Remarks by Rumina Velshi at the 4th International Conference on Generation IV and Small Reactors (G4SR-4)

Speech

October 4, 2022

Introduction

Good morning, everyone.

Before beginning my remarks, I would like to acknowledge that I am joining you today in the traditional territory of many Nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

It is a pleasure to join you all again this year.

In a few short years, this conference has become a key annual gathering for keeping us informed and focused on Canada’s road to small modular reactor, or SMR, development and deployment.

And it allows us to learn more about what our international colleagues are up to.

Together, we can identify areas to support and learn from each other, all based on a shared priority of nuclear safety for the existing fleet and the one that comes next.

As the theme of this conference suggests, SMRS are likely to be an important part of the next generation in nuclear.

SMRs are increasingly attractive to countries and sub-national governments seeking to meet aggressive and important climate change commitments.

And the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought into sharp relief the potential vulnerabilities from a dependence on others for energy needs.

Governments in Canada continue to show interest in and support for SMRs – notably the Provinces of Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

And many other countries are considering them too.

If SMRs are to meet the potential many see in them, then a paradigm shift is needed to enable safe deployment with the speed and magnitude required.

Everyone in this room has a role to play.

In the balance of my remarks, I will explain further what I mean by a paradigm shift, what we at the CNSC are doing to support and advance it, and what will be needed of you.

I will also update briefly on our readiness efforts within Canada and internationally.

The CNSC’s Ramzi Jammal, Caroline Ducros, Sarah Eaton and Thambiayah Nitheanandan, who is also the technical chair of this conference, are all chairing or presenting in panels over the next few days and will provide you with more detail on the CNSC’s activities in Canada and with our international counterparts.

The paradigm shift

Let me begin with this notion of a paradigm shift.

When we think about SMRs, so much of the focus is on the S for small. But what really differentiates them from traditional reactors is the M for modular.

If SMRs are to play a significant role in fighting climate change and addressing energy security – jurisdictions around the world will need to capitalize on their modular potential.

SMRs will need to be deployed quicker, less expensively, and much more widespread than reactors of the past.

The nuclear sector will require a significant shift from traditional large-scale projects to a streamlined product-based model.

As a regulator, for us safety will always come first – there is no shift there.

But we have also been steadfast and vocal that we do not want to be an unnecessary burden or impediment to innovative technologies – such as SMRs.

And I firmly believe this extends to doing our part to bring about the enabling conditions necessary to support the possibility of a safe and efficient product-based model for SMR deployment.

This will not be easy, it will take time, and it will require a retooling of the existing international governance of the nuclear industry, and frankly – a willingness to be bold.

To me there are 5 enabling conditions.

  • First, there needs to be movement towards the international harmonization of regulation;
  • Second, efforts need to be made on the international standardization of designs or design requirements;
  • Third, all of this must be rooted in effective international oversight involving collaboration previously not witnessed in our sector; 
  • Fourth, the political will must be there; and
  • Fifth, everything we do must prioritize trust building.

So how do we get there?

International harmonization of regulation

We will not achieve international harmonization of regulations overnight – or maybe ever.

But there are solid steps that regulators around the world can take – and are taking – to move the yardstick in the right direction. 

This includes harmonizing codes and standards; finding opportunities to coordinate, leverage or adopt technology reviews by other regulators; and challenging our licensing processes to ensure they are appropriate for SMRs based on risk.

And we must do so in a way that allows for continued national sovereignty in regulatory decision-making.

International standardization

However, regulatory harmonization – and the efficiencies that would flow from it – cannot occur on the 70 plus SMR designs currently being proposed.

For the paradigm shift to be successful, industry and governments will have to strive towards standardized designs, standardized approaches to design requirements, and standardized deployment and operating models. 

International oversight

Even if we make good progress on harmonization and standardization, the successful, safe, and widespread deployment of SMRs hinges on strong and appropriate oversight.

Getting there will require international collaboration at a much deeper level than today, with a commitment to meaningful progress and rapid change.

From an international regulatory perspective, international oversight must come from the International Atomic Energy Agency – or IAEA.

Member states need to work together to ensure the proper mechanisms are in place at the IAEA to support harmonization and standardization - and ultimately the safety and security of SMRs around the world.

For industry, at a global level, international oversight means sharing information on deployment and operating experiences widely and openly.

It also means ensuring your own peer reviews – for example, through WANO – are supported and strengthened.

Political will

Next for this paradigm shift to occur, Governments need to have the political will to support SMRs; provide funding to regulators, industry and international organizations; and make the timely policy decisions necessary to enable successful deployment.

