New reactor facility projects: FAQ
Q1. What is the role of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) in activities involving new reactor facilities?
A1. The CNSC regulates all nuclear facilities and activities in Canada – including nuclear reactor facilities (such as small modular reactors), medical facilities, and various other uses of nuclear technology.
The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security and the environment, and implements Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Read more about new reactor facilities.
A2. Yes. Under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA), the CNSC has a legislated mandate to regulate the use of nuclear energy and materials in order to protect health, safety, security and the environment. To meet this responsibility, the CNSC considers and evaluates the potential environmental effects of all nuclear facilities or activities when making licensing decisions.
In accordance with the CNSC’s current regulatory framework, new reactor facilities would be subject to environmental protection provisions under the NSCA, as well as all other applicable federal, provincial and/or territorial legislation such as the Impact Assessment Act, the former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and northern environmental assessment regimes. This means that a science-based environmental technical assessment is performed on every project under the NSCA, including new reactor facilities.
- Environmental reviews
- REGDOC-2.9.1, Environmental Protection: Environmental Principles, Assessments and Protection Measures, version 1.1
- REGDOC-1.1.1, Site Evaluation and Site Preparation for New Reactor Facilities
A3. The applicant proposes the location of a new reactor facility and must demonstrate the location’s acceptability in the licence application.
A4. As part of the regulatory review process, the CNSC evaluates the licence application and determines whether a site is suitable. An applicant must demonstrate the location’s suitability in the licence application.
Criteria for assessing site suitability can be found in REGDOC-1.1.1, Site Evaluation and Site Preparation for New Reactor Facilities, and, REGDOC-2.9.1 Environmental Protection: Environmental Principles, Assessments and Protection Measures, version 1.1.
A5. The length of time required for the licensing process of a new reactor facility varies. It can be affected by a number of factors, such as:
- the environmental review process, which depends on the jurisdictions involved and the amount of time required by the applicant to prepare the necessary documentation
- whether the information provided with the application is comprehensive and complete so the review of the application can be carried out in an efficient and timely manner
- the time required for the applicant to complete its activities at each licensing stage (prepare the site, construct and commission the nuclear facility, and train and certify facility personnel)
- outstanding safety issues at each licensing stage, which will require resolution before CNSC staff can make their recommendations to the Commission for the next stage
- state of completeness of reactor design
- novel reactor technology features or approaches to deployment proposed by an applicant
- state of completion of research and development to support the safety case
In addition, the regulatory review process includes measures to allow Indigenous peoples, members of the public and stakeholders to participate in the regulatory review of a licence application
The applicant must also take into consideration the time required for the two-part public hearing process, which is approximately four months, and the Commission decision-making process, which is up to 90 days following a hearing.
For more information on licensing timelines for Class IA nuclear facilities, consult REGDOC-3.5.1, Licensing Process for Class I Nuclear Facilities and Uranium Mines and Mills, version 2.
A6. The Commission is an independent administrative tribunal set up at arm’s length from government, with no ties to the nuclear industry. It makes its decisions transparently, guided by clear rules of procedure.
Commission decisions take the following into consideration:
- CNSC staff analyses and recommendations, based on their assessment of both licensee and stakeholder submissions to the Commission
- CNSC staff consultations with other federal and provincial agencies when conducting assessments, such as environmental reviews
- best available information, arising from regulatory research or third-party credible research
- input from Indigenous peoples, members of the public and stakeholders through the formal hearing process
Indigenous consultation is an important aspect of the CNSC’s environmental review and licensing processes. The CNSC ensures that Indigenous groups have meaningful opportunities to participate in all aspects of environmental review and licensing processes, in order to meet the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate.
Q7. What is the regulatory licensing process for a new reactor facility added to an existing nuclear site?
A7. The licensing process for an additional reactor facility on an existing nuclear site would be subject to the NSCA as well as all other applicable federal, provincial and/or territorial legislation. Although existing information and measures could be referenced, the same process that is required for any new reactor facility would apply to an additional reactor facility on an existing site.
Q8. What is the invitation process used by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories to site a small modular reactor (SMR) at one of its managed sites?
A8. In 2018, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) invited SMR project proponents who wished to participate in the invitation and evaluation process for the construction and operation of an SMR demonstration project at a CNL-managed site.
It is important to note that CNL’s invitation and evaluation stages are entirely independent of the CNSC’s licensing process.
More information on CNL’s invitation for SMR demonstration projects can be found on the CNL website.
