Environmental Petition: Reporting relationship of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Petition Summary on the website of the Auditor General of Canada: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_443_e_43602.html

May 12, 2020 

Office of the Auditor General of Canada 

Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Attention: Petitions 

240 Sparks Street 

Ottawa, ON K1A 0G6 

Via e-mail: petitions@oag-bvg.gc.ca 

Reporting Relationship of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission This petition is being submitted to the Office of the Auditor General of Cana da in accordance with section 22 of the Auditor General Act by Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and the Canadian Environmental Law Association. 

Background 

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is the federal nuclear regulatory body in Canada. The CNSC currently reports to Parliament through the Min ister of Natural Resources, and its President reports directly to the same Min ister. Having the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) report to Par liament through the Minister of Natural Resources — the Minister charged with producing (and promoting) nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act — is not consistent with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidance on “independence”, and places the Minister in an actual or perceived conflict of interest position. 

The reporting relationship of the CNSC to the Minister of Natural Resources may have adverse effects on several aspects of sustainable development. It may lead to prioritization of nuclear industry needs over protection of the health of Canadians, the needs of future generations, the respect for nature, the protection of ecosystems, and the prevention of pollution. To better meet the needs of current and future generations of Canadians and protect the ecosys tems on which we depend, the reporting relationship could be changed and the actual or perceived conflict of interest avoided. 

The IAEA requires the nuclear regulatory body to be independent from other government agencies that promote nuclear technologies  The IAEA’s General Safety Requirements, Part 1 state that:

2.8. To be effectively independent from undue influences on its deci sion making, the regulatory body… (d) Shall be free from any pressures associated with political circumstances or economic conditions, or pres sures from government departments, authorized parties or other organi zations;1 

The IAEA’s General Safety Guide GSG-12 says: 

2.3 …the credibility of the regulatory body with the general public de pends on whether the regulatory body is regarded as being independent from the organizations it regulates, as well as independent from other 

government agencies or industry groups that promote nuclear technologies.2(emphasis added) 

However, the IAEA notes that the regulatory body’s “independence” is not ab solute: 

2.4. It is recognized that a regulatory body functions within the national legal and budgetary framework of the State, and therefore cannot be ab solutely independent in all respects of other parts of government. Nev ertheless, effective independence of the regulatory body to make deci sions in respect of radiation protection of people and the environment, without external pressures or influence, will contribute to its effective ness and credibility.3 

Currently in Canada, the CNSC’s President reports to the Minister of Natural Resources 

The Nuclear Safety and Control Act says 

12(4) …the President shall make such reports to the Minister as the Min ister may require concerning the general administration and manage ment of the affairs of the Commission… 

1Governmental, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Safety. General Safety Requirements No. GSR Part 1 (Rev. 1). International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna, 2016. p. 7. 

2Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety. IAEA General Safety Guide No. GSG-12. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 2018. p. 4. 

3Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety. IAEA General Safety Guide No. GSG-12. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 2018. p. 6.

The Commission also reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources. The Nuclear Safety and Control Act says: 

Annual report 

72 The Commission shall, within four months after the end of each fis cal year, submit to the Minister a report of the activities of the Commis sion under this Act for that fiscal year, and the Minister shall cause the report to be laid before each House of Parliament on any of the first fif teen days on which that House is sitting after receiving it. 

The CNSC’s funding requests to Parliament are also channeled through the Minister of Natural Resources. The section on the CNSC in the 2019-20 Main Estimates states that “The Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for this organization.”4 However, the IAEA General Safety Guide GSG-12 says: 

2.14. An open and transparent system of governance and auditing of the regulatory body’s funding should be put in place. Review and approval of the regulatory body’s budget should be performed only by govern mental agencies that are effectively neutral in respect of the develop ment, promotion or operation of facilities and conduct of activities. Such an approach provides additional assurance of the independence of the regulatory body.5 

The Minister of Natural Resources is not neutral in respect of promotion of nuclear technologies 

Far from being neutral in respect of nuclear activities, the Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for producing and promoting nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act

The Powers of Minister under the Nuclear Energy Act are: 

10 (1) The Minister may 

(a) undertake or cause to be undertaken research and investigations with respect to nuclear energy; 

(b) with the approval of the Governor in Council, utilize, cause to be   

42019-20 Main Estimates, p. II-38. 

5Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety. IAEA General Safety Guide No. GSG-12. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 2018. p. 8.

utilized and prepare for the utilization of nuclear energy; 

(c) with the approval of the Governor in Council, lease or, by purchase, requisition or expropriation, acquire or cause to be acquired nuclear substances and any mines, deposits or claims of nuclear substances and patent rights or certificates of supplementary protection issued under the Patent Act relating to nuclear energy and any works or property for production or preparation for production of, or for research or investiga tions with respect to, nuclear energy 

The Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for Atomic Energy of Cana da Limited (AECL), a federal crown corporation with a mandate to enable nu clear science and technology and to transfer nuclear technology for the benefit of private industry. He also appoints AECL’s Board of Directors.6  

In recent years, the Minister of Natural Resources has been Canada’s promoter of new nuclear technologies such as “small modular reactors” (SMRs). This role is illustrated in an excerpt from a keynote address given by the Minister to the Canadian Nuclear Energy Association on February 27, 2020: 

We are placing nuclear energy front and centre. Something that had never been done before. 

The United Kingdom was so impressed by our approach that it plans, and I’m quoting, “to echo and amplify” that nuclear message when it hosts COP 26 later this year, in Glasgow. 

Of course, nowhere is the potential of nuclear greater than with respect to small modular reactors. To generate electricity. And power resource extraction in distant places. To Desalinate water. And replace coal. And to offer a clean, alternative source of light and heat in rural and remote communities. 

Canada is perfectly positioned to be among the leaders in SMRs. 

In 2018, Canada hosted its first-ever international conference on Small Modular Reactors, where we launched the S-M-R Roadmap. A 

6Organization Profile – Atomic Energy of Canada Limited 

(https://appointments.gc.ca/prflOrg.asp?OrgID=AECL&lang=eng&wbdisable=true)

roadmap that outlines over 50 actions that governments, industry and stakeholders can take to position Canada as the world leader in the next wave of nuclear innovation. 

The Minister’s role as promoter of nuclear energy under the Nuclear Energy Act could create pressure on the CNSC to also promote these new technolo gies. Both the CNSC and Natural Resources Canada participated actively in 

workshops leading to release of the SMR Roadmap. The CNSC is mentioned in four of its recommendations (e.g., “The CNSC should revise the Nuclear Security Regulations… to remove prescriptive requirements.”)7 The CNSC lobbied for exemption of SMRs from provisions of the Impact Assessment Act (as reported by the Globe and Mail on November 6, 2018 “Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review.”)8 

The Minister in charge of development and promotion of nuclear energy over sees the regulatory body whose purpose is to protect Canadians and the envi ronment. This creates the perception of a conflict of interest that could com promise the independence of the regulatory body. 

This perceived conflict of interest could be avoided by changing the Min ister to which CNSC reports 

A remedy for this situation would be for the President of the CNSC to report to a Minister other than the Minister of Natural Resources, as provided for by the Nuclear Safety and Control Act

Definitions 

2 The definitions in this section apply in this Act… 

Minister means the Minister of Natural Resources or such member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada as the Governor in Council may designate as the Minister for the purposes of this Act. 

A Governor in Council decision to designate the Minister of Environment and Climate Change as the Minister for the purposes of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act would be fully consistent with its purpose: 

7A Call to Action: A Canadian Roadmap for Small Modular Reactors. Canadian Small Modular Reactor Roadmap Steering Committee, 2018. 

8The Globe and Mail November 6, 2018 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-federal nuclear-regulator-urges-liberals-to-exempt-smaller-reactors/

Purpose 

3 The purpose of this Act is to provide for (a) the limitation, to a rea sonable level and in a manner that is consistent with Canada’s interna tional obligations, of the risks to national security, the health and safety of persons and the environment that are associated with the develop ment, production and use of nuclear energy… 

Such a designation of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change would give greater weight to limiting the risks of nuclear energy to the health and safety of Canadians and their environment. The CNSC would thereby report to a body that has relevant technical expertise but is neutral in respect of the development of nuclear energy. Lack of independence and neutrality is a ma jor public concern with regard to the activities of the CNSC and the decisions made by its Commission.  

Questions 

For question 1, we seek a response from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, based on his responsibility to oversee Canada’s role as a member state of the IAEA.  For question 2, we seek an interpretation of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act from the Minister of Justice. For question 3, we seek a response from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. For question 4, we seek re sponses from the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board, based on their roles to review government spending and to strengthen the oversight of the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. For questions 5 and 6, we seek responses from the Ministers of Natural Resources, and Environment and Climate Change. 

1) What are Canada’s responsibilities to promote and uphold international law with regard to the safety requirements and safety guidance developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency? 

2) Can you confirm that a Governor in Council decision can designate the Minister of Environment and Climate Change as the Minister “for the purpos es of” the Nuclear Safety and Control Act? How would a decision be taken to change the reporting relationship of the CNSC? Which body would make the decision and who would contribute to it?

