Remarks by Rumina Velshi at the Canadian Nuclear Association 2023 Conference: Global Leadership in Regulatory Readiness

February 24, 2023

– Check against delivery –

Introduction 

Good morning.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered today in the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg peoples.

Thank you, Jill, for your kind introduction.

This year’s theme – with its focus on global leadership – is particularly energizing, and I am excited to share more on this front from the perspective of Canada’s nuclear regulator.

But first, I would like to take a moment to reflect on some noteworthy happenings over the last year. 

Recap of 2022 Hallmarks

It was almost one year ago today when word came that the Russian military was firing on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Since that day, the CNSC has continued to monitor the ongoing situation – working with federal partners to support the Canadian government response, and with international counterparts to offer expertise and assistance where needed.

As Chair of the International Nuclear Regulators’ Association, we have offered our steadfast support to Ukraine’s nuclear regulator. And we’ve worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency to obtain and share accurate and up-to-date information.

Proactive information-sharing is one of the steps we take to build and sustain trust in the CNSC as a regulator.

Continuous and rigorous oversight of Canada’s nuclear sector, including regular reporting on our activities and any issues we identify, along with open and inclusive regulatory processes, further support our efforts to be Canada’s trusted nuclear regulator.

And finally, something that was not picked up as newsworthy in 2022 – but definitely deserves a good-news headline all the same – was the result of the performance audit conducted on Canada’s nuclear waste management.

The Auditor General concluded that low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste is effectively regulated in Canada and aligns with international standards that seek to protect the safety of current and future generations. The Auditor General rarely hands out gold stars. So when it does happen, it is worthy of celebration.

I mention these milestones because being transparent… effectively managing risk… keeping people safe… helps to build trust here at home and enhance Canada’s role as a leader abroad.

And that’s what we’re here to talk about – strengthening Canada’s role as a global leader in nuclear technology and innovation.  I would like to highlight how the CNSC, as a strong and proactive regulator, is not a barrier to progress, but one of Canada’s key assets.

The remainder of my remarks today will focus on three key areas where the CNSC plays a positive role:

1.     Leveraging our global influence.

2.     Ensuring regulatory readiness at home. And

3.     Demonstrating our commitment to building trust.

CNSC’s Global Influence

Many of you are attending this conference with an industry perspective – perhaps assessing the economic benefits of new technologies or considering potential export market opportunities.

I must be clear that there will be no markets – at home or abroad – if there is not nuclear safety globally.

So, what is the regulator doing on the global front?

It begins with occupying key leadership positions.

Taking on leadership positions

Canada currently chairs a number of important international nuclear bodies – including the International Nuclear Regulators’ Association, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards and the IAEA’s Regulatory Cooperation Forum.

From this position of influence, we can share expertise, propose advances and discuss challenges – all of which holds the potential to improve safety and security.

This is especially important at a time when jurisdictions around the world are considering or actively pursuing nuclear power as a vital tool in meeting energy security objectives and fighting climate change.

As chair of the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards, I have been working diligently to ensure that IAEA safety standards are applicable to SMRs and non-water-cooled reactors.

It is a point of pride that Canada is entrusted with these leadership roles. To make the most of them, we must continue to lead by example.  

Leading by example

In part, that means CNSC’s own regulatory actions must leave no room for complacency.

Our modern, robust, and flexible regulatory framework enables us to maintain strong oversight to ensure safety is never compromised.

And although our regulatory regime is aligned with international standards and best practices, we seek continuous improvement.

In the fall of last year, the CNSC along with the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Association of Nuclear Operators hosted a Country-Specific Safety Culture Forum here in Ottawa. The objective was clear: to better understand how we can maintain a healthy safety culture – not only for more effective regulation on our part, but also to ensure the safest operations by the Canadian nuclear industry.

I was pleased to see a broad range of domestic stakeholders participate – along with a number of international counterparts. These types of encounters help to form a foundation for global collaboration and partnership.

Leading on collaboration and harmonization

Speaking of which – for sometime now, the CNSC has been advocating for greater regulatory harmonization across borders. I’m proud to say that our efforts are already showing returns.

In 2022, the IAEA launched a Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative.

It’s aimed at leveraging the leadership and expertise of governments, regulators, designers, operators, and many others to advance standardization and harmonization. The CNSC is helping to lead the way on this.

As the regulator, as I have often stated, our role is to protect Canadians from risk – not from progress. We do not want to be an impediment to the deployment of new nuclear technologies, including SMRs.

