Supplementary Information Tables for the 2021–22 Departmental Plan: Corporate Information

Raison d’être

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

Operating context

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.

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has required the CNSC to be more flexible and agile than ever. The organization reviewed existing regulatory and operational processes embedded in its integrated management system, and concluded that these were adequate to address the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it was also noted that there was a need to find innovative ways to operate under a new normal, with staff working remotely. The CNSC required new approaches to communications and engagement, both internally with employees and externally with the industry, civil society, Indigenous groups, academia and international partners.

Key areas of focus for the CNSC

1. Requests from licensees regarding “regulatory flexibility” in special circumstances:

The CNSC immediately recognized that it may be reasonable to allow licensees some flexibility / temporary relief with respect to certain regulatory requirements, in light of the pandemic. Areas of focus / requested relief included: shift complement (primarily nuclear power plant- related); personnel certification (primarily nuclear power plant-related); reporting requirements; and cost recovery implementation. The CNSC has been able to apply existing decision-making processes, documented in its internal management system, to respond to these requests for regulatory flexibility.

In many cases, the requested adjustment/flexibility that licensees have been bringing to the CNSC’s attention would not result in a breach of licence conditions or other regulatory requirements; in such cases, CNSC staff can determine that providing flexibility would not compromise safety. CNSC staff can then make recommendations on appropriate safety considerations and mitigation measures to maintain adequate safety, if certain relief is provided.

2. Modernization of inspections / regulatory oversight

The CNSC is committed to maintaining its regulatory oversight in innovative ways while making no compromise on safety. This time of crisis has required adjustments to how the CNSC maintains oversight to ensure the health and safety of parties involved. The organization is also developing innovative ways of achieving its goals; for example, remote inspections, which have proven very successful and cost-effective.

In a post-COVID-19 reality, the CNSC intends to continue remote inspections. It also plans to work with international partners to identify and share lessons learned in order to make inspections more efficient.

3. Engagement of external stakeholders

Increasing transparency and strengthening public trust is a top priority for the CNSC. The CNSC is committed to continuing to provide opportunities for the public and indigenous communities to participate fully in proceedings and activities. Because this pandemic has severely limited face-to-face meetings, the CNSC is using several approaches to conduct engagement and hearing processes differently.
Some of these approaches include:

  • virtual Commission proceedings
  • new online public consultation platforms – the CNSC is deploying new virtual tools to help with consultations, including a pilot of a platform called “Bang the Table”
  • Indigenous consultations and engagement – given Canada’s special obligations towards Indigenous peoples in Canada, the CNSC is developing new strategies to determine the best way forward in terms of keeping this population engaged and involved

The CNSC is also using its network of regulatory partners, both domestically and internationally, to review best practices for stakeholder engagement during the pandemic.

4. Safety culture, including leadership and mental health

The promotion of a strong safety culture among licensees and regulatory bodies is now more important than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the nuclear workforce around the world. The introduction of forced changes in work practices creates challenges in decision making and in maintaining organizational resilience. Mental health is now at the forefront, and leaders need to recognize that the abnormal situation and that the pace of change with respect to normal practices can cause large amounts of worker stress. Leaders need to continually prioritize and value safety and security over all other competing interests during the pandemic and beyond. Strong leadership is essential to continuing to maintain safe and secure nuclear facilities and activities during these unprecedented circumstances.

The CNSC is sustaining its focus on safety culture, as a strong safety culture is important at all times, and even more so during a health crisis. The current COVID-19 pandemic is testing the strength of organizational safety cultures and the CNSC is paying close attention to this. Internally, its management team is holding special COVID-19 executive meetings (initially daily, and now twice a week) and is also conducting all-staff town hall meetings on a monthly basis.

Canada has a well-established nuclear industry with a significant focus on safety culture. The CNSC continues to conduct its regulatory oversight with licensees to ensure that a strong safety culture continues guiding their operations. In keeping with this emphasis on safety culture, and in light of the ongoing pandemic and associated health and safety measures, the CNSC and the NEA have decided to postpone the Country-Specific Safety Culture Forum - Canada from October 2020 to fall 2021.

5. Innovation

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new technologies around the globe, and the world is unlikely to return to the pre-COVID-19 way of doing things. Organizations will need to be resilient and agile, and adapt quickly to the “new normal” in order to be successful. Enhanced global cooperation will be essential to learning from others and to sharing experiences.

The successful adoption of new digital tools to support a new way of working is also paramount; this includes the development of remote access strategies to strengthen IT infrastructure, in order to provide people with access to systems remotely and securely. There is a need for new and innovative ways for teams to collaborate digitally. Regulators need to be mindful of this digital innovation agenda while continuing to meet their safety mandates.

