Groups urge Trudeau to fix serious gaps in nuclear safety and governance

For immediate release (Montreal, April 8, 2020) Three independent organizations — the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and the Ottawa River Institute – have written to the Prime Minister saying that Canada’s nuclear safety standards and nuclear governance are failing to adequately protect Canadians from dozens of dangerous radioactive pollutants from nuclear facilities.

An April 3rd letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cites serious deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework and nuclear governance that require urgent attention by government. The authors draw on the contents of a recent report to the government by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear safety in Canada.

The IAEA review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework found that “CNSC regulations do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The report confirmed several concerns raised previously by Canadian public interest groups.

Specific deficiencies noted by the IAEA include:

  • Canada’s regulator is considering allowing future nuclear facilites (such as small modular reactors) and old radioactively contaminated nuclear reactors to be entombed and abandoned on site, a practice that is explicitly rejected by the IAEA;  
  • The IAEA found “no evidence… of a governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management”;
  • Canada’s nuclear legislation does not require justification of radiation risks from nuclear facilities; the IAEA says for nuclear facilities and activities to be considered justified, the benefits must be shown to outweigh the radiation risks to which they give rise; 
  • Canada’s system for managing the transport of radioactive materials does not align with IAEA regulations;
  • There are problems in the ways that Canada authorizes radiation releases from nuclear facilities; 
  • Canada’s current and proposed regulations don’t adequately protect pregnant workers, students, and apprentices from radiation risks; eg. they allow four times higher radiation doses for pregnant nuclear workers than IAEA standards.

“These deficiencies concern us very much,” said Dr. Éric Notebaert of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “We feel strongly that Canada is failing to adequately protect Canadians from dangerous radioactive substances that are known to cause cancers, serious chronic diseases, birth defects, and genetic damage that is passed on to future generations.”

The letter to the Prime Minister points out that these gaps in Canada’s nuclear safety practices, identified by the IAEA and others, leaves Canada vulnerable to unwise decisions on investment in new nuclear technology.

“Canada’s rush to promote and invest in small modular nuclear reactors is ill-advised” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, “especially when these reactors have been exempted from environmental assessment. Such reactors will produce radioactive wastes of all varieties, yet there is no policy for their safe long-term disposition. With no need to “justify” the radiation exposures from such new reactors, entrepreneurs and provinces can proceed without any explicit consideration of faster, cheaper and lower risk energy alternatives to reduce carbon emissions.”

The letter also draws attention to nuclear governance problems cited in Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada. These include (1) outdated and inadequate legislation, (2) inadequate government oversight, (3) lack of checks and balances, (4) a federal policy vacuum on nuclear waste and nuclear reactor decommissioning, and (5) the problem of regulatory capture on the part of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 
The authors of the letter support the recommendation in Petition 427 for the creation of a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force to advise the government on the needed reforms to nuclear governance in Canada.

– 30 –

Dr. Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility514-489-5118    cell: 514-839-7214
Dr. Ole Hendrickson, Ottawa River Institute613-234-0578

Letter to the Prime Minister, April 3, 2020:

IAEA Report:

Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada, June 2019. Petition summary: Full text of petition:

The new definition of low-level radioactive waste is confusing, harmful and unworthy of the CNSC

New comments from the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

on the new Canadian classification of radioactive waste

and on the safety case in the draft CNSC regulations

REGDOC 2.11.1: Management of radioactive waste

The new definition of low-level radioactive waste

is confusing, harmful and unworthy of the CNSC

March 22, 2020

 The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (RCPR) is very worried about the draft REGDOC 2.11.1 on the management of radioactive waste and especially the extremely confused redefinition of the border between “low activity” waste and “intermediate activity” waste. It is apparently a deliberate maneuver to muddy the concepts and to prevent any intelligent public debate on this issue that will affect the health of all Canadians.

Worse, CNSC staff informed us that this flawed draft regulation will be presented for adoption to CNSC commissioners in just a few days, in April 2020.