Working more closely together makes for more efficient and effective regulation, reduces duplication of effort, and leads to better, quicker and more informed decisions without surrendering regulatory sovereignty or compromising safety.

And the benefits of effective global collaboration are proven far beyond the nuclear sector.

Take the extraordinary global collaboration that was set in motion by the COVID-19 virus – and the ensuing race to develop a vaccine.

The pandemic represented a generational challenge for scientists, policy makers, and regulators.

It challenged them to think outside the box…

… to seize new opportunities to coordinate and cooperate…

… to leverage or build on reviews and findings made by others…

… to form new partnerships and develop new ways of working…

… all while maintaining a heightened awareness of the need to protect people from risk, and for sovereign governments to ultimately make their own decisions.

The rapid development and approval of several Covid vaccines was a triumph of science, innovation and ingenuity.

But it was also a reminder of the value of good, old-fashioned collaboration – and of our collective ability to adapt to new challenges.

In the coming age of SMRs, we need to adopt this kind of mindset – collaboration, agility, and a commitment to do our work as efficiently as possible in the public interest.

From my perspective, one of the most important areas of work for SMR regulatory readiness is to strengthen collaboration and harmonization with like-minded regulators.

Collaborating with like-minded regulators

An illustrative example is the CNSC’s Memorandum of Cooperation with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission to guide our collaborative efforts on SMRs. It has been a game changer.

This MOU has led to sharing regulatory insights from technical design reviews and looking at developing common guidance for reviewing new build licence applications.

It’s demonstrating to us that collaborating in this way improves the effectiveness and efficiency of our regulatory reviews at home. Let me give you an example.

In Canada, Ontario Power Generation has selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 technology for the proposed Darlington New Nuclear Project. This technology has been going through both the CNSC’s Vendor Design Review process, and the US NRC’s pre-application activities at the same time.

Under our MoC with the NRC, we have been working together to leverage our knowledge and experience through joint evaluations. We just published our fourth joint evaluation report.

While we have always worked well with the NRC, we have now entered a whole new level of collaboration.

We are laying the groundwork for even greater collaboration, as we move towards the licensing phase.

We have also developed a strategic plan that takes into account near and long-term goals of both organizations.

And in terms of the GE Hitachi design, we have created a five-party oversight group with the CEOs of the CNSC, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Ontario Power Generation, Tennessee Valley Authority and GE-Hitachi.

This level of international cooperation continues with our counterparts in the U.K. with whom we’ve signed a similar MoC.

The agreement between the CNSC and the U.K. Office for Nuclear Regulation facilitates our collaborative efforts on technical reviews of SMR technologies.

And today, I am pleased to announce the CNSC’s third MoC on advanced reactor technologies was signed just last week with Poland’s nuclear regulatory authority.

These are all great examples of how our SMR readiness efforts at home enables us to formally support and collaborate with likeminded regulators internationally.

Readiness at home

I do want to make one thing clear.

In Canada, we must ensure that a manageable number of SMR designs are proposed for deployment.

There must be a balance so that the CNSC’s and industry’s efforts can be appropriately focused and optimized.

The regulator does not want to be an impediment to the introduction of new technology.

But there are over 70 different SMR designs being considered around the world and several here in Canada.

We must prioritize those designs that have a reasonable prospect for introduction in Canada, and in the order that they will be introduced.

This targeted approach will help set us up to successfully enable a safe and reliable nuclear fleet deployment that meets climate change and energy security commitments.

This dynamic comes into sharper focus as we consider the future energy needs of Canadians.

Future energy needs

The Independent Electricity System Operator, or IESO, recently released a report outlining scenarios for achieving zero emissions in Ontario’s electricity sector.

When I first saw it, I was certain there was a mistake.

The report envisions 17,800 megawatts of new nuclear supply by 2050.

17,800 megawatts – from SMRs, yes, but also likely from new large nuclear.

For perspective, Ontario’s current nuclear generation capacity is about 13,000 megawatts.

Let me stress that these numbers are only for Ontario, and we know that similar exponential growth in installed new nuclear generation capacity is being considered for Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick.

To be ready for this future, we must acknowledge and understand the bigger picture.

Every piece of the puzzle is important.

Industry has a role – in putting forward a sensible number of nuclear technologies for deployment in Canada.

Regulators have a role – ensuring the safety of these new designs… and of existing facilities that remain essential to meeting today’s power needs.

And government has a role – including establishing clear policies on future nuclear and facilitating the development of an integrated plan for tomorrow’s energy needs and nuclear’s contribution to it.

