Technical Presentation: “Independence without Isolation: International Perspectives on How Regulators Maintain Independence While Engaging Government and Industry Stakeholders”

President Rumina Velshi
March 13, 2019 13:30 – 15:00

Bethesda, MD, United States of America

Introduction

Good afternoon everyone.

I wish to extend my thanks to the organizers and my fellow panelists for the opportunity to present at this important event.

My presentation will deal broadly with three elements I believe are critical to maintaining independence without isolation:

  • Effective governance and robust regulatory safety oversight culture;
  • Engagement and mindful collaboration; and
  • Transparency and accountability in our regulatory process.

Governance

To maintain independence without being isolated, it is critical to have the right governance structure in place.

I think that governance structure is in place at the CNSC, so let me tell you a little bit about it.

Briefly, the CNSC is Canada’s independent nuclear regulator. Our focus is safety.

From cradle to grave, we regulate all things nuclear in Canada, uranium mining, nuclear fuel, nuclear power and research reactors, medical, industrial and educational applications of nuclear substances, and radioactive waste management.

We are independent of government, but not isolated from government.

We learned the importance of finding the right balance between independence and isolation back in 2008 during a medical isotope crisis.

In that case, a Canadian nuclear research reactor was shut down resulting in a shortage of a critical isotope.

The government intervened with emergency legislation to restart the reactor.

It also issued a directive to the CNSC to take into account the health of Canadians who depend on isotopes for medical purposes when regulating nuclear substances produced by nuclear reactors.

It also cost the then President her job.

I was not with the CNSC at that time, but based on discussions I have had, maintaining better communications with the government while still conducting our affairs independently could have perhaps avoided the crisis.

We work closely with intergovernmental partners to ensure we are aware of policy changes and provide input on anything that could impact the way we carry out our mandate.

The Commission – an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal – makes licensing decisions for major nuclear facilities and activities.

The Commission’s decisions are final and not subject to government or political review and may only be reviewed by the Federal Court.

Over 900 staff support the Commission by providing information needed to make decisions and enforcing compliance with the Commission’s decisions.

To provide the Commission with the best possible evidence, we must foster an environment that encourages staff to provide fearless advice.
They cannot be afraid to point out things that are not right and ask questions when things aren’t clear.

Over the past few years, the CNSC has been strengthening its regulatory safety culture by conducting an independent third party self-assessment, developing a safety culture policy and gaining staff perspective through town hall meetings.

A healthy safety culture must come from the top, and I have a dedicated email account where staff can contact me directly in a safe space to share their ideas and feedback.

Engage and Collaborate

Engagement and collaboration are also key to maintaining independence and establishing trust.

We need to engage early and often with our stakeholders throughout the life of our regulated facilities and activities.

Public participation in Commission proceedings is so important.

Participation in these proceedings allows anyone with an interest to get their questions, concerns and evidence on the record and requires proponents and CNSC staff to respond.

Commission Members consider all of the information presented and issue decisions based on the science and the facts.

But well before this formal engagement takes place, CNSC staff are out in communities meeting with many stakeholders to understand their issues of interest and concern, and encourage them to get involved in the process.

We even support enhanced participation in our processes through a Participant Funding Program.

We established this program in 2011 and were the first nuclear regulator to have one.

It provides funds to eligible recipients to support the development of value-added interventions to the Commission.

To date we have provided funding to over 200 recipients. Over 60 per cent of the funding has gone to Indigenous groups.

Strengthening our relationships with Indigenous peoples in Canada, civil society organizations - or CSOs – and other regulators is another important aspect of our engagement strategy.

Shortly after I became President of the CNSC, I started to engage and have conversations with nuclear regulators in other countries about how to strengthen our relationship with CSOs.

Our objective is to learn from the best practices of other regulators and to implement a plan to improve dialogue with Canadian CSOs.

I have already met with some key CSOs and will soon be meeting with leaders from Indigenous communities.

Through this engagement, I want to develop constructive and long-term relationships with these groups as I believe this will help improve public trust in the nuclear regulator.

Of course these efforts must always be conducted in a manner that is not biased or present a conflict of interest.

Our stakeholders include licensees and we must ensure that any interactions with them are transparent.
Panel members of another national energy regulator in Canada recently had to step down when they were accused of violating their code of conduct over a meeting with a lobbyist.

The hearing process for the project had to start all over again.

As a Commission, we learned from this unfortunate incident.

We are developing our own code of conduct for Commission members to ensure that all of our engagement activities are transparent and do not compromise regulatory independence.

Transparency and Accountability

The third and last element of maintaining independence without isolation is transparency and accountability in regulatory processes.

We encourage stakeholders to participate in our Commission proceedings and our proceedings are webcast live.

Our aim in encouraging and welcoming participation is that all, or at least most, of those who take part will acknowledge that there was a fair and transparent regulatory process that respected and valued their input.

Our stakeholders and the general public want as much information as possible and as often as possible.

This can be a challenge for us and our regulated community since we deal with volumes of very technical information.

We have made great strides in recent years to provide factual, educational and engaging information tailored to the needs of our various audiences.

We want to ensure that we are giving expert CSOs access to the information and raw data they need to conduct their own detailed, independent analyses.

We also require that our major licensees implement programs to keep the public informed of their activities.

In addition to transparency, regulatory authorities must be accountable for their actions and commitments to continuous improvements and established international agreements.

We also show our commitment to the Convention of Nuclear Safety and by publishing our Country Report every three years and all questions we receive from Member States and the answers we provide.

We need to share our experiences, lessons learned and best practices to be able to truly explore what might work best in our respective contexts, and to continually improve.

International Atomic Energy Agency peer reviews are another great tool available to accomplish this.

We are hosting two this year: an International Regulatory Review Service Mission, our first mission since 2009; and our first ever Emergency Preparedness Review Service, or EPREV, mission.

We welcome the findings and recommendations from both missions and expect they will help enhance public confidence in Canada’s regulatory approach.

We encourage all Member States to welcome peer reviews and to publish all findings and recommendations so their responses can be tracked and reported on.

Tracking and reporting on our progress, or even our challenges, is vitally important so that we can learn and support each other.

Conclusion

So what do I want you to take away from these remarks?

Maintaining independence without being isolated is easier said than done.

We all have different contexts with unique pressures and expectations.

We need to be mindful of this, but always be true to our mandates.

We need to listen to and consider stakeholders’ perspectives throughout the process but be clear from the start that any decisions made will be done so in accordance with the evidence and our mandates.

Finding that balance is crucial if we want all stakeholders to feel invested in the process and have trust in us as regulators.

What I know to be true is that there is no room for complacency! We need to continuously evolve and improve!

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