A9. The roadmap – A Call to Action: A Canadian Roadmap for Small Modular Reactors – was released in November 2018 by Natural Resources Canada. It identified and analyzed key issues culminating in a vision statement for SMR deployment in Canada.
The CNSC limited its participation in the Roadmap initiative to maintain a strong degree of regulatory independence from industry sector discussions. CNSC staff observed the discussions and clarified regulatory topics and issues, such as the conduct of the licensing process and use of the regulatory framework for potential projects referencing new reactor technologies.
For more information, consult the Canadian Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Roadmap.
A10. A proponent is the person, body, federal authority or government that proposes the carrying out of a designated project. The proponent is responsible for the preparation of technical studies and findings for the conduct of an impact assessment or environmental review.
A vendor is the supplier of a reactor technology.
An applicant is an organization or person that has applied to the CNSC for a licence or certificate. As an example, an applicant for a licence to construct a nuclear facility has the overall responsibility and controlling and coordinating authority for overseeing the safe and satisfactory completion of all design, procurement, manufacturing, construction and commissioning work.
A licensee is a person who is licensed to carry on an activity described in paragraph 26(e) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
A11. A pre-licensing vendor design review (VDR) is an optional service provided by the CNSC at the request of a vendor. It is a review of a vendor’s reactor facility design that identifies potential regulatory or technical issues that could arise in the licensing process. The VDR is intended to help a vendor understand regulatory requirements while completing the design, and usually takes place before a proponent submits a licence to construct application.
A VDR is not part of licensing nor does it involve any decision-making by the Commission. Furthermore it does not result in any decisions that could fetter the Commission’s decision-making concerning a potential project. A VDR does not necessarily involve a potential applicant for a project and is independent of site location.
For more information and a list of ongoing VDRs, visit the pre-licensing vendor design review web page.
Q12. Does the licensing process for an SMR differ from the licensing process for traditional nuclear reactors in Canada?
A12. Regardless of their size or technology, all reactor facilities in Canada are licensed using the same licensing process. The CNSC’s regulatory framework is comprehensive and technology-neutral, which means that it allows all types of technologies to be safely regulated.
All reactor facilities, including SMRs, are classified as Class IA nuclear facilities under the Class I Nuclear Facilities Regulations. Regulatory expectations can be found on the CNSC regulatory documents Web page.
For more details, see REGDOC-3.5.1, Licensing Process for Class I Nuclear Facilities and Uranium Mines and Mills.
A13. When regulating non-traditional reactor facilities, the CNSC would apply the same criteria used to regulate traditional reactor facilities, via a risk-informed approach (also called “graded approach”). For more information on the graded approach, see REGDOC 3.5.3, Regulatory Fundamentals.
The CNSC has posted the Stakeholder Workshop Report: Application of the Graded Approach in Regulating Small Modular Reactors. This report summarizes a workshop held with stakeholders and provides specific examples of how the CNSC would apply the graded approach to the regulation of SMRs
Q14. What role do industry codes and standards (such as CSA Group standards) play in the licensing of new reactor facilities?
A14. Industry codes and standards such as CSA Group standards complement CNSC regulatory documents.
An applicant is responsible for demonstrating that the safety and control measures for a project provide adequate protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons, the maintenance of national security and measures required to implement Canada’s international obligations. Industry codes and standards (such as those produced by CSA Group) as well as international standards, can be used to accomplish this, with support from research and development activities that address gaps in knowledge and technologies.
An applicant may also propose to use codes and standards from other countries as long as it can be demonstrated that these referenced codes and standards provide an equivalent or higher level of safety.
Q15. Are there opportunities for public engagement during the licensing process for a new reactor facility?
A15. The CNSC operates with a high level of transparency and is committed to engaging Indigenous peoples, members of the public and stakeholders through a variety of consultation processes, effective information-sharing, a participant funding program and communications.
This commitment includes engaging during the early stages of a project and throughout the regulatory review process.
Licence applications for new reactor facilities are considered by the Commission at a public hearing that is webcast. These proceedings invite the participation of Indigenous peoples, members of the public and stakeholders to appear and/or be heard before the Commission either by written submissions and/or oral presentations.
The CNSC also supports participation in its regulatory process through its Participant Funding Program. Funding opportunities may be provided for activities such as review of CNSC technical documents, reports, CNSC staff Commission member documents, or participation at Commission hearings.
Members of the public can also have their questions answered by contacting the CNSC’s info email account, or by attending CNSC outreach sessions such as Meet the Nuclear Regulator that are held in person and via webinars. The CNSC also hosts booths at events in local communities when the opportunity arises.
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