April 12, 2021
Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says it’s the “World’s best nuclear regulator” on its website. That “self-image” of the CNSC’s is inconsistent with statements made in recent years by international peer reviewers, high-ranking Canadian officials, international nuclear proponents and others.
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reviewed Canada’s nuclear safety framework. It identified numerous serious deficiencies including: not following IAEA guidance on nuclear reactor decommissioning, failure to justify practices involving radiation sources, inadequate management systems for transporting nuclear materials and allowing pregnant nuclear workers four times higher radiation exposures than IAEA would permit.
In testimony before the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in November 2016, Canada’s Environment Commissioner said:
“the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission… was quite difficult to work with… I would say that the commission was aggressive with the auditors.”
In April 2017, the Expert Panel on reform of environmental assessment, in its final report noted that it had heard many concerns about lack of independence at the CNSC:
“There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities (CNSC and NEB) promote the projects they are tasked with regulating…The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities.”
Counter to Expert Panel recommendations, the CNSC is the agency responsible for making environmental assessment and licensing decisions for three controversial radioactive waste disposal projects on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers.
The nuclear industry publication, Nuclear Energy Insider, recently touted Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” as a reason for SMR developers to come to Canada to experiment with and promote “small”, “modular”, nuclear reactors.
A Globe and Mail article in November 2018, revealed that CNSC officials had engaged in backroom lobbying to exempt small modular nuclear reactors from environmental assessment.
A June 2020 briefing session for MPs and media,“Sham regulation of radioactive waste in Canada,” by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and other NGOs, outlined several ways in which the CNSC was creating “pseudo regulations” to benefit the nuclear industry and allow cheap and ineffective nuclear waste facilities to receive approval and licensing.
A recent petition to the Auditor General from our respective public interest citizens’ groups and Quebec colleagues, entitled “Nuclear governance problems in Canada,” noted that the CNSC has a mandate to protect health but lacks a health department. A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it.
We believe the CNSC is in need of serious reform if Canadians want it to become a world-class nuclear regulator that prioritizes the health of Canadians and the environment over the health of the nuclear industry. The Government of Canada should address regulatory capture and other serious problems at the CNSC as soon as possible.
Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area
Anne Lindsey, OM, MA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba
The images below are screen shots from the CNSC website, on April 13, 2021, illustrating that the word “health” does not appear on the organizational chart, despite the fact that CNSC’s primary legal mandate is to protect the health of Canadians from the adverse effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.