs and technologies before us and just over the horizon, we need to be ready.
Managing SMR projects well and safely will take great effort from us as the regulator, from proponents, and from the nuclear industry at large.
Only through these efforts will we build and sustain public trust that regulators are competent and objective, and that proponents are qualified, safe and community-focused operators.
With the application for a licence to construct the Darlington New Nuclear Project expected later this year, we are moving into a new era of Canada’s nuclear sector.
I know you will be looking to see how Canada completes this project safely, in an effective and efficient manner, on budget and on schedule and with community support.
It is not a challenge that the CNSC takes lightly. It is one we will be ready for, and it is an opportunity for Canada to set the standard for the world.
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