Only by fulfilling our role – each of us – will we be able meet the challenge of delivering tomorrow’s power requirements in a way that is safe, efficient, and in line with our desire to reduce emissions.

As we move forward, early engagement and frank and frequent communication will become even more important.

I am pleased that I was able to meet yesterday with many of our licensees’ CEOs. And that members of my staff participated in a meeting on regulatory efficiency organized by Natural Resources Canada.

We heard at these meetings and often during the conference, that there are questions on the Impact Assessment process and implications on timelines for new nuclear projects. I want to assure you that the CNSC has been working very closely with the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada to identify opportunities to streamline the process and bring greater certainty to the timelines.

As a regulator, we can only be ready to act if industry keeps us informed with relevant and timely information.

We need to be aware of where we’re heading – because that gives us the best possible chance of getting there together.

This brings me to the final area in which the CNSC demonstrates its strength as a regulator.

Trust building

At the CNSC, we place a priority on building trust and establishing meaningful, long-term relationships with those directly impacted by nuclear projects.

This is particularly important with Indigenous Nations and communities.

Our focus is not only on the licensing process. We make a point of engaging throughout the entire lifecycle of projects and facilities.

In 2020, the CNSC developed an Indigenous Reconciliation Strategy. We have since been making good progress in its execution.

We’ve established an Indigenous Employees Network.

We’ve finalized an Indigenous knowledge policy framework.

And we are working to create a CNSC-specific Indigenous Advisory Committee.

To further support long-term relationship building, we have been striving to sign terms of reference and formalize many of our existing relationships with Indigenous Nations and communities.

These agreements provide structure for essential dialogue on CNSC-regulated facilities within traditional and treaty territories.  

And finally in 2022, I am proud to share that the CNSC received funding from the federal government to work on initiating an Indigenous Stakeholder and Capacity Fund.

This will further enhance and support the contributions of Indigenous nations and communities in our work.

Just this morning I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Indigenous leaders in the CNA’s new Ambassador Program.

It was enlightening to hear about the important discussions they’ve been having on Indigenous inclusion in nuclear…

… just as it is energizing to hear about the growing number of Indigenous youth who are expressing interest in STEM careers.

As many of you know, as I never miss an opportunity to talk about it, I am passionate about ensuring that more women and girls have access to opportunities in the STEM fields.

That’s why I am honoured to be joining with Chief Emeritus Emily Whetung to co-chair Canada’s first OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency’s International Mentoring workshop this spring.

This event will connect Grade 9 Indigenous girls with accomplished mentors from around the world. We hope to engage and inspire these young women to seriously consider STEM careers as they look to the future – and the possibilities it holds. 

Coming back to the topic of trust-building… ensuring there is opportunity to hear all voices in this space is critical.

At the CNSC, we have been reforming our Commission proceedings to enhance the participation of the public, Indigenous Nations and communities, and stakeholders.

We offer participant funding to help individuals, not-for-profit organizations, and Indigenous groups to bring value-added information to the Commission.

We share all proceeding-related documents as soon as they become available to ensure equal opportunity for review. 

We conduct Commission proceedings using a hybrid format, further improving accessibility.

And independent of regulatory proceedings, we host a quarterly forum with Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations to advance the collaborative work between the CNSC and these organizations.

All of this is to ensure our processes are open, transparent, and accessible – so the Commission can make better, more informed decisions.

And with this, I must deliver a clear reminder that proponents are responsible for earning and maintaining the social acceptance for their projects.

The CNSC’s regulatory processes and engagement efforts can never be a surrogate for proponents’ engagement activities and relationship building.

If Canada is to remain a Tier 1 nuclear country, the actions of the entire nuclear sector must be synchronous when it comes to effective engagement.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by expressing how incredibly proud I am to have been a part of the CNSC’s steady and ongoing transformation into a strong and modern regulator.

As I told my staff not long ago: We are public servants. What we do matters to the people of Canada – and to its future.

The major through-line of the past several years at the CNSC can be summed up in a single word: Readiness.

We understand that the world is changing. We understand that this industry is changing.

We’re on a path toward the introduction of a new kind of technology.

And it is our role – our responsibility as Canada’s nuclear regulator – to be ready for it.

Ready to protect the public by ensuring safety.

Ready to be diligent in demanding the highest standards of responsible operation.

But also: Ready to welcome innovation, so long as it is not at the expense of safety.

The importance of this work cannot be overstated.

It will shape the future of the nuclear industry here and around the world.

It will also shape the reputation of not only the CNSC as a regulator, but of Canada as a Tier 1 nuclear nation.

Thank you.

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