Remarks by Rumina Velshi at the Canadian Nuclear Society’s 3rd Annual International Conference on Disruptive, Innovative and Emerging Technologies in the Nuclear Industry
November 1, 2022
Good morning, everyone.
I would like to begin by recognizing that participants in this conference are located in many different parts of the country and from abroad. I am speaking to you from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg Peoples.
It is a pleasure to join you all at the Canadian Nuclear Society’s 3rd Annual Disruptive, Innovative and Emerging Technologies (or DIET) Conference.
In my remarks today I am going to be focusing on 3 areas. The first is describing the paradigm shift that is so important for the future of nuclear and how innovation will be essential. I will also highlight the work that we as Canada’s nuclear regulator are doing to ensure we are ready to regulate DIET and finally I will share work we are doing in collaboration with other regulators.
In a few short years, this conference has become a key annual gathering for keeping us informed and focused on Canada’s road to understanding, deploying and regulating the DIET that will potentially be used in small modular reactors, or SMRs, the current nuclear fleet and refurbishment projects. And it will not just be in reactor facilities, but DIET will be used throughout the nuclear fuel cycle.
The central objective of this conference is to provide a forum for exchanging views, ideas and information relating to technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and how they may be regulated. DIET will be an important enabler of both the current and the next generation in nuclear.
A conference such as this, with its international participation, also provides us with an opportunity to learn more about what our international colleagues are doing in the realm of DIET.
Together, we can identify areas to support and learn from each other, all based on a shared priority of nuclear safety for potential DIET applicants.
As countries seek to meet aggressive and important climate change commitments, the use of DIET, in SMRs for example, is becoming an increasing enabler of achieving these goals.
We at the CNSC recently announced a Small Modular Reactors Research Grants Initiative, which is a new joint undertaking between the CNSC and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). This will encourage Canadian universities to undertake research related to SMRs, thus increasing the scientific information available on this new technology and allow training opportunities to graduate students. It will also support our regulatory decision making and oversight to ensure the safe and secure future deployment of SMRs in Canada.
If SMRs, and existing nuclear facilities, are to meet the potential to address climate change and energy security challenges many see in them, then we will need to ensure we effectively communicate with the public that safety will never be compromised in deploying new technology. DIET must play a part in these plans and to foster safety, innovation and regulation must go hand in hand.
In the balance of my remarks, I will explain further what we at the CNSC are doing to support these technologies, and what will be needed of you.
The CNSC’s Nhan Tran, Wesley Ross, John MacIntosh, Chris Cochrane, who is technical chair of this conference, and Kevin Lee, conference co-chair, are all chairing or presenting in panels over the next few days. They will provide you with more detail on the CNSC’s activities in Canada and with our international counterparts.
The paradigm shift
So why are disruptive, innovative and emerging technologies important to the future of nuclear? Simply put, SMRs and their deployment will rely on DIET.
SMRs will need to be deployed more quickly, less expensively, and in a more widespread fashion than reactors of the past, and DIET will play an important role in enabling this.
The nuclear sector will require a significant shift from traditional large-scale projects to a streamlined product-based model. Think adaptive manufacturing used to fabricate parts and components, potentially assisted by artificial intelligence in the design process, production and quality control. I will speak to additional applications of artificial intelligence later.
As a regulator, safety will always come first – there is no shift here.
We have, however, also been steadfast and clear that we do not want to be an unnecessary burden or impediment to innovative technologies – such as SMRs and DIET.
I believe there are enabling conditions that are required to support the introduction of innovation in the nuclear industry.
There needs to be movement towards the international harmonization of regulation, and progress needs to be made on the international standardization of designs or design requirements.
And all of this must be rooted in effective international oversight involving a level of collaboration not previously witnessed in our sector.
Canadian update on DIET
I would like to turn now to telling you what we have been focused on at the CNSC with respect to the technologies we are here to discuss.
