CNSC's response to COVID-19
We always put the safety of the public and the environment first. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have been closely monitoring the situation at all nuclear facilities to ensure the public and the environment remain protected.
As vaccination efforts continue and parts of Canada begin to reopen, the CNSC continues to monitor licensees and sites to respect its mandate of protecting the health and safety of Canadians and the environment. This includes:
- continuing to provide essential calibration and instrument management services at the CNSC lab by implementing clear COVID-19 protocols, including limited occupancy, heightened security and enhanced disinfecting measures to keep onsite employees safe
- maintaining collaboration with international counterparts virtually in order to share best practices and lessons learned on operational changes, such as staff teleworking and adoption of virtual Commission meetings and hearings
- transitioning to onsite inspections with COVID-19 safety precautions in place, and leveraging remote specialist support and compliance verification for nuclear facilities
- requiring all nuclear facilities to adopt provincial government-mandated protocols such as masks, hand washing, sanitation stations, temperature monitoring and physical distancing
- requiring nuclear facilities to maintain their minimum shift complement, which is a minimum number of essential workers required onsite to maintain safe operations
Jean-Claude Poirier, a Senior Project Officer at the CNSC, is being recognized for his outstanding contributions to Canada’s response to COVID-19 for his recent work with the Public Health Agency of Canada, where he advised on the implementation and enforcement of the Quarantine Act.
Suspended operations due to COVID-19
In December, production was suspended by Orano Canada Inc. at its McClean Lake Uranium Mill and by Cameco at its Cigar Lake Uranium Mine. These suspensions moved in tandem with the increasing risks posed by the pandemic in northern Saskatchewan. Both Orano and Cameco must maintain the necessary resources and essential services to operate critical systems and to ensure they continue to meet regulatory requirements.
As an agile regulator, our framework requires licensees to have specific plans and processes in place for suspending operation, and for returning the facilities to production following suspension. Both during and after suspension, CNSC staff continue to verify licensees are following approved programs.
Successful first virtual Commission hearing
November marks the first fully virtual Commission hearing in the CNSC’s history. Commission meetings were also held virtually in June, September and November 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions; future proceedings are set to continue to be conducted online during the pandemic.
Commission proceedings are an essential part of ensuring safe nuclear regulation in Canada. Independent Commission members must remain updated on nuclear activities and continue to make decisions on nuclear licences.
The CNSC established the Official Guidelines for CNSC Virtual Proceedings to help achieve the Commission’s objectives of making transparent and fair decisions, while adhering to the adjustments and accommodations needed for virtual proceedings. The Guidelines have been the foundation for successfully navigating the three online Commission meetings and one online Commission hearing.
From proper virtual etiquette and procedural information, to technology help and contingency planning, the Guidelines assist those involved in virtual Commission proceedings. Most importantly, the Guidelines prioritize supporting intervenors from the public and from Indigenous groups to share their perspectives and ensure that their voices are considered in Commission decisions.
Innovation in a resurgence of COVID-19
Like all Canadians, we at the CNSC respond to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We look for and implement best practices and innovative approaches that allow us to deliver our mandate without compromising the safety of our employees. In particular, CNSC staff take full advantage of modern technology to perform many of our verification activities remotely. CNSC staff continue to use risk assessments to make sure that safety-significant activities get adequate regulatory oversight.
As an example, in the case of independent environmental testing, Ottawa staff have worked in tandem with regional colleagues to ensure that regulatory oversight can continue. When staff in the National Capital Region could not travel to conduct environmental testing in the vicinity of the Point Lepreau Generating Station, they came up with a creative solution. Remote training was offered by specialists in Ottawa, and CNSC site staff learned how to collect water, sand, soil and vegetation samples to be analyzed for radiological contaminants. Their ability to innovate eliminated the need for interprovincial travel, while ensuring that the testing done to help confirm the safety of Canadians and the environment could happen.
President Velshi interviewed on the safety preparedness of the nuclear sector during COVID-19
Following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, the nuclear sector prepared robust business contingency plans that incorporated lessons learned and foresight for future crises.
