Rumina Velshi, President & CEO Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Remarks to 5th Canadian Conference on Nuclear Waste Management, Decommissioning and Environmental Restoration


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Thank you so much – and good afternoon, everyone.

I appreciate the opportunity to join you here today - and I am very much looking forward to the panel discussion we’ll be having a short time from now with Kim and Terry.

Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Hatiwendaronk (Hat-i-wen-DA-ronk), the Haudenosaunee (Hoe-den-no-SHOW-nee), and the Anishinaabe (Ah-nish-ih-NAH-bey), including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

The beautiful backdrop of Niagara Falls serves as a powerful reminder of the importance to Indigenous Peoples of water – which is sacred and is believed to hold a spirit.

Those of us who choose to work in the nuclear industry are charged with maintaining a crucial balance.

On one hand, the safe and reliable operation of nuclear facilities – for the greater good of our cities, our country, and our world, especially in an age of climate change.

And on the other: the development and implementation of safe, responsible, and effective solutions to manage radioactive waste and the decommissioning of facilities.

We must never lose sight of either imperative.

We must always work to achieve progress on both fronts – better and more efficient facilities for power generation…and better and more effective processes and methods of managing waste and aging facilities.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to understand where we find ourselves today. 


Last fall, the Office of the Auditor General – the watchdog for government performance – released its report into the management of low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in Canada.

This comprises 99.5 per cent of our country’s radioactive waste output.

The Auditor General concluded that the CNSC and other bodies did a good job of managing Canada’s nuclear waste – and that our work aligns with key international standards that seek to protect the environment and the safety of current and future generations.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the work of the Auditor General, let’s just say that the office doesn’t often give out gold stars.

So this report was very much a heartening and encouraging assessment of where we stand right now – and our performance in recent years.

That said, those of us who occupy a role of responsibility in this industry understand that positive feedback must never be taken as an invitation to rest on our laurels.

We must, at all times, remain focused on continuous improvement – always getting better at what we do, always searching for new and better practices, always exploring new avenues for progress and innovation.

And inded, our work continues. Canada’s policy for radioactive waste management and decommissioning was updated by Natural Resources Canada this past March. It will help ensure that Canada keeps pace with evolving views, practices, and technologies.

Just last month, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization submitted recommendations for an Integrated Strategy for Radioactive Waste to Canada’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources for consideration.

The focus was on establishing key principles to help address any gaps in long-term disposal plans for low-, intermediate-, and non-fuel high-level waste.

This is, of course, a very important initiative and I take pride in the role of the CNSC in effectively managing radioactive waste.


But I would like to take some time today to emphasize that establishing essential protocols tosafely and responsibly manage waste is one thing….effectively communicating them to Canadians is quite another.

And I hope we would all agree that there is still much work to do in how we communicate our role, our actions, and our successes to the Canadian public.

When we pause to think about the future of the nuclear industry, we can see that – more than ever – community engagement and acceptance will be vital to the success of proposed projects.

That kind of engagement and acceptance will never be achieved without trust and the root of trust is open, honest, and candid communication.

Put simply, building trust and confidence is essential to the future of the nuclear sector.

Trust must be earned.

Establishing a genuine two-way dialogue is the best way both to understand the concerns of citizens and communities – and to convey the rationale for safe, well-regulated, and well-operated projects.

We must not simply listen. We must truly hear what people have to say. We cannot idly dismiss or ignore fears and concerns about the management of radioactive waste.

We must acknowledge the risks that do exist and we must explore the widest range of options – all while emphasizing the evidence-based case for safe storage and our track record of sterling performance.

This is how we begin to build long-term understanding. This is how we establish trustworthy voices in the regulatory world that will be able to communicate effectively with Canadians – even in the event that something goes wrong.

In the meantime, proponents and operators need to build trust and confidence with host communities that they are competent and always committed to safety. 


Nowhere is that need more important than with Indigenous Nations and communities across Canada.

Engagement is important – but it’s not enough.

Indigenous communities must be partners in the process that governs any project that could impact them.

This is the path to meaningful, long-term relationships and those relationships will be essential to gaining the social license required to pursue meaningful nuclear projects.

Some Indigenous Nations and communities have made it clear that support for future nuclear projects – large or small will only come once an acceptable, long-term solution for current and future radioactive waste has been agreed to and established.

We must undertake this process with good intention.

Our goal must be to ensure that Indigenous Nations and communities emerge confident of our commitment to safety, to protecting the land and water, and to building sustainably for the future.

Many of us here today will recall the fate of the proposed low and intermediate level waste Deep Geological Repository by Ontario Power Generation for the Bruce nuclear site in Kincardine.