3) One of the objects of the CNSC is to “prevent unreasonable risk, to the en vironment”. Does this constitute an argument for having the CNSC report to Environment and Climate Change Canada? 

4) Noting Natural Resources Canada’s mandate to develop and promote nu clear energy, and given the IAEA recommendation that review and approval of the regulatory body’s budget should be performed only by governmental agencies that are effectively neutral with regard to development and promo 

tion of nuclear energy, what mechanisms exist for review and approval of the CNSC’s budget by neutral government agencies? 

5) Do you agree that an actual or perceived conflict of interest is created by the Minister of Natural Resources being responsible for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and for promotion of nuclear energy under the Nuclear Ener gy Act, while also being responsible for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Com mission?  

6) Please note what you consider to be the advantages and disadvantages of changing the reporting relationship for the CNSC to a department other than Natural Resources Canada. If you were going to change the reporting rela tionship, to which Department would you choose to have the CNSC report?

Names of the groups: 

Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area 

Canadian Environmental Law Association 

We hereby submit this petition to the Auditor General of Canada under sec tion 22 of the Auditor General Act. 

Date: May 12, 2020

Environmental Petition 419 to the Auditor General of Canada ~ Concerns about investment in “new” nuclear technologies

November 4, 2018

Summary of petition on the Office of the Auditor General Website: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_419_e_43275.html

Purpose of Petition

The Government of Canada is presently investing millions of dollars in early stage development of “new” nuclear technologies. This may not be a prudent use of federal funds. In September 2018 the World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted that nuclear electricity generation is being rapidly outpaced by renewable technologies that are faster to deploy and less expensive than nuclear reactors. (1) The same month, a report published by the accounting firm Deloitte stated that “renewable energy is rapidly becoming a “preferred”, mainstream energy source”. (2) 

In early October 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented efforts worldwide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to less than 1.5 C (3), and to prevent what scientists now call a near-term risk of dangerous to catastrophic levels of global warming (4). 

This petition seeks to determine whether the Government of Canada will re-evaluate its investment in “new” nuclear technologies in light of the IPCC’s clarion call for an urgent transition to a low carbon future and the availability of much faster-to-deploy and cheaper alternatives for electricity generation.

Background

“New” nuclear reactor concepts are often referred to as “Generation IV” or “small modular reactor” (SMR) technologies.  These include unconventional designs that employ liquid rather than solid fuels, and scaled-down versions of conventional reactor designs.  Recent activities in support of SMRs include:

  • Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) support for an International Conference on Generation IV and Small Modular Reactors, November 6-8, 2018 in Ottawa 
  • NRCan hosting of a Small Modular Roadmap Secretariat and grants to the Canadian Nuclear Association to develop “Canada’s SMR Roadmap” 
  • NRCan support for a Nuclear Innovation: Clean Energy Future “NICE Future” initiative launched under the Ninth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) in May 2018 and plans to promote “NICE Future” at the Tenth CEM Ministerial (May 2019, Vancouver)
  • Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission regulatory frameworks, workshops, consultations and presentations on “SMR readiness” 
  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) solicitation of SMR proposals, delivery of workshops and development of SMR promotional materials; with a stated goal of siting an SMR at a federally-owned nuclear facility by 2026.  CNL is privately owned but receives approximately $1 billion each year from Canadian taxpayers. 
  • Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s $5.74 million grant to Terrestrial Energy Inc. and Caterpillar Inc. for a reactor concept that uses nuclear fuel dissolved in molten salt.

A common thread running through promotional materials and press releases for these federally- funded activities is that new nuclear reactors represent a form of clean energy that will be a key element of Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy. 

Recent developments call into question the wisdom of investing in new nuclear technology as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases in Canada

IPCC report

On October 8, 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report “Global Warming of 1.5°C”.  The report warns that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C as early as 2030 “if it continues to increase at the present rate.” The report calls for “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.”  The report adds that such transitions “are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments.”  (3)

Deloitte Report 

A recent in-depth report by the Deloitte Centre for Energy Solutions highlights rapid changes in the landscape for solar and wind power.  It concludes:

Solar and wind power recently crossed a new threshold, moving from mainstream to preferred energy sources across much of the globe. As they reach price and performance parity with conventional sources, demonstrate their ability to enhance grids, and become increasingly competitive via new technologies, deployment obstacles and ceilings are dissolving. Already among the cheapest energy sources globally, solar and wind have much further to go: The enabling trends have not even run their full course yet. Costs are continuing to fall, and successful integration is proceeding apace, undergirded by new technologies that are bringing even greater efficiencies and capabilities. (2)

The old argument against wind and solar, their intermittency, has become irrelevant owing to advances in storage technology.  Solar and wind can enhance the grids they are connected to, according to Deloitte:

