Speech delivered by CNSC President Michael Binder to the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources - May 15, 2012
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Committee members. My name is Michael Binder and I am the President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
It is indeed a pleasure to accept your invitation to be here today to explain what the CNSC is involved in; and how it relates to the Committee’s study of resource development in Northern Canada.
The CNSC is Canada’s nuclear regulator with the mandate to protect the health, safety and security of persons and the environment; and to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Furthermore, our mandate includes the dissemination of objective scientific information. The CNSC carries out its mandate under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act- the “NSCA”.
The CNSC is an independent quasi-judicial Commission which regulates all things nuclear in Canada, including uranium mining, nuclear fuel fabrication, nuclear reactors and power plants, the production and use of medical isotopes, and the decommissioning and remediation of nuclear sites.
As you can see, the CNSC is involved in several areas which relate to resource development activities. But first let me give you a quick update on our response to the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
I’m sure you’re all aware of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 and the impacts on the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The CNSC immediately formed an internal task force to assess whether lessons learned can be applied to the Canadian nuclear facilities. Its recommendations were presented to the Commission Tribunal on May 3rd. While the task force found that, overall, Canadian nuclear power plants are safe, recommendations for safety enhancements were presented for the Commission’s considerations.
Today, however, I’m here to give you a brief overview of the CNSC’s perspective on environmental protection, uranium mining, Aboriginal consultation and small power reactors.
As I mentioned, the CNSC is a safety regulator and its mandate under the NSCA includes protection of the environment. This means that we always examine the potential impact on the environment whenever a licence application is before the Commission.
We are experts in doing environmental assessments. Since 2003 we have completed or are conducting 66 environmental assessments. We’ve just completed the joint review panel study of the Darlington nuclear plant new build project; and the joint review panel for the Deep Geologic Repository is currently underway.
The environmental assessment process in Canada’s three territories is a bit different than in the rest of Canada, however. They are carried out under specific legislation or land claims agreements such as the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. In the case of Nunavut, the Nunavut Impact Review Board runs the environmental assessment process and CNSC staff provides technical support.
If the environmental review results in the project being given the green light, then the CNSC will take into account the environmental assessment recommendations when it licenses the project.
The CNSC has been regulating uranium mining in Canada since the mid-1980s. The legacy of Canada’s mining industry has often been to abandon the projects when the ore body is exhausted. Part of the CNSC’s focus has been to bring abandoned uranium mines under regulation; and remediate them so that they are not an ongoing safety or environmental risk.
Most of Canada’s uranium mining activity is currently taking place in northern Saskatchewan but there are proposals being considered with the Matoush project in northern Quebec and the Michelin project in Labrador. In recent years there has been greater interest in Canada’s North for its uranium reserves and the potential economic benefits which this activity holds; with typically around fifty percent of the workforce being northern workers.
Although there are other potential projects, only one - Kiggavik- is moving ahead at the present time and it is still in the environmental assessment stage which is being led by the Nunavut Impact Review Board.
Again, let me emphasize that the CNSC will not license these projects unless they are safe. The CNSC is a hands-on regulator and we will ensure that our licensees are operating safely and meeting their licence conditions while they are in operation- a regime which includes annual inspections and reporting on compliance. Licensees also have to provide financial guarantees – upfront - which ensure that they have the required financial resources to properly clean up the site when they terminate their mining operations.
With respect to Aboriginal consultation, the CNSC is an agent of the Crown and is committed to fulfilling the Crown’s duty to consult with Canada’s native people. We’re proud to have developed a pro-active and transparent Aboriginal consultation policy and in March 2011 we launched our Participant Funding Program to make it easier for the public, including Aboriginal groups, to participate in our regulatory public proceedings.
Small Power Reactors
Mining development in the North will require reliable sources of electricity and one alternative being talked about is small nuclear reactors. The CNSC is ready to review a design if a proponent brings us an application; and we will license it if we are convinced that it will be safe.
At the present time, two vendors have applied to us for design review: the Babcock and Wilcox mPower and the NuScale reactor system. And we have had some very early discussions with other vendors. None of these designs will likely be ready for a licence-to-construct application for another 3 to 5 years.
There is a lot of global activity currently underway in the development of small reactor technology- for example the U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked $450 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support the licensing of American-made small reactors and to demonstrate that the technology is viable.
You may be surprised to know that there are several small reactors already in operation in Canada and that the CNSC has decades of experience regulating and licensing these units. I’m referring to the small reactors known as “SLOWPOKE” which are found at five universities and research facilities in Canada- in fact Canada was a pioneer in the development of these small reactors. They are safe and they continue to run reliably.
In closing, the CNSC is actively involved in issues relating to resource development in Canada’s North. Safety is our number one concern, both for human health and for the environment, and we will not license a facility if we are not convinced that it will be safe. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you.