Licensing nuclear power plants
We regulate all stages of the life of each nuclear power plant in Canada, from the environmental assessment and licence required before plant construction to the decommissioning of the facility once operations have ended.
All nuclear power plants require a licence from the CNSC. To be granted a licence, a facility must meet regulatory requirements grouped under 14 topics called safety and control areas. Our staff assess licence applications to ensure that:
- all requirements are met
- safety measures and safety systems are technically and scientifically sound
- appropriate measures will be taken to protect people, security, the environment and meet international obligations
The licensing process is open and transparent. It offers significant opportunities for public participation, including Commission hearings and community meetings that are open to the public and webcast live.
If a licence is issued, stringent evaluation of operators follows to ensure that they comply with regulatory requirements and licence conditions. In addition to a team of onsite inspectors, CNSC staff with specific technical expertise regularly visit plants to verify compliance.
The nuclear power plant operator must provide the CNSC with a licence application that addresses all applicable regulatory requirements.
Our experts work in multidisciplinary teams to undertake an environmental assessment and a technical assessment. Based on a variety of factors including performance, compliance activities and their review of the materials received from the operator, a licensing recommendation will be made to the Commission in the form of a publicly available Commission member document.
The Commission makes decisions on the licensing of major nuclear facilities through a hearing process which give involved parties and members of the public an opportunity to be heard by the Commission.
The public, Indigenous Nations and communities and stakeholders will be notified of upcoming Commission hearings and given an opportunity to be heard, referred to as an intervention, by submitting their thoughts and concerns. Interventions can be made orally or by written submission only, or through a combination of both. The Participant Funding Program offers financial resources to support interested parties in reviewing technical information presented by the applicant and CNSC staff.
Following the hearing, the Commission will decide if the applicant is qualified and has taken adequate measures to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians and the environment, and to support international obligations. The Commission instructs staff whether to issue a licence with associated terms and conditions.
In making its decision, the Commission considers CNSC staff recommendations and what was presented at the hearing. The Commission renders decisions according to service standards, depending on the nature and complexity of the file.
Once a licence is granted, the applicant can operate the facility for the duration and under the conditions of its licence. Licenses for nuclear power plants are authorized for a pre-determined number of years. When the licence approaches expiration, the operator is required to apply to the Commission to renew its licence. This initiates a new public hearing process.
When a licence is issued, our staff build and execute plans to verify that the licensee complies with licence conditions and applicable regulations. If the licensee fails to meet requirements, this must be corrected. We verify these corrections and may use enforcement measures that vary in severity, from orders to administrative monetary penalties to revocation of a licence. Activities to verify and promote compliance include various onsite and offsite inspections, data analysis, assessments of technical information, surveillance operations, equipment walkdowns, etc.
CNSC staff report to the Commission on an operator’s compliance performance, at established intervals, as well as in the case of unusual situations or events. Performance is reported on publicly available Regulatory Oversight Reports annually at Commission meetings.
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