Once seen as an obstacle, wind and solar power are now viewed as a solution to grid balancing. They have demonstrated an ability to strengthen grid resilience and reliability and provide essential grid services. Smart inverters and advanced controls have enabled wind and solar to provide grid reliability services related to frequency, voltage, and ramping as well or better than other generation sources. When combined with smarter inverters, wind and solar can ramp up much faster than conventional plants, help stabilize the grid even after the sun sets and the wind stops, and, for Solar PV, show much higher response accuracy than any other source. (2)

The global electricity generation landscape has shifted dramatically in the last few years. The Government of Canada would get faster, greater and more far-reaching reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for Canadians by investing in wind and solar technologies.  

Government of Canada funding for energy efficiency, energy conservation and intelligent design, rather than new nuclear technology, could help accelerate the transition to an affordable, sustainable energy future

According to a June 2018 report presented by the Generation Energy Council to Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources:

Canada’s greatest opportunities to save money, cut greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs can be found in slashing energy waste. Fully one-third of our Paris emissions commitment could be achieved by improving energy efficiency, which will also make our businesses more competitive internationally and leave more money in consumers’ pockets (5)

There is a huge, untapped potential in this arena. For inspiration the Government of Canada could look to the “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” initiative launched in 2012 by the City of Seoul, Republic of Korea. The target of this initiative was to cut energy consumption by two million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE), equivalent to the annual energy generation of one nuclear power plant (corresponding to the output in 2017 of the six remaining Pickering reactors) by directly engaging citizens in energy-saving, energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. 

This target was exceeded in June 2014, six months ahead of schedule, as Seoul had reduced the city’s energy consumption by 2.04 million TOE. (6)  Reallocating funds from development of Generation IV/SMRs to energy saving, energy efficiency and renewable energy generation would yield much faster reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for Canadians.

Government of Canada investment in new nuclear technology reduces Canada’s ability to rapidly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions

By tying up funds that could otherwise quickly and effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as through energy efficiency, energy conservation and intelligent design, wind and solar electricity), investing in Generation IV/SMRs reduces Canada’s ability to respond to the IPCC call for rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented transitions.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is a privately-owned corporation that manages federal nuclear facilities under contract to the crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Earlier this year, CNL issued an Invitation for SMR demonstration projects from nuclear businesses around the world. Reporting in June 2018 on the results of its request for proposals, CNL stated that it had set a goal to site an SMR on one of the sites it manages by 2026. (7)

Given that the year 2026 is the most optimistic projection for siting a demonstration SMR at a Government of Canada nuclear facility managed by CNL, it is clear that SMR deployment cannot be part of the “rapid, far-reaching” transitions called for by the IPCC by 2030. By 2026, two thirds of the short time window identified by the IPCC in which to drastically reduce emissions will have already elapsed.

Questions

Canada needs to engage in rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  A key federal commitment in this regard is to develop a Canadian energy strategy that will provide results such as “greater energy conservation and greater inclusion of clean energy and innovative technologies in Canada’s energy future.”  

Decisions around funding to accomplish this task are of great importance to Canada and Canadians.  We note that the Minister of Finance has mandates to work with:

  • the Minister of Natural Resources to enhance existing tax measures to generate more clean technology investments;
  • the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in creating a new Low Carbon Economy Trust to help fund projects that materially reduce carbon emissions under the new pan-Canadian framework; 
  • the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to encourage innovation, trade and the growth of Canadian businesses; and
  • all Ministerial colleagues to reduce poorly targeted and inefficient measures, wasteful spending, and government initiatives that are ineffective.

We therefore request the Ministers of Finance, Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, and Innovation, Science & Economic Development to respond to this petition. 

We also request that this petition be sent to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs for information, given that the Government of New Brunswick has committed $10 million for research and development of SMR technology, and the Government of Ontario has also funded SMR studies; and noting his mandate to support the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and provinces and territories on the implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

We ask:

  1. Will the Government of Canada re-evaluate its funding for development of Generation IV/SMRs in light of the information presented in this petition? If yes, please explain the timelines and mechanisms for doing so. If no, please provide a detailed rationale for not doing so.
  2. Will the Government of Canada consider re-allocating funding for new nuclear technology to wind and solar electricity, energy efficiency and energy conservation?