Trust building

Finally, there will be no future for SMRs if there is no trust in the technology.

We must all dedicate ourselves to sincere, sustained, and substantive engagement, consultation, and trust building with members of the public and host communities.

In Canada, this is especially so with Indigenous Nations and communities in the context and spirit of reconciliation.

We all have a role to play.

It is for industry and governments to earn community trust and acceptance of SMRs – to make the case for SMRs

And it is for regulators to build trust and confidence in regulatory decision-making and assure communities that – if approved – strong and independent oversight will be there to keep them safe.

Canadian update

I would like to turn now to telling you what we have been up to at the CNSC since we met last year.

As you will see, our efforts are not only ensuring we are ready to regulate SMRs at home but also that we are also doing our part to bring about the enabling conditions I just discussed.

As Canada’s nuclear regulator, we have not let up one bit on our SMR readiness efforts.

In fact, we have ramped up and enhanced our efforts thanks in part to funding committed to the CNSC by the Government of Canada in Budget 2022.

That funding is a vote of confidence in the future of SMRs and the CNSC’s ability to effectively regulate them.

Significant funding was also directed to Natural Resources Canada.

Together, this funding will ensure regulatory and policy readiness, and expand Canada’s leadership internationally.

Budget 2022 funding supports the CNSC’s work on regulatory predictability and efficiency, which focuses on optimizing our regulatory framework for SMRs.

This work includes ensuring our REGDOCs are technologically inclusive and provide clear expectations for SMR proponents.

It also includes new Nuclear Security Regulations that respond to changes in security threats and adapt to technological advancements.

Overall, it will help ensure that we are able to meet the test of applying a risk-informed, graded approach in reviewing and regulating SMRs, and to demonstrate how we do so.

The funding will also help refine the CNSC’s capacity and capability by improving and expanding CNSC staff’s SMR technical abilities and competencies.

Last year, we created a new directorate focused exclusively on SMRs and advanced reactor technologies.

This critical hub enables the staff in it to focus on SMRs full-time and to help guide the entire organization on SMR readiness.

And we are investing significantly in our workforce of the future through targeted hiring and training.

Part of our Budget 2022 funding will be used to enhance SMR-related research beyond our existing research program, which provides grants and contributions to research partners.

Leveraging this research, in addition to the extensive research conducted by industry and that of our international peers, will help ensure that any regulatory knowledge gaps in the science are addressed.

Budget 2022 funding also enhances our capacity to provide technical support on the policy issues that will need to be addressed, and to better coordinate with our domestic partners on areas of shared responsibility.

Finally, Budget 2022 funding will enable us to expand our international collaboration efforts, particularly those around harmonization, which are key to enabling the paradigm shift.

I will talk more to our international efforts shortly.

In Canada, we are fortunate that SMR development and deployment is not happening in a vacuum.

The Team Canada approach that helps to integrate all of our commitments and efforts, notably through the SMR Roadmap and Action Plan, continues to be the gold-standard for SMR development and deployment.

I was pleased to join other leaders from Canada’s nuclear sector yesterday in the 2nd meeting of the SMR Action Plan Leadership Table.

It is a key initiative to help ensure Canada meets its potential as a global leader on SMRs.

My participation is in keeping with the CNSC commitment to ensure that safety remains the priority at all times while not being an unnecessary barrier to the deployment of SMRs.

I was glad to see that Guy Lonechild has now joined Natural Resources Canada’s Associate Deputy Minister, Mollie Johnson, as the co-chair on behalf of the Indigenous Advisory Council, or IAC.

The valuable guidance and input from Guy and the IAC will help ensure reconciliation with Indigenous Nations and communities remains front and centre in all SMR-related activities.

I mentioned earlier the importance of trust building, and that is something we are focused on, especially with Indigenous Nations and communities.

We are glad to respond to all requests to engage in two-way communication, active listening and meaningful dialogue so that we can clarify our role and responsibilities, and best understand the interests and concerns related to SMRs.

We are introducing reforms to our already transparent and inclusive licensing process to further enhance and support the participation and contributions of the public and Indigenous Nations and communities.

Through all of these activities, we are focused on long-term relationship building, not just during the formal licensing process, but throughout the lifecycle of all nuclear facilities.

We want to earn the trust of the public and communities that a strong, dedicated and focused regulator will be there from start to finish focused on their health and safety, and that of their community and environment. 