As you will see, our efforts are not only ensuring we are ready to regulate DIET at home. We are alsoworking with international partners on DIET as a means of bringing about the enabling conditions for the paradigm shift I’ve mentioned.
As Canada’s nuclear regulator, we have not let up on our regulatory readiness efforts, be it SMRs or the DIET that will enable them.
A few years ago, the CNSC saw a need to both understand and be ready to regulate DIET. To that end, the CNSC’s DIET working group was founded in 2019.
The mandate of this group is to meet with industry and other stakeholders to identify what they are considering and whether such novel technologies are worth further exploration and would they necessitate updates to the regulatory framework.
One of our first tasks was to define what constitutes new and novel technologies.
By disruptive we mean technologies that displace or radically reconfigure established technologies, significantly altering how organizations operate.
Innovative is defined as the use of new technology or modified strategies, capabilities, products, services, or processes.
Emerging is technology under development or exploration for use in the near future, which we generally take to mean in the next 5 to 10 years.
Now that you understand how the CNSC defines DIET, I would like to draw your attention to a few specific projects that the DIET team has undertaken.
DIET and artificial intelligence
It is possible that the DIET most discussed but also the most in need of education and understanding is Artificial Intelligence, or AI. We are working with a nuclear consulting firm to establish a common understanding and interpretation of AI in support of reviewing the CNSC’s regulatory framework for its readiness to regulate the use of AI.
As part of this work, we will review current international regulatory activities being undertaken to address AI applications in nuclear.
Once this review is complete, tentatively by the end of 2023, a report will be made available to all stakeholders on the CNSC public website.
In addition, the CNSC has been consulted by companies to discuss the application of technologies such as virtual reality, digitization and others to examine if and how they may be captured under the regulatory framework.
As an example, we are engaged with an industry company to examine plain language processing and digitization, to assist in understanding the streamlining of processes at nuclear plants by moving paper-based procedures, forms, and processes into the digital space.
Current licensees are also engaged with the CNSC to discuss DIET they are considering, aiding us in targeting our efforts on technology that will likely be deployed in the nuclear industry. For example, licensees are exploring the utilization of drones for inspections, transportation and security related activities.
Finally, we are engaged with the Government of Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat as part of a forum for Canadian regulatory bodies to share information and best practices on regulating DIET.
I hope that this cross-section of some of the domestic work being done at the CNSC to ready itself for DIET reaffirms for you the commitment the CNSC has to regulatory readiness, be it SMRs, refurbishments or DIET.
Our ongoing collaboration with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the U.S. NRC and the United Kingdom’s Office of Nuclear Regulation, or the ONR, remains a prime example of the art of the possible in tri-lateral leadership in the nuclear regulatory community.
Our collaborative effort in areas such as robotics, digital twins and others has allowed for commonality in our approaches to DIET. This relationship and collaboration amongst the three DIET teams is proof positive that regulators can apply their varied expertise and knowledge in addressing technical issues and topics.
As a result of the trilateral meetings and various discussions on AI, the three regulators have agreed there is benefit in creating a white paper demonstrating a unified approach to evaluating the use of AI to help inform regulatory approaches.
Once published, tentatively by the end of 2023, it will be shared with the IAEA and other interested parties to further facilitate the dialogue on AI. In short, it is intended to get the conversation around AI in nuclear rolling.
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.
And let’s not forget about fusion. We are engaged with industry, other regulators and the IAEA to understand and be ready to regulate what could possibly be the most disruptive of all DIET, fusion. To ensure preparedness we commissioned a research report to review the CNSC regulatory framework for readiness to regulate fusion technologies – the report is available on our website.
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.
As a regulator, we are here to ensure that innovative technologies being introduced to the nuclear industry 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. The CNSC’s DIET team continues to show leadership in establishing the enabling conditions for DIET through our efforts within Canada and internationally.
If you need proof of the CNSC’s commitment to this, the number of CNSC staff who have given their time to this conference is a very strong indicator.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy what promises to be an exciting and forward-looking conference.
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