References

  1. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018.  Schneider, Mycle et al. Sep. 2018.  https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/
  2. Global Renewable Energy Trends: Solar and Wind Move from Mainstream to Preferred.  Deloitte Centre for Energy Solutions.  Sep. 2018.  https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/industry/power-and-utilities/global-renewable-energy-trends.html
  3. IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. Oct. 2018.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
  4. Well below 2 C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes. Xu, Y. and Ramanathan, V. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences114(39): 10315-10323.  Sep. 2017. http://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/114/39/10315.full.pdf
  5. Canada’s Energy Transition: Getting to Our Energy Future, Together.  Generation Energy Council Report.  June 2018.  https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/20380
  6. One Less Nuclear Power Plant.  Reframing Urban Energy Policy.  Challenges and Opportunities in the City of Seoul.  Seoul Metropolitan Government. Aug. 2017. http://www.waltpatterson.org/seoulbook.pdf
  7. CNL announces strong interest in siting an SMR demonstration unit.  June 2018.  http://www.cnl.ca/en/home/news-and-publications/news-releases/2018/cnl-announces-strong-interest-in-siting-an-smr-dem.aspx
  8. Mandate Letter Tracker: Delivering results for Canadians.  https://www.canada.ca/en/privy-council/campaigns/mandate-tracker-results-canadians.html

Date: November 4, 2018

Information about Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCRCA)

CCRCA, a volunteer-based citizens’ group, formed in 1978 in response to a 15-year federal-provincial, $700 million study of the feasibility of disposing of high level nuclear waste in plutonic rock.  For more than 20 years, CCRCA has intervened at all licensing hearings on Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) held by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (and prior to the year 2000, by the Atomic Energy Control Board).  Our interventions have highlighted pollution issues such as the plumes from the leaking fuel bays and waste management areas and major safety concerns such as the high level liquid wastes in the “Fissile Solution Storage Tank”. We have expressed support for new CRL facilities that have reduced pollution levels (such as the Liquid Waste Treatment Centre) and that have placed radioactive wastes in more secure, monitored above-ground storage. We have consistently called for greater transparency and openness in monitoring and reporting on the state of the CRL environment.  We believe that our efforts have raised public awareness about risks associated with Canada’s nuclear waste liabilities, and have helped persuade government decision-makers to allocate significant resources to clean-up projects such as the Nuclear Legacy Liabilities Program.

Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General of Canada: Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects

January 29, 2018

Petition summary on the OAB website here: https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_413_e_43085.html

Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects

This petition is being submitted to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada in accordance with section 22 of the Auditor General Act by the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (CCRCA) and the Old Fort William Cottagers’ Association (OFWCA).  We note that the concerns highlighted in this petition and the answers sought are also matters of importance to our colleagues in other organizations including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Pontiac Environmental Protection, the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital and Friends of the Earth Canada.

Purpose of Petition

This petition concerns an important issue for our country in the coming decades: the environmental assessment of nuclear projects, including those for managing Canada’s large volumes of radioactive waste.  To inform this issue we review the ongoing discussion of how Canada’s environmental assessment processes can regain public trust and how to ensure that decisions serve the public’s interest.  We draw upon the report of the Expert Panel, Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada (1); on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter (2); and on the federal government’s Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper (3).  We then pose questions for the various Ministers involved in the environmental assessment review and reform process, with a specific focus on how this process should address nuclear projects.

Background

Nuclear projects include construction and operation of new facilities such as uranium mines or nuclear reactors, refurbishment of existing facilities, decommissioning of facilities whose useful life is over, and management of wastes arising from activities such as mining, nuclear research and development, and nuclear power generation.

Managing nuclear wastes is a particularly challenging issue.  Nuclear waste has been accumulating in Canada for seven decades. Long-lived man-made radionuclides such as iodine-129, nickel-59, niobium-94, plutonium-239, plutonium-240, technetium-99, uranium-234 and zirconium-93 will be toxic to all life for many millennia. Facilities must be planned and built to look after the wastes in the best and most responsible manner possible, to keep them out of the biosphere for as long as they remain hazardous. 

Environmental assessment will be a key part of the process of establishing the necessary facilities. The best quality environmental assessment will be necessary in order to minimize pollution, protect the health of Canadians, protect ecosystems and avoid placing undue burdens on future generations.

Currently in Canada, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA), the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is the sole responsible authority for the environmental assessment of nuclear projects.

After conducting extensive hearings across Canada, the Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment Reform issued its final report In April 2017.  It recommends that an independent assessment authority replace the CNSC as responsible authority for nuclear projects (1). The Panel accepted the arguments made by hearing participants that “industry-specific regulatory agencies are more focused on technical issues than they are on the planning process that is fundamental to a thorough IA [impact assessment],” and that issues “were being put off to the post-decision regulatory phase.”   

