The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is mandated, under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, to regulate all nuclear facilities and nuclear-related activities in Canada. There are many stages in the lifecycle of nuclear facilities – before any person or company can prepare a site for, construct, operate, decommission or abandon a nuclear facility – or possess, use, transport or store nuclear substances – they must obtain a corresponding licence from CNSC. A separate licence is needed for each of these stages.
Your organization will choose nuclear technologies that meet your corporate business plans and safety goals. Those technologies will have to meet federal regulatory requirements for health, safety, security and environmental protection. As a licensee, you are ultimately responsible for any radioactive materials in your possession.
Four major steps in the licensing process
There are four major steps in the licensing process:
- Applicant submits a licence application
- Environmental Assessment
- Licensing Technical Assessment
- CNSC renders its decision
Before filing an application for any licence or certificate with CNSC, you will need to ensure that you have all of the information required to apply for your licence. Early communication with CNSC is recommended, to help you develop a comprehensive understanding of the regulatory requirements, licence application support information and the licensing process for your specific project.
The licensing process begins when an application is received by CNSC. All new licence applications or amendments to existing licences require the approval of the Commission or a CNSC Designated Officer. The Commission is notified when an application that requires a decision from them has been filed.
The preparation of a licence application needs to consider all regulatory criteria as defined by the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, relevant regulations, CNSC requirements and expectations, international and domestic standards, and applicable international obligations.
For major resource projects such as nuclear power plants, uranium mines or fuel processing facilities, a project description should also be sent to Natural Resources Canada’s Major Projects Management Office (MPMO). MPMO is responsible for coordinating the work of all the federal departments and agencies that have a role to play in the regulatory process for major resource projects. MPMO offers licensees a single entry point into the federal regulatory system. More information can be found on the MPMO Web site.
CNSC recovers the costs of its regulatory activities from licensees under a Revenue Spending Authority granted by Treasury Board in December 2007. You are required to pay a deposit with your application – refer to the CNSC Cost Recovery Fees Regulations or to CNSC’s Cost Recovery Program for fee information.
After your application has been reviewed, you will be notified about the fees or estimated fees that apply to your specific situation.
An Assessment Plan and timeline is then developed for each individual application. The Assessment Plan identifies the scope and depth of the technical assessment needed to evaluate the application. It takes historical licensing information, licensing experience, performance and compliance reports, and staff recommendations into account.
CNSC has strict obligations and responsibilities under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA), which is the basis for federal Environmental Assessments in Canada.
During the application review process, CNSC determines whether an Environmental Assessment (EA) is required for your proposed project. EAs are used to predict the environmental effects of a specific project, and to determine whether these effects can be mitigated, before a project is carried out. EAs consider components of the environment such as:
- air, water and soil quality
- human health
- Aboriginal interest, physical and cultural heritage
- use of land and resources
At the beginning of an EA, CNSC provides project-specific advice and guidance about what should be assessed, such as the scope of the project and factors that apply to each individual project. Further guidance is available from CNSC for conducting your technical studies.
All applications for new nuclear facilities and some amendments to existing licences require you to undertake an EA and technical studies. After your technical studies are completed, you will submit an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to CNSC, who will assess your EIS and prepare an EA Report. For major new facilities, the assessment of an applicant’s EIS, referred to as an EA technical assessment, could be guided by an Assessment Plan and EIS-related Staff Review Procedures. The EA report contains recommendations for an EA decision, including all appropriate mitigation measures and the requirements of a follow-up program. Pursuant to the CEAA, the Responsible Authority (the Commission or a delegated officer) must make its EA decision before any licensing action can be considered for your project.
For major projects such as new nuclear power plants, it is possible that the EA be referred to a review panel. In that case, the final EA decision will be made by the Governor in Council.
Only one EA will be required for your project, even if that project requires separate licences for different phases (i.e. licence to prepare site, licence to construct, etc.). However, additional EAs may be required if your project changes over time.
During this stage, CNSC undertakes a variety of technical assessments according to a prescribed Assessment Plan and licensing-related Staff Review Procedures to ensure that each application complies with its corresponding regulatory requirements. This is a rigorous process - the scope and duration of each assessment will vary depending on the type of licence or certification requested. Peer reviews are sometimes used, when additional rigour is required.
The Licensing Technical Assessment considers all regulatory criteria as defined by the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, relevant regulations, CNSC requirements and expectations, international and domestic standards, and applicable international obligations.
At the end of this process, CNSC staff will make a recommendation for a decision on the licence application, through an integrated assessment report. Occasionally, the recommendations include proposed changes to the regulatory framework to accommodate evolving nuclear technologies. A recommended compliance plan for each licence is also developed, and the mitigation measures included in the follow-up program, if applicable, are included in the licence.
This is the final step in the licensing process, during which all CNSC staff recommendations related to an application for a licence, certificate or approval, are reviewed and decided upon by either the Commission or a CNSC Designated Officer.
When the decision is to be made by the Commission, public hearings may be held to take into account the views, concerns and opinions of interested parties and intervenors. This is an important part of the process of establishing regulatory policy, making licensing decisions and implementing programs. Learn more about the Commission.
Whether it is made by the Commission or CNSC Designated Officer, the decision will take the form of a licence or certificate being granted, or a letter of refusal.