Remarks to the International Workshop on  Disruptive Technologies for Nuclear Safety Applications by Rumina Velshi President & CEO Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Speech

Introduction

Good morning, everyone.

It is a pleasure to be here with you on Jeju Island, Korea, for the OECD Joint International Workshop on Disruptive Technologies for Nuclear Safety Applications.

In my remarks today, I am going to be focusing on three areas. First, I will describe 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 that we are ready to regulate innovation – or as we call it at the CNSC, DIET, which stands for disruptive, innovative, and emerging technologies. Lastly, I will share the work that we are doing in collaboration with other regulators.   

Workshops such as the one we have begun today are key to 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 or life extension projects.

Together, we can identify areas where we can support and learn from each other, all based on a shared priority of nuclear safety for potential DIET applications.

If SMRs – and existing nuclear facilities – are to help address climate change and energy security challenges, then we will need to effectively communicate to the public that safety will never be compromised in deploying new technology. DIET must, and will, play a part in these plans. And to foster safety, innovation and regulation must go hand in hand.

In addition, if we are to take full advantage of the benefits of innovation, we need to attract the best and brightest to our industry.

The best men and the best women. Impressive people with good ideas.

When we exclude – or fail to open ourselves up to – part of the population, we fall short of our potential.

As a world, we need to persuade more young women to pursue education and careers in the STEM disciplines. Otherwise, we are leaving so much potential untapped.

What better way to adapt to a changing world than to infuse our industry with new energy and new perspectives – and ensure that it is attracting the best and brightest of all genders.

When we empower women, everyone benefits.

In the remainder of my remarks, I will explain further what we at the CNSC are doing to support the safe implementation of these technologies.

The paradigm shift

So why is DIET so important to the future of nuclear? Simply put, SMRs and their deployment will be enabled by DIET.  

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 about additional applications of artificial intelligence later. 

We at the CNSC have been steadfast and clear that we will not be an unnecessary burden or impediment to innovative technologies such as SMRs and DIET.

There needs to be movement towards the international harmonization of regulation. And progress needs to be made on the international standardization of designs.

And all of this must be rooted in effective international oversight involving a level of collaboration previously not witnessed in our sector.

Canadian update on DIET  

Several years ago, the CNSC saw a need to understand, and be ready to regulate, nuclear activities employing DIET. To that end, the CNSC’s DIET Working Group was founded. The group’s mandate is to meet with industry and other stakeholders to identify what new ideas they are considering, whether such novel technologies are worth further exploration, and whether they will require updates to our regulatory framework.

Our efforts, however, are not only ensuring that we are ready to regulate DIET at home. We at the CNSC are also working with international partners on DIET as a means of bringing about the enabling conditions for the paradigm shift I mentioned.

DIET and Artificial Intelligence

The DIET that is perhaps the most discussed – but that is also the most in need of education and better understanding – is artificial intelligence, or AI.

We just completed a research project with a nuclear consulting firm to establish a common understanding and interpretation of AI in support of reviewing the impact that it might have on the CNSC’s regulatory framework. This report, which also includes suggestions as to how AI might be safely implemented in nuclear activities, will be made available shortly to all stakeholders on the CNSC 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 our regulatory framework.

As an example, we are working with an industry company to examine plain‑language processing and digitization. This will help us better understand how to streamline processes at nuclear plants, with the goal of moving paper‑based procedures, forms, and processes into the digital space.

Currently, our licensees are also engaged with us to discuss DIET that they are considering, helping us to target our efforts on technology that will likely be deployed in the nuclear industry. For example, licensees are exploring the use of drones for inspections, transportation, and security-related activities.

In that vein, I will share a small but powerful example of how the CNSC is enabling innovation.

One of our licensees produces medical isotopes in a research reactor. Several kilometers away, these isotopes are used at a medical facility also licensed by the CNSC. Together with the CNSC, they are piloting a test case whereby the medical isotopes are transported via drone from the reactor facility to the hospital where they will be used. No delays caused by traffic, while still achieving the safe delivery of medical isotopes.   

International update - CNSC/NRC/ONR Collaboration

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 bilateral and tri-lateral leadership in the nuclear regulatory community. And it is not just limited to SMRs.

Our collaborative efforts in areas such as robotics, digital twins, and others, has allowed for commonality in our approaches to DIET.

We three regulators have agreed that there is benefit in creating a white paper, demonstrating a unified method of evaluating the use of AI to help inform regulatory approaches.

Once published, tentatively in early 2024, it will be shared with interested parties to further facilitate the dialogue on AI.

On that note, I would be remiss if I did not mention the CNSC’s involvement and leadership role in the IAEA’s technical session on AI and its existing and near-term deployment in operating nuclear power plants. As part of the session, happening this week in Vienna, the CNSC is chairing the sub-committee on regulatory frameworks for AI.  

I would also like to tell you that just last month, in April, the IAEA held its inaugural meeting of the working group on Innovation to Support Operating Nuclear Power Plants. I am proud to say that the CNSC is also taking a leadership role in this international collaborative work. 

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, the CNSC commissioned a research report to review its regulatory framework for readiness to regulate fusion technologies. The report is available on our website.

Conclusion

We are at a unique moment in human history.

Nuclear energy – a non-emitting and well-regulated technology throughout its lifecycle, but one that is often feared and misunderstood – could help slow down or prevent further impacts from the use of emitting sources, and provide energy security for many countries.

As a regulator, the CNSC is here to ensure that DIET introduced to the nuclear industry is 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 continues to show leadership in establishing the enabling conditions for DIET through its efforts within Canada and internationally.

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy what promises to be an exciting and forward‑looking workshop.

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