The Expert Panel’s recommendation that the CNSC be replaced as responsible authority also reflects the widely held view that the CNSC is a “captured” regulator.  The Panel report states that “The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions” of the CNSC. ()

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter (November 12, 2015)

Identifies environmental assessment reform as one of the Minister’s “top priorities”:

Supported by the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and Natural Resources, immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment processes to regain public trust and help get resources to market and introduce new, fair processes that will:

  • restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication;
  • ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public’s interest;
  • provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate; and
  • require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts. (2)

The Expert Panel addressed in detail the first part of this priority – review of environmental assessment processes to regain public trust.  With regard to CNSC-led environmental assessments, the Expert Panel said:

…the erosion of public trust in the current assessment process has created a belief among many interests that the outcomes are illegitimate. This, in turn, has led some to believe that outcomes are pre-ordained and that there is no use in participating in the review process because views will not be taken into account. The consequence of this is a higher likelihood of protests and court challenges, longer timeframes to get to decisions and less certainty that the decision will actually be realized – in short, the absence of social license. (1)

The Expert Panel went on to explain the difference between regulatory licensing – in which the CNSC has considerable experience – and assessment: 

… regulation and assessment are two quite distinct functions that require different processes and expertise. Regulatory licensing typically focuses on determining the technical acceptability of a proposed project against the requirements set out in a governing piece of legislation, with a consequent emphasis on technical expertise and a tendency for the regulator and the regulated industry to be in regular contact and discussions. Assessment is a planning process which considers both technical and non-technical matters and engages in public review to select the best options. The scope of assessment is much broader and requires more diverse expertise, especially in consideration of the sustainability approach being proposed by the Panel. (1)

A June 2017 discussion paper outlines the changes to environmental and regulatory reviews being considered by the Government of Canada in response to the Expert Panel’s advice as well as additional inputs to government directly (3).  The Government is proposing that the new agency responsible for impact assessment would jointly conduct impact assessments of nuclear projects with the CNSC.  For non-designated projects the CSNC would continue to have sole decision-making authority, while noting that the Government would review the Regulations Designating Physical Activities.

This proposed sharing of authority between the new agency and the CNSC may be problematic from a procedural standpoint, and may impede the goal to regain public trust in environmental assessment, including of nuclear projects.

A close look at how the CNSC is conducting environmental assessments of three projects involving the permanent disposal of federally-owned radioactive waste is instructive and helps to illustrate why this agency may not be the appropriate responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects. These three projects are:

1) the so-called “Near Surface Disposal Project” a proposed mound for one million cubic metres of “low level” and long-lived radioactive waste beside the Ottawa River on the property of the Chalk River Laboratories in Chalk River, Ontario;

2) the NPD Closure Project, a controversial “in-situ decommissioning” of the prototype CANDU reactor beside the Ottawa River at Rolphton, Ontario; and 

3) the equally controversial “In Situ Decommissioning of the Whiteshell Reactor #1”, beside the Winnipeg River at Pinawa, Manitoba.

The CNSC allowed these three projects to go forward to the Environmental Assessment stage, despite the fact that all three are clearly at odds with international guidance and do not use best technologies available for responsible management of radioactive wastes. 

The terms “near surface disposal project” and “landfill” have specific meanings in guidance documents developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  Although the proponent uses the term “Near Surface Disposal Project”, this project would actually involve the permanent disposal of long-lived radionuclides and relatively high activity wastes in an above-ground landfill-type facility.  According to the IAEA, such a facility is only suitable for very low level radioactive waste with “low concentrations or quantities of radioactive content,” “very limited concentrations of longer lived radionuclides,” and which does not need a “high level of containment and isolation”. (4)

Similarly, two “in-situ” reactor decommissioning (or “entombment”) projects appear to violate guidance in IAEA document Decommissioning Strategies for Facilities Using Radioactive Material, which states that “Entombment is not relevant for a facility that contains long lived isotopes because these materials are not suitable for long term surface disposal;” adding that “The disadvantages of entombment include: (a) Unsuitability for facilities with long lived radionuclides; (b) Cost of long term monitoring and institutional controls; (c) Public acceptance of creation of a near surface waste disposal site.(5)

With regard to the proposed entombment of the Whiteshell Reactor #1, a submission to the CNSC from Dr. Leonard Simpson (Former Mayor of Pinawa and retired AECL Director of Reactor Safety Research) reflects IAEA’s warnings about public acceptance and the cost of institutional controls:

… none of the senior members of the AECL Waste Management Program who are enjoying their retirement in Pinawa were consulted in the preparation of the proposal. The general level of community consultation of the CNL activities has been abysmal in spite of the fact that this is where we live and are expected to support an entombed site under institutional control effectively for ever. (6)