In an interview with Global News, CNSC President Rumina Velshi credited the nuclear sector’s quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic to its preparedness. Licensees had “what if” plans and stockpiles of personal protective equipment, while our strong and agile regulatory framework allowed us to focus on critical facilities and activities to keep Canadians and the environment safe.
Implementing contingency plans has maintained regulatory oversight and safe operations throughout the pandemic.
Aligned with international best practices on regulatory oversight during COVID-19
Inspections are an essential part of nuclear safety. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, nuclear regulatory bodies around the world have implemented new protocols and measures to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on nuclear power plant inspections.
To compare nuclear regulatory oversight in Canada with that of our counterparts in other countries, we conducted an international benchmarking exercise on inspection practices. We solicited information from 19 member countries of the Nuclear Energy Agency Working Group on Inspection Practices, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Data showed that 84% of regulatory bodies had reduced their onsite presence to varying degrees, consistent with our approach. While we suspended our onsite presence from March 16 to May 4, 2020, our regulatory oversight and inspections never stopped and CNSC staff were ready to respond to emergencies at anytime. We established a framework for conducting remote oversight activities and inspections, which included working with licensees to ensure remote access to site information systems. We were always ready to deploy inspectors onsite if there was a significant event.
In May 2020, we resumed onsite inspections at nuclear power plants prioritized based on the level of risk. Also inspections have been adapted in light of the pandemic: CNSC inspectors and subject matter experts follow government-mandated COVID-19 protocols, including those for physical distancing, hygiene practices and personal protective equipment.
We continue to be in line with our international counterparts on best practices for oversight activities – ensuring that the protection of Canadians is as strong now as it was before the pandemic.
Commission grants extension for completion of beryllium analysis now that resampling is complete for BWXT’s Peterborough location
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CNSC staff requested and have been granted a two-month extension to complete the analysis process for the beryllium resampling that was recently conducted at properties adjacent to BWXT’s Peterborough, Ontario, facility. The extension was requested by staff to ensure the remaining work is in accordance with health and safety protocols and includes additional precautions to support staff working in the CNSC lab to analyze the samples. Link to the Commission decision here.
Commission grants exemption for nuclear power plants
As a result of COVID-19, Ontario Power Generation, New Brunswick Power and Bruce Power requested an extension to allow more time to conduct certification requalification testing programs. Following technical assessments of the requests on the advice of CNSC staff, the Commission concluded that a six-month extension would give shift workers whose certification is expiring between July and December 2020 sufficient time to complete their requalification testing while ensuring the continued safe operation of the nuclear power plants.
Requalification tests and requirements are outlined in REGDOC-2.2.3, Personnel Certification, Volume III: Certification of Persons Working at Nuclear Power Plants, which forms part of the licensees’ licensing bases. Link to the Commission decision here.
CNSC involvement in multilateral organizations’ COVID-19 related work
The CNSC is actively involved in COVID-19 related work conducted by international organizations. We are:
- Playing a leadership role as chair of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Commission on Safety Standards, by participating in discussions about pandemic response.
- Sharing experience about our response to the pandemic by participating in meetings and delivering presentations.
- Collaborating on the sharing of best practices for conducting remote inspections and return to the workplace.
How nuclear facilities are safely adapting during the pandemic
At the June Commission meeting, representatives from nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel cycle facilities presented on how they are adapting to ensure safe, ongoing operations during the pandemic. These presentations are now publicly available on our YouTube page at the following links:
- Nuclear power plants: Safe adaptation during COVID-19 (Part 1)
- Nuclear fuel facilities: Safe adaptation during COVID-19 (Part 2)
CNSC assists international regulatory community during pandemic
As we perform our domestic regulatory work during the pandemic, the CNSC continues to provide leadership internationally by assisting the IAEA and partner countries where possible.
The IAEA recently engaged the CNSC for assistance in issuing a required transport licence for transit through Canada for a shipment between European and South American partner countries. As a result of pandemic lockdown measures, two Type B(U) packages were stranded on route to their final destination in Lima, Peru.
Acting as an intermediary, CNSC staff provided guidance on the licence application, and reviewed and processed the transport licence within two days. The packages were safely delivered to their end destination in accordance with CNSC Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations for such shipments transiting Canada.