Internationally, we remain steadfast in our bilateral and multilateral collaboration.

International update

CNSC/NRC collaboration

Our ongoing collaboration with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or USNRC, remains a prime example of the art of the possible in bilateral leadership in the nuclear regulatory community.

We have made great progress in the last year under our 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation.

Our collaborative effort on reviews is proof positive that regulators can apply their varied expertise and knowledge in addressing technical issues and topics.

And we are collaborating transparently – all our joint reports are posted on our websites.

Since we last met, the Tennessee Valley Authority – or TVA – has entered into an agreement with GE-Hitachi on the potential deployment of a BWRX-300 SMR.

Given the shared interest and potential deployment in both Canada and the US in the near term, the CNSC and USNRC have developed a strategic plan prioritizing reviews related to the BWRX-300.

And we just signed a Charter to establish the collaborative relationship and overall work to be done by the CNSC and USNRC on the BWRX-300 design.

To ensure timely and effective implementation of the joint strategic plan, the CEOs of the USNRC, Ontario Power Generation, TVA, GE-Hitachi and the CNSC are having regular joint meetings.

Through these effective communications we are identifying the most useful licensing topics for joint reviews and challenges with our existing regulatory frameworks – as well as accessing technical information to facilitate timely reviews.

At home this will help Ontario and Saskatchewan in their close collaboration on the BWRX-300 SMR, which is supporting Canada’s own version of a product-based or fleet approach.

Lessons from Ontario’s Darlington New Nuclear Project will be vital to the CNSC and other regulators, as well as industry here in Canada and internationall.

Our Memorandum of Cooperation with the USNRC is a prime example of learning and working together, which will bring about efficiencies while always maintaining safety.

Through our close collaboration, joint reviews and adopting or adapting each other’s findings wherever possible, we are demonstrating that enabling a paradigm shift is possible, at least among like-minded regulators with a strong relationship.

International cooperation

At the global level, we all know it is much more challenging to bring about change quickly – especially within international organizations.

However, I was very pleased to see movement towards this under the leadership of the IAEA’s Director General Rafael Grossi.

The IAEA’s Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative – or NHSI – is intended to facilitate the effective global deployment of safe and secure SMRs and other advanced nuclear technologies.

The first meeting was held in June 2022, bringing regulators and industry together in two separate tracks.

We have a better idea of where everyone stands now, and I hope we are able to make timely and meaningful progress on areas of mutual interest and agreement.

My colleagues will speak more about this throughout the conference, but I am excited that the NHSI will explore a framework for sharing information, a process for pre-licensing reviews, and a way forward on the acceptance of other regulators’ reviews.

Establishing demonstrable goals with achievable timelines will be key to this initiative’s success.

I also welcome the Nuclear Energy Agency’s continued efforts to advance harmonization through collaborative efforts with likeminded regulators.

Under the NEA, I am hopeful that the CNSC, the USNRC and United Kingdom’s Office for Nuclear Regulation will be able to advance a tripartite agreement and demonstrate the possibilities of trilateral cooperation.

Conclusion

We are at a unique moment in human history.

Nuclear energy, a non-emitting and well-regulated technology throughout its lifecycle, yet often feared and misunderstood, could help arrest or prevent further impacts from the use of emitting sources and provide energy security for many countries.

Unlocking the potential of SMRs will only be possible if a paradigm shift occurs in how the nuclear sector approaches deployment.

Only through a fundamental shift will this technology be able to play the role that many think and hope it can in the timelines needed.

As a regulator, we are here to ensure SMRs are safe.

But it is every regulator’s role to watch its industry, see where it is headed, and be ready to carry out its regulatory mandate efficiently and effectively.

We see this paradigm shift coming and know it will require much work from everyone – international organizations, governments, regulators and industry, all focused on deploying a reasonable number of technologies.

The CNSC continues to show leadership in laying the enabling conditions through our efforts within Canada, bilateral cooperation with the US, and work with the IAEA and NEA.

We will continue to play a role in enabling the safe, efficient and timely deployment of SMRs to meet Canada’s and the world’s needs.

The war in Ukraine is unfortunately anticipated to extend throughout at least the upcoming winter.

We are likely to witness first-hand some of the trade-offs that countries are willing to make to prevent people from freezing while pursuing energy security and meeting climate commitments.

I think this puts into stark relief how imperative it is for us to collaborate and coordinate our efforts to give policy makers another option.

But it will not be a viable option for the world without a paradigm shift.

The challenge is ours and it is one I am confident we can meet.

Thank you.

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