A process of extraordinary duration - well over a decade in the planning –ended with the project being rejected by members of the affected Indigenous communities.

Some interpreted this as an indication that most Indigenous Nations would instinctively and eternally reject any proposal involving radioactive waste. I don’t see it that way.

Rather, I see this experience as an illustration of all that has changed - and a demonstration of the importance of building trust and confidence from the very start of the process and a demonstration of the importance of building trust and confidence from the very start of the process.

As stewards of their land, Indigenous peoples are as motivated as anyone in this country– and perhaps more so – to take steps toward a lower-carbon future.

They recognize that nuclear can help Canada achieve its net-zero targets but understandably, they wish to be engaged and consulted as true partners.

True reconciliation with Indigenous peoples will be a long journey.

During my time as President of the CNSC, I have taken every opportunity to ensure that our agency plays its small, but critical part in that journey. In terms of regulatory issues and oversight, we have focused on the pursuit of meaningful consultation, collaboration, and partnership with Indigenous Nations and communities.

To put it simply: We want to get this right. We want to play a progressive role in reconciliation. The NWMO’s learn-more process for a DGR is a good example.

The CNSC has made a point of engaging with potential host communities – to ensure that they are well informed about our role and about the regulatory oversight of radioactive waste in general.

Relationships have been built over the years. Many questions have been answered – and much knowledge has been shared. We’ve also used our participant funding program to help Indigenous Nations engage on a deeper and more detailed level and thanks to funding in Federal Budget 2023, we have recently established an Indigenous and Stakeholder Capacity Fund– to help Nations and communities enhance their capacity to fully engage in our regulatory processes prior to– and throughout –the lifecycle of nuclear facilities and activities, including radioactive waste.

Taken together, this level of engagement and consultationis the kind of best practice that can be followed here in Canada – and in countries around the world.

And it’s not a one-way street.

Genuine engagement provides us with an opportunity to look with a fresh eye at our legislation and regulations – and see where and how we can integrate Indigenous knowledge into our practices.

One place that the CNSC has already started is with youth. These bright young minds are the leaders of tomorrow –and we are working to bring them to the table and to our sector.

The CNSC recently worked with the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency to host a mentoring workshop where Grade 9 Indigenous girls were brought together to learn about careers in the STEM disciplines.

I would venture that many in this audience can attest to the fact that STEM careers can be very rewarding, We need to make sure that more Indigenous women and girls have access to these opportunities. 


Let me now widen the perspective a little bit.

The nuclear sector in Canada is unique. Our commitment to waste management is evident in this being the only sector that regulates, funds, and accounts for all of its waste, throughout the entire lifecycle. That means considering not only the waste output from power generation facilities – but also from mining operations.

As many of you know, Saskatchewan holds one of the world’s richest deposits of uranium. Their operations there are best in class. No uranium mining licence is issued today without a proponent being able to demonstrate the ability to fully fund and safely manage the waste generated at the site – and the cost of remediation once operations cease.

As we look to the future, a key challenge facing regulators like the CNSC will be to build public trust in small nuclear reactors… not only in their safe and reliable operation but also in the ability – and obligation – of operators to responsibly manage the radioactive waste that ensues.

Doing so will be a critical element of the timely deployment of SMRs – to help support energy security and sustainable power generation. Any large-scale nuclear projects will similarly be requiredto win the confidence of the public.

There is, of course, no “one-size-fits-all” solution to radioactive waste management – either here in Canada or elsewhere in the world.

Which is why it's so important that we share information – and learn from one another. 


One of my roles over the past number of years has been to serve as Chair of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards.

In this capacity, I lead a body of senior government officials with responsibilities for establishing standards and regulatory documents related to waste safety, among other things and so I have seen first-hand the benefits of working together and sharing ideas to promote safe solutions for radioactive waste management. 

But always, it is imperative that we seek, pursue, and implement solutions that are right for our respective countries – right for the kind of waste we generate and right for the societal realities in which we operate.

A DGR, for instance, may be right for some areas of Canada – but it may not meet the needs of others in the world. Finding the right solution for our respective countries is a critical part of planning for projects through a life-cycle approach. 


As I conclude my remarks today, I would note that perspective is important. How we look at things is important.

For instance, an obligation can also be an opportunity.

Waste management will always be a critical element of the nuclear industry. There will always be challenges related to winning and maintaining the trust and confidence of the public.

Doing so is an obligation – but it can also be an opportunity. It can be an opportunity to share knowledge. To form new partnerships. To develop new and innovative solutions. It can be an opportunity for progress – and a better way forward for one and all.

Thank you for your attention

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