The CNSC, along with all regulators worldwide, should focus on areas that include:

  • greater use of remote monitoring equipment (cameras) in conducting compliance verification/inspection activities
  • augmented use of data analytics to analyze available data more systematically
  • increased regulatory flexibility through the application of performance-based / risk-informed requirements, as opposed to rigid rule-based approaches, which may not consider alternative ways of assuring safety

The CNSC is also focusing on innovation in communications and engagement, as outlined above, to maintain and strengthen public trust.

6. International collaboration

The CNSC strongly believes in the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange with other regulators, which in turn contribute to strengthened global nuclear safety. In its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CNSC immediately enhanced communications with key bilateral counterparts, especially the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation, and with multilateral fora including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), NEA and the International Nuclear Regulators’ Association. The CNSC also formally called on international bodies, including the IAEA’s Commission on Safety Standards and the next Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety, to share lessons learned and to cooperate closely in order to ensure alignment and to avoid duplication of effort.

7. CNSC “Way Forward Framework”

The CNSC is actively developing a Way Forward Framework, which aims to update key planning frameworks (risk assessment and COVID-19 dashboards) and to prepare the CNSC for a gradual return to the workplace. Highlights from Way Forward Framework include:

  • COVID-19 dashboard, to provide management with a snapshot of key indicators and trends to help quickly determine whether actions are influencing performance; dashboard style display of important internal and external information, which may provide a leading indication of the need to take action; examples of indicators include well-being of employees, connectivity and revenue and spending trends
  • COVID-19-specific updated enterprise risk profile, to enable management to plan for and identify resources needed to mitigate potential risks; an evergreen document that provides a focused look at risks specific to the current COVID-19 situation; identifies mitigating actions and resources required as well as senior management decisions on their treatment (mitigate/accept/transfer)

The CNSC’s “return to workplace” strategy is under active development and is taking into account best practices and evolving health guidance. The strategy’s principles include:

  • top prioritization of CNSC employee health and safety
  • working from home as a default position – employees who can work from home will continue to do so
  • an approach informed by the direction of the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada, and guided by the central agencies of the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and Treasury Board Secretariat – as the CNSC is a federal employer
  • a focus on consideration of best practices from industry and government
  • a commitment to a gradual, phased and measured approach
  • consideration of individual employee needs and circumstances
  • the requirement for sick employees, and for those who present any symptoms of illness, to stay home
  • consistent application of the plan, with recognition of the unique considerations of each building, region and site
  • differentiation of CNSC employees returning to the office setting vs. CNSC inspectors resuming inspections at licensee workplaces
  • development in consultation with CNSC employees and their union
  • recognition that engagement with managers and employees is essential, as is preparing the physical space

To ensure that it emerges stronger from the pandemic crisis and learns from the situation, the CNSC is:

  • developing a strategy to implement ”new normal” regulatory oversight in a thoughtful and considerate way so as to ensure employee safety and fulfilment of nuclear safety mandate
  • drawing lessons learned from the pandemic response, including sharing experiences with national and international stakeholders
  • identifying and promptly integrating new and effective licensee oversight procedures in CNSC operations, and review existing ones as appropriate
  • developing innovative methods and processes for engaging safely and proactively with the public and conducting Indigenous consultations
  • holding Commission proceedings remotely while ensuring that processes remain fair, safe, transparent, and accessible
  • building capacity and putting in place infrastructure, processes and culture that will improve efficiency and make the CNSC, as Canada’s regulatory body, stronger in the long term

Key risks

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 faces four key risks:

  • Nuclear reactor accident
  • Nuclear fuel processing facility accident/event
  • Malevolent activities
  • Loss or theft of nuclear substances, and transportation accidents involving nuclear substances

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. The CNSC has also continued its significant efforts into regulatory documents – such as those for operators’ fitness for duty and safety culture – to mitigate this risk.

Nuclear fuel processing 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 2019–20, the CNSC began developing regulatory documents on controlling environmental releases.

Malevolent activities

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.

To mitigate these risks, the CNSC is making significant strides in the area of nuclear forensics, working with federal partners to develop a strategy to formalize nuclear forensics operations within the Government of Canada. Nuclear forensics is the scientific analysis of nuclear or other radioactive materials, or evidence contaminated with radioactive materials, and contributes to the broader investigation of a nuclear security event.

In addition, the CNSC is implementing recommendations and suggestions stemming from the IAEA’s 2015 International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission to Canada. The IPPAS assists IAEA member states, upon request, in strengthening their national nuclear security regimes, systems and measures.

Lost or stolen nuclear substances and transportation accidents

The CNSC regulates close to 1 million shipments of radioactive material in Canada every year. Several industrial and commercial applications involve the use of portable radiation devices. Medical isotopes are increasingly being produced by cyclotrons and being imported from overseas. As the use and transport of nuclear substances increases, there may be an increase in their loss or appropriation, and increased potential for transport events, resulting in an incident and/or risks to public safety. 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. Licensees are also required to have a transport security plan as well as an emergency response assistance plan.

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