The IAEA and stakeholders involved were very appreciative of the assistance and quick response by CNSC staff to resolve this situation.
Commission hosts first virtual public meeting
We’re carrying out our regulatory work during the pandemic while respecting physical distancing and other restrictions. The Commission meeting scheduled for June 17-18 was held virtually and was accessible via webcast for the public. Presenters and Commission members participated remotely.
Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the nuclear industry is requesting regulatory flexibility for some ongoing training and certification requirements. We’re reviewing each request for extension on a case-by-case basis – safety is our top priority.
President visits Darlington site
On May 21, CNSC President Rumina Velshi and Executive Vice-President Ramzi Jammal visited Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington site to get a first-hand look at how they’re implementing rigorous physical distancing, safety precautions and PPE use to minimize risk during this pandemic.
Regulatory oversight during the pandemic
The CNSC is available 24/7 to respond to any emergency, and remains committed to strong and effective regulatory oversight of Canada’s nuclear sector. Here’s a breakdown of how we’re maintaining effective regulatory oversight during the pandemic:
- We’ve established an internal communications infrastructure to keep all employees informed of their role during this time, and to offer guidance and updates in support of their physical and mental health.
- All critical CNSC staff continue to work and have the necessary tools to maintain key regulatory activities.
- We’re prioritizing our work to focus on the needs of those providing essential services, like nuclear power plants, hospitals, isotope producers, sterilization facilities and border security.
- We’re ensuring that providers of services critical to Canada’s infrastructure – such as equipment sterilization and the supply of radioisotopes for medical treatment – are able to meet their licensing and certification requirements efficiently.
- Our inspectors continue to have access to licensed facilities as needed to respond to safety issues, and are following the advice of health officials to practise physical distancing when onsite.
- We’re remaining in constant communication with licensees to ensure that regulatory requirements to protect health, safety and security of workers, and the environment, remain in place.
- We’re maintaining regulatory oversight of the measures licensees are taking to help fight the spread of the virus, including staffing changes and modifications to non-essential work.
- We’re being flexible with licensees, understanding that they will need more time to report to the CNSC on issues that are not safety significant.
- We’re postponing the public Commission proceedings for April and June and exploring options for holding the proceedings remotely.
Commission proceeding dates
In its continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CNSC is postponing and making changes to upcoming Commission proceedings. None of these changes impacts public safety. Revised notices with relevant details will be issued as soon as they are available.
Here are the highlights of the changes:
- The April Commission meeting is postponed to June 17-18, 2020 and may be held virtually.
- The June public hearing on an amendment to the Douglas Point Waste Facility decommissioning licence is being rescheduled to August 19-20, 2020.
- The document deadlines for the Global First Power hearing in writing have been extended by 30 days. The CNSC staff document will be available by May 1; interventions are due June 1.
We continue to monitor the pandemic situation and are focusing on critical services to ensure that nuclear facilities are safe and that the public and environment are protected.
Critical staff activated
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, we're doing our part and heeding guidance from medical officials to help reduce the spread of the virus. As such, effective March 16, 2020, CNSC staff have been directed to stay home, while critical staff continue to work to ensure effective regulatory oversight.
We remain actively engaged with licensees to ensure the protection of the public and the environment and will continue to provide updates as required.
Let's all do what we can to flatten the curve and keep each other healthy.
As the Canadian nuclear regulator, we put the safety of the public and the environment first. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the CNSC is monitoring the situation at all nuclear facilities to ensure the public and the environment are protected.
Nuclear operators, as CNSC licensees, are required to develop and implement a business continuity plan to ensure their facilities continue to operate safely at all times, including during a pandemic. Business continuity plans address how to deal with possible labour disruptions while maintaining key staffing positions. These plans can be activated during any interruption of normal operation, and include ways to ensure safe facility operation, even during widespread absenteeism.
As a regulator, the CNSC also has a business continuity plan to ensure our strong and effective regulatory oversight. We remain actively engaged with licensees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to provide updates on the safety of nuclear facilities as required.
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