Remarks by President Velshi at the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation's Global Ministerial Conference

November 13, 2019
Washington, D.C.

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Good afternoon everyone. It is indeed a pleasure and honour to be invited to speak at this ministerial.

In my remarks today, I will cover 2 areas: the first is to discuss what we, the Canadian regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the CNSC, are doing to be in a state of readiness for regulating small modular reactors and advanced reactors. The second is to share some of my preliminary thoughts on how, as regulators, we can make sure that we are not an unnecessary or unreasonable barrier to innovation and advancement. That we enable the possible international harmonization of regulations for reactor design evaluation and licensing.

SMRs as we have heard are an innovation being considered as an important part of the fight against climate change while at the same time providing reliable electricity to many around the world, especially to those who regularly go without. The Canadian nuclear industry and governments across our country see many potential applications in Canada for SMRs and have collaboratively developed a detailed roadmap for the deployment of SMRs. We the regulator, recently received our very first licence application for an SMR and have begun the environmental assessment for a small, or in this case micro, 15 megawatt thermal demonstration modular reactor proposed for construction on the site of Canada’s nuclear research campus, the Chalk River Laboratories. Our job as regulators is to protect people and the environment from risk – not from progress. So what are we, the CNSC doing to make sure we stay true to our commitment to safety above all, while also being in a state of readiness for regulating SMRs?

The first is we need to make sure we have access to the right people with the right skills to be ready to regulate whatever comes our way. This is especially challenging given the demographics of my organization. In the past few years, we implemented an aggressive staff renewal initiative to ensure we attracted new talent and transferred the valuable knowledge and experience of our veteran staff to the next generation.

The second critical element for us is our flexible regulatory framework, which sets out expectations, drawn from decades of experience, that are technology neutral and based on globally recognized fundamental safety objectives. We regulate in a risk-informed manner and allow applicants to use alternative methods to meet our requirements as long as the safety case can be demonstrated. We are not prescriptive in our requirements. In fact, an IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service Mission to Canada this past September found our extensive guidance and processes for potential SMR applicants to be a good practice, one to be emulated by other nuclear regulators.

And thirdly, we have offered a vendor design review service for the last several years that provides vendors a pre-licensing check-in with the CNSC to identify potential fundamental barriers to licensing in Canada. It also provides important learning opportunities for both the vendor and our staff. I am pleased to report that presently we have 12 SMR vendors at various phases of our VDR process.

Fourth is working to strengthen public trust. Recent polling found that 86% of Canadians are open to or supportive of the use of SMRs as an alternative to fossil fuels to provide reliable, low carbon power and heat. SMRs will be first-of-a-kind projects and the public will rightfully expect and demand that they be safe. Any mis-step on the part of industry or by us, as the regulator, will likely cause public support to quickly evaporate.

But for all the great work we are doing at the CNSC, we know we do not have all the answers or the resources. That is why we strongly advocate for broad international collaboration in nuclear safety, and have done so for many years. For example, we participate in the IAEA’s SMR Regulators Forum and working groups such as the Working Group on the Regulation of New Reactors under the Nuclear Energy Agency. We took an important step with the USNRC this past August in signing a Memorandum of Cooperation to further streamline and improve the regulation of SMRs. I applaud Chairman Svinicki for her leadership in this joint endeavor.

Just a few weeks ago key staff from both our organizations met to prioritize our work for years ahead under this arrangement, including streamlining our processes to the extent possible. The early feedback I got from my staff is there is very strong alignment between the 2 agencies and commitment to optimize the opportunities for minimizing duplication of effort and make regulatory reviews more efficient, less onerous, outcomes more predictable and resulting in increased safety at the end of the day. We agreed to a Terms of Reference to help guide our work, and discussed developing common guidance for review of licence applications for SMRs. We also committed to share regulatory insights from technical reviews of designs starting with NuScale’s and Terrestrial Energy’s. I know this close cooperation and collaboration will serve us well, as reviews of technologies by one of us can be used by the other. If two mature regulators conclude they have no reservations with a design during a pre-licensing review, there should be minimal impediments during the licensing process.

And, if we, the USNRC and the CNSC, are able to demonstrate that this approach works well, is it too bold to consider the possibility of eventually harmonizing our reviews globally, as is done in some other industries – such as the civil aviation industry or closer to home – radiation transport regulations and multilateral licensing and certification of transportation packages? I am pleased that Director General Magwood has agreed to have the Nuclear Energy Agency look at different models for greater regulatory cooperation on SMRs.

Just last week the CANDU Owners Group (COG) and the World Nuclear Association (WNA) conducted a survey of regulators, government, operators, technology developers, industry association etc., to get their perspectives on international harmonization of regulations for SMRs and Advanced Reactors. Following this, the WNA and COG are expected to prepare a White Paper on how the goal of a worldwide nuclear regulatory environment, where internationally accepted standardized reactor designs can be widely deployed without major design changes at the national level, can be achieved. I very much look forward to this White Paper. I think the time is now to think boldly and look critically at regulatory frameworks and be open to the need to re-engineer them. It may be time for a paradigm shift in the regulatory space.

Not having these discussions will leave us ill-prepared for the demands that will be placed on us and run the risk of limiting the advancement of technologies that many are counting on to play a role toward a cleaner future. Working together will give us the best chance of successfully navigating this innovative future safely and effectively.

Forums such as these are a great opportunity to consider the key issues and promote bold new approaches.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

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