Concerns about costs were also raised by Dr. Michael Stephens, another former AECL employee at Whiteshell Laboratories: 

The stated objective of the project is to ensure “the prompt reduction of Canada’s long- term nuclear legacy liabilities”. If the entombed reactor is not licensable as a near-surface disposal facility because of the long-lived nuclides or hazardous substances, then this project does not reduce the long-term liabilities – it increases them because it will be more difficult and expensive to retrieve them for disposal later. (7)

Despite these serious criticisms, the CNSC scoping decision for the WR-1 project (which was combined with the decision for the other two other nuclear waste disposal projects) required no changes to the project description. (8)

The CNSC’s scoping of the Near Surface Disposal Project (NSDF) was equally flawed

The combined scoping decision was made nine days before the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the NSDF project was released.  The CNSC allowed the proponent to conduct environmental impact studies before the project scope was determined.  The scoping decision ignored many serious criticisms of the NSDF project description.  It was released by a 1-person “Panel” comprised solely of the CNSC President.  The public was not apprised of the “Panel” hearing, which may never have actually taken place.

The CNSC has not ensured sufficient engagement of First Nations 

In response to concerns about the WR-1 decommissioning project raised by The Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, CNSC staff said “The Commission is the CNSC’s decision-making body that makes EA and licensing decisions for all major nuclear projects. Decisions made by the Commission are not subject to any governmental or political review, nor may they be overturned by the Government of Canada.” (9) The CNSC’s “independence” from the Government of Canada is a serious impediment to proper engagement of Aboriginal peoples in the environmental assessment process.

The CNSC did not require the NSDF proponent to translate documents into French, despite a clear potential for adverse environmental impacts in the Province of Quebec

The closest residents to the NSDF project site are in Quebec.  Lack of access to French language documents led to a complaint from a Quebec citizen and a decision by the Commissioner of Official Languages to require translation of the draft EIS.

The CNSC allowed the NSDF proponent to make a major change to the project – elimination of “intermediate” level waste – without requiring revision of the draft EIS.

The proponent, under significant pressure due to highly critical submissions from many individuals and groups, including the Quebec Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (10), announced a major change to its plan for the NDSF in October 2018, two months after the closure of the public comment period on the draft EIS. The proposed change renders key parts of the draft EIS inaccurate, including the waste inventory, the waste acceptance criteria, and the assessment of alternative means of carrying out the project. CNSC, while acknowledging this change (11), did not require the proponent to prepare and release a revised draft EIS.  

The CNSC has delayed or refused outright to provide access to documents referenced in the draft EIS for the Near Surface Disposal Project. 

A footnote on page 3-14 of the draft EIS (12) states that “The Safety Analysis Report demonstrates that even after failure of some of the design features, the wastes do not present a risk to the public and environment.”  However, the Safety Analysis Report was not released until after the public comment period on the draft EIS ended.  Key portions of this document (such as section 4.2.1.3 on “Nuclear Criticality Safety”) were redacted. 

CNSC staff are proposing to remove references to CEAA from the licensing documents for the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).  

The Regulations Designating Physical Activities under CEAA require environmental assessment of new nuclear reactors, new facilities for the long-term management or disposal of nuclear waste, or expansion of existing long-term waste facilities by 50% or more. The current CRL licence handbook (13) says “A determination of the applicability of the CEAA must be made” with regard to i) changes to the CRL site, ii) modifications of existing nuclear facilities, iii) nuclear facilities undergoing decommissioning, and iv) construction of new nuclear facilities.  CNSC staff have removed these references to CEAA from their draft CRL licence handbook for the next licence period (14).

The CNSC’s own “Environmental Assessment” reports, which the agency conducts for non-designated projects, illustrate the agency’s lack of understanding of CEAA. 

The EA report attached to the CNSC staff document prepared for the January 2018 CRL site licence hearing (14) does not even mention the physical activities that the licensee intends to carry out during a 10-year licence period.  These activities include construction of a small modular reactor, construction and operation of a nuclear waste disposal facility, and decommissioning of the NRU reactor and other CRL facilities.  CNSC’s EA report merely describes the current state of the environment at the CRL site.

Conclusion

The CNSC’s performance as responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects is problematic.  Public interest and public trust may not be well served by allowing the CNSC to continue in this role, nor by assessments conducted “jointly” by the CNSC and a new agency.  Fortunately, an excellent alternative exists, as outlined by the Expert Panel: creation of a new federal authority that would be empowered to decide whether a project would make a positive contribution to Canada’s future well-being and, on that basis, approve or deny a project application.

Questions

For questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Environment and Climate Change.  For questions 5 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Natural Resources. For questions 6 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.  For questions 7 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.  For questions 8 and 9 we are seeking responses from the Minister of Science.  We also request that the petition be sent to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs as a matter of information.

1) Given the evidence presented here of serious weaknesses in CNSC’s approach to environmental assessment, and the government’s commitment to new, fair environmental assessment processes, would the Minister please explain how she intends to regain public trust in the environmental assessment of nuclear projects?  

2) Noting the Expert Panel recommendation that an independent agency should replace the CNSC as responsible authority for environmental assessment of nuclear projects, why does the June 2017 Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper propose that the twoagencies jointly conduct impact assessments?  How would this work in procedural terms?  How would project approval decisions be made?  Would the Minister be willing to reconsider this proposal in light of the evidence presented in this petition?

3) As stated in the Expert Panel report, “Assessment is a planning process which considers both technical and non-technical matters.”  What steps will the Minister take to ensure that planning aspects are addressed in environmental assessment?  How does the Minister intend to balance technical and non-technical matters (such as the sustainability approach emphasized by the Panel) in assessing potential impacts of nuclear projects?

4) The Expert Panel expressed the view that “assessment processes must move beyond the bio-physical environment to encompass all impacts likely to result from a project, both positive and negative.”   The Panel added that what is now “environmental assessment” should become “impact assessment”.  What is the Minister’s view on the need for a broader “impact assessment” approach?  Specifically, how should socio-economic considerations be addressed in the assessment of nuclear projects?

5) Your mandate letter calls upon you to work with your Cabinet colleagues to introduce new, fair environmental assessment processes, including to “provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate, including provisions to enhance the engagement of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.”  What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?

6) Your mandate letter calls upon you to collaborate with your Cabinet colleagues “to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement, and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.”  What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?  Are specific measures needed to enhance the participation of indigenous groups in the assessment of nuclear projects?

7) Your mandate letter calls upon you to collaborate with your Cabinet colleagues to introduce new, fair processes that will, inter alia, restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction; ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public interest; and provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate. What actions have you taken, or will you take, in this regard?  

8) What actions have you taken, or will you take, to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence?  How can science, facts and evidence be brought to bear in choosing the best technologies available for projects involving the long-term management of nuclear wastes?

9) Noting the apparent deficiencies in the CNSC-led environmental assessments of three projects involving permanent disposal of federally-owned radioactive wastes, how will you ensure that decisions taken regarding these projects serve the public interest?

References

  1. Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada. The final report of the Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes. April 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/environmental-assessment-processes/building-common-ground.html
  2. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Mandate Letter, November 12, 2015.  https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-environment-and-climate-change-mandate-letter
  3. Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper. June 2017. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/share-your-views/proposed-approach/discussion-paper.html
  4. Disposal of Radioactive Waste. Specific Safety Requirements No. SSR-5.  International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.  2011.  http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1449_web.pdf
  5. Decommissioning Strategies for Facilities Using Radioactive Material. Safety Report Series #50. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. 2007.  http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1281_web.pdf
  6. CNL’s Proposal for WR1. Leonard Simpson. July 3, 2016.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/114864E.pdf
  7. Comments on the “Project Description for the in Situ Decommissioning of the WR-1 Reactor at the Whiteshell Laboratories Site”. Michael Stephens. June 30, 2016.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/114855E.pdf
  8. Decision on the Scope of Environmental Assessments for Three Proposed Projects at Existing Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ Facilities.  CNSC.  March 8, 2017.  http://suretenucleaire.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/pdf/Record of Decision – CNL Scope of EA Factors 2017.pdf
  9. Disposition Table of Public and Aboriginal Groups’ Comments on Project Description – In Situ Decommissioning of Whiteshell Reactor #1 Project.  CNSC.  March 8, 2017. http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/118863E.pdf
  10. Questions et commentaires sur le projet d’une installation de gestion des déchets près de la surface sur le territoire des Laboratoires de Chalk River en Ontario proposé par les Laboratoires nucléaires canadiens. Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques.  September 15, 2017. http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80122/120514F.pdf
  11. Near Surface Disposal Facility – Recharacterization of Waste. November 2, 2017.  http://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/document-eng.cfm?document=120908
  12. Near Surface Disposal Facility Environmental Impact Statement.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. March 17, 2017.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80122/118380E.pdf
  13. Licence Conditions Handbook for Chalk River Laboratories(CRL Handbook).  CNSC e-Doc 4937963.  December 12, 2016.
  14. A Licence Renewal.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Chalk River Laboratories.  CNSC CMD 18-H2. http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/hearings/cmd/pdf/CMD18-H2-SubmissionfromCNSCStaffforCRLLicenceRenewalJanuary2018.pdf