Commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident

March 11, 2016

As the world commemorates the 5th anniversary of the largest earthquake in Japan, our thoughts and feelings go out to the people of Japan as they continue to face the challenges caused by the terrible events of March 2011. Since then, nuclear regulators and nuclear plant operators around the world have re-examined their operations to be able to assure the public of the industry’s continued safety.

As Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) acted quickly and was able to confirm that:

  • Canadian nuclear power plants are safe
  • the Canadian nuclear regulatory framework is strong, as confirmed by two peer review assessments conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • emergency preparedness and response measures in Canada are comprehensive
  • while the threat of a major earthquake at Canadian nuclear power plants is negligible, nuclear power plants are designed to be seismically robust

The 2011 Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission, under the auspices of the United Nations’ IAEA, a follow-up to the one in 2009, confirmed that the CNSC’s response to the Fukushima accident was prompt, robust and comprehensive. Canada was also the first country to include a module on the regulatory implications of the March 11 accident in its peer review.

Since the Fukushima events of 2011, licensees, partners and all levels of government have been working diligently to not only reduce the likelihood of such an incident occurring in Canada, but also to improve the coordination between response organizations during an emergency situation. In 2014, the CNSC participated in Exercise Unified Response, a full-scale national nuclear emergency exercise whose main priority was to ensure that, collectively, we have robust and effective emergency response plans in place to safeguard the health and safety of Canadians in case of a nuclear incident.

Several new regulatory documents which further clarify regulatory expectations on post Fukushima requirements were also published. For example, new requirements were established for the pre-distribution of potassium iodide pills near nuclear generating stations. This is one of the many steps the CNSC has taken to further enhance emergency preparedness and to ensure that Canadians are adequately prepared for any accident scenario, however unlikely.

The CNSC has also enhanced its communications with the public, required all major facility operators to formalize their public information and disclosure programs, and advocated for greater cooperation, transparency and accountability internationally. Our organization takes every opportunity to encourage other nuclear regulators and international organizations involved in nuclear safety to share information with the public.

The CNSC is proud of the contributions of its Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer Ramzi Jammal, who co-chaired the working group for Volume 1 of the IAEA Director General’s Report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which focuses on the description and background of the key events that happened before, during and after the accident. He also contributed to the other technical volumes, and has been elected to lead the 7th Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, where the safety of nuclear power reactors around the world will be reviewed, in spring 2017.

The CNSC’s recent assessment of the IAEA Director General’s report against the CNSC Fukushima Integrated Action Plan confirmed that the CNSC was and continues to be a leader with respect to its continuous enhancements to safety through committed work and verification under normal licensing, compliance, regulatory framework and communications processes – and that these processes are commensurate with maintaining the high level of safety achieved in Canada.

Above all else, and in spite of these improvements and lessons learned, the Fukushima Daiichi accident taught us to expect the unexpected and to require nuclear operators to consider and prepare for the most unlikely events. And there is no room for complacency as we continue to enhance the safety of nuclear energy. The CNSC will continue to ensure strong oversight of all licensees and continue to support the strong safety culture of the nuclear sector. We will never compromise safety. It is in our DNA!

To read more on Fukushima and to view quotes from CNSC leaders on what Fukushima has taught us: