The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) was established on May 31, 2000 with the coming into force of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act (NSCA). It replaced the Atomic Energy Control Board established in 1946 by the Atomic Energy Control Act.
The CNSC is a departmental corporation listed in Schedule II of the Financial Administration Act, and reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources.
Mandate and role
The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials to protect health, safety, security of persons and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.
Under the NSCA, the CNSC:
- Regulates the development, production and use of nuclear energy in Canada to protect health, safety and the environment.
- Regulates the production, possession, use and transport of nuclear substances, and the production, possession and use of prescribed equipment and prescribed information.
- Implements measures respecting international control of the development, production, transport and use of nuclear energy and substances, including measures respecting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices.
- Is responsible for disseminating objective scientific, technical and regulatory information concerning the CNSC’s activities, and about how the development, production, possession, transport and use of nuclear substances affect the environment and the health and safety of persons.
To deliver on its mandate effectively, the CNSC continuously monitors the external environment to ensure that it is ready to adapt to changes that may impact its priorities. The CNSC carries out its mandate against a backdrop characterized by changes in the nuclear industry, growing interest in how the Canadian nuclear industry manages radioactive waste, evolving expectations for public and Indigenous consultation and engagement, and technological innovations that may affect nuclear operations.
Nuclear energy accounts for 15% of electricity generation in Canada. In Ontario, nuclear energy supplies approximately 60% of electricity; in New Brunswick, it supplies almost 40%. The Government of Canada has reaffirmed the role of nuclear energy as part of Canada’s clean energy mix and low-carbon future. This includes national efforts such as the Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap (SMR Roadmap) and international initiatives such as Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future. Much of the nuclear energy industry’s focus has been on the refurbishment projects at the Darlington and Bruce nuclear generating stations, but the CNSC is also working on projects such as licence applications for SMRs and new uranium mines and mills. The CNSC is committed to the safety of all of these projects through robust regulatory oversight.
Canada’s nuclear sector generates various forms of radioactive waste each year. This waste includes used nuclear fuel, which is considered high-level waste, along with low- and intermediate-level waste. The management, storage and transportation of all radioactive waste continue to be issues of interest to some Indigenous communities, the public and other stakeholders. To ensure the safe management of radioactive waste in Canada, the CNSC has a robust regulatory regime that includes strong oversight and enforcement of compliance with regulatory requirements.
There are also social changes impacting the CNSC’s regulation. In an era of increasing public expectations for citizen engagement, coupled with proactive government efforts towards greater openness and transparency, it is essential to provide as much information as possible to people with an interest in nuclear regulation. It is equally important to make that information easily available and accessible across a variety of formats. Addressing these concerns is central to the CNSC’s core responsibility of nuclear regulation, in ensuring that Canadians – including Indigenous peoples – have meaningful information about, and the opportunity to participate in, the nuclear regulatory process.
Finally, technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. A growing gap can be observed between this rate of advancement and the pace at which government adopts policies and regulations. In the context of the CNSC, regulation will need to account for any number of industry-neutral disruptive, innovative and emerging technologies that may impact regular operations in the nuclear industry in the coming years. In addition, nuclear-specific innovations, such as SMRs or new medical therapies, need to be considered and analyzed within the context of the CNSC’s regulatory framework.
Risk management is a fundamental part of the CNSC’s mission to protect health, safety, security and the environment; to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public. The CNSC has identified the following six business risks:
- Nuclear reactor accident
- Malevolent activities
- Loss or stolen nuclear substances
- Transportation accidents
- Nuclear fuel cycle facility accident/event
- Readiness for new technologies
Nuclear reactor accident
Nuclear power plants apply a defence-in-depth approach that anticipates and mitigates many potential challenges caused by both internal and external events. Nevertheless, an event could still lead to an accident at a nuclear reactor – although the possibility is very unlikely. Much of the CNSC’s compliance verification effort is to avoid such a scenario. To further mitigate the risk of an accident, many of the CNSC’s research projects emphasize preparation for both long-term and post-refurbishment operation of nuclear power plants.
Nuclear facilities in Canada face the same security threats that terrorist groups pose to other infrastructure and other states, especially given the strategic importance of the energy sector. Canadian nuclear facilities may be the target of malevolent activities, including cyber-security events. There is also a risk of Canadian nuclear materials, equipment and technology, including prescribed information, being stolen or diverted and used for non-peaceful or malevolent purposes.
The CNSC is responsible for enforcing Canada’s Nuclear Security Regulations and works closely with nuclear operators, law enforcement and intelligence agencies, international organizations and other government departments to ensure that nuclear materials and facilities are adequately protected. Licensees adhere to stringent nuclear security requirements set forth by the CNSC and have programs in place to prevent the theft, loss or illicit use of nuclear substances. Further, the CNSC is consulting with stakeholders to modernize its nuclear security regulatory framework.
Lost or stolen nuclear substances
As the use of nuclear substances increases, or if licensees suspend operations due to financial hardship, there is a higher risk of these substances being inadequately secured and consequently lost. In addition, there is the risk associated with the malicious intent of threat actors whereby nuclear substances are stolen. The risk exposure of lost or stolen nuclear substances is with respect to those substances that could have a radiological impact on the public, workers or environment.
One way that the CNSC mitigates this risk is through the implementation of regulatory document REGDOC-2.12.3, Security of Nuclear Substances: Sealed Sources. This document sets out the minimum security measures that licensees must implement to prevent the loss, sabotage, illegal use, illegal possession, or illegal removal of sealed sources during their entire lifecycle, including while they are in storage, in transport or being stored during transportation.
As the use and transportation of nuclear substances increases, so does the possibility of a transportation accident resulting in potential risks to public safety. The CNSC regulates close to 1 million shipments of radioactive material in Canada every year. The responsibility for ensuring regulatory oversight of the safe transport of nuclear substances is shared between the CNSC and Transport Canada. Licensees are required to have a transport security plan as well as an emergency response assistance plan. The CNSC further mitigates this risk is through the implementation of:
- guidance including:
- REGDOC-2.14.1, Volume I: Information Incorporated by Reference in Canada’s Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulations, 2015
- REGDOC-2.14.1, Volume II: Radiation Protection Program Design for the Transport of Nuclear Substances
- RD-364, Joint Canada-United States Guide for Approval of Type B(U) and Fissile Material Transportation Packages
- licensee tools, resources and support promoted on its website, including a fact sheet on regulating the packaging and transport of nuclear substances in Canada
Nuclear fuel cycle facility accident/event
The CNSC anticipates and mitigates many potential challenges caused by both internal and external events at nuclear fuel processing facilities. In spite of this effort, there remains a possibility, however unlikely, of an accident or event that could lead to inadvertent releases of radiological, industrial or chemical hazards. In 2020–21, the CNSC published its 2.11 series of regulatory documents, which includes information on waste management and decommissioning. In addition, the CNSC regularly evaluates and updates current mechanisms of engagement with other environmental federal and provincial agencies.
Readiness for new technology
The CNSC’s capacity, capability and regulatory framework must be flexible enough to keep pace with new and/or disruptive technologies as they apply to the nuclear sector in Canada, in order to ensure safety and security and to avoid impeding innovation. Among many activities underway to ensure that it can mitigate the risk of being unable to regulate new and or disruptive technologies, the CNSC has developed a strategy for readiness to regulate advanced reactor technologies and REGDOC-1.1.5, Supplemental Information for Small Modular Reactor Proponents. Consultations with domestic regulatory partners – along with international cooperation with regulatory partners in the U.S. and UK, in areas including R&D intelligence – ensure the sharing of training resources and expertise.
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