They are now talking about postponing it, only because the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed the whole planet in recent days.

We are extremely frustrated with the cavalier manner in which the staff of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) responded to our worries with one or two short sentences during this last phase of public consultation. Their answer falsely suggests that we are wrongly concerned since this redefinition of the classes would only formalize the status quo.

On the contrary, this regulatory process obviously aims to surreptitiously increase the level of radioactivity and the risk of radioactive waste admissible in a surface nuclear landfill. These new provisions already apply to the first above-ground dump that the Government of Canada is trying to set up in Chalk River. They thus muddy any public debate, even before being formally adopted.

This is an obvious violation of the CNSC’s legal obligation to provide the population with objective and credible information on nuclear energy and on its regulations, under section 9 (b) of the Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act.

This harsh judgment is based on an analysis of the CNSC’s consultation procedure and its little-known international context, as we will show in the first part of this document.

Our second part will show how incoherent and ambiguous the new categories of radioactive waste are, especially when compared to the very clear definitions of France.

Finally, we want to examine the benefits and dangers of this “non-prescriptive regulation” that the CNSC is trying to implement in Canada, without any public knowledge.

1) A misleading consultation procedure

The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (RCPR) is among only three citizen organizations that have participated in this debate so far. It alone brings together mainly French-speaking citizens. Here is why our involvement in this debate was so late, at the end of the last consultation:

• First, there did not appear to be any significant issues. The CNSC has itself downplayed the importance of its initiative. In 2016, its consultation document DIS-16-03 Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning was talking about simply “modernizing the vocabulary” and about “formally adopt the four main waste categories as defined in CSA N292.0-14, which are in turn, based on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s GSG-1 Classification of Radioactive Waste.” They said they wanted to formalize the traditional distinction between low and intermediate level radioactive waste in Canada, by ensuring that the classes of radioactive waste remain based on their intrinsic radioactive characteristics:

    Low-level waste does not give off any heat and “it is not particularly dangerous to handle,” explained the CNSC: At worst, a person might receive a dose rate of 2 milliSieverts per hour (2 mSv/h) if he/she touches this waste without protective packaging or shielding.

   On the contrary, intermediate-level waste is radioactive enough to spontaneously release up to 2 000 watts of heat per cubic meter and its radiation is too dangerous for it to be handled without shielding.

    First assessment of this preliminary consultation, in December 2017: “Industry further recommended, according to CNSC, that the definitions of radioactive waste be consistent with CSA N292.0, General principles for the management of radioactive waste and irradiated fuel, and also requested the addition of a very low-level waste (VLLW) category.” 

Almost the status quo, in other words.

• At that date, at the end of 2017, we had many other fish to fry. The Canadian Nuclear Laboratories had just announced that they would avoid placing any intermediate-level waste in their future radioactive dumping ground in Chalk River, leaving only “low-level waste”.

    For its part, the CNSC had just published a summary of all the comments made by government experts (its own and those of other federal or provincial departments). It was also about to do the same with all the public comments that seemed worthy of note.

Although no one has ever made it clear, these two summaries listed the countless issues that are still the subject of intense secret negotiations between the CNSC and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. We had to make multiple access to information requests to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) to get a rough idea of ​​the progress of these negotiations. With great difficulty, we tried to follow the advancement of the safety case of the Chalk River near-surface landfill, in order to understand the countless changes that occurred as time went by. Tens of thousands of technical pages, all in English, sometimes contradictory and always censored. We had to understand and compare them several times. All the while the CNSC and the CNL denied us access to the joint reviews they were doing periodically about their consensus and disagreements.

    In this marathon, we lost sight of the resumption of the consultation on the CNSC’s new definitions of waste, in the spring of 2019. We were too busy confirming that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories NEVER excluded from the landfill any waste that would be too dangerous to touch without protection. They still want to place 134 000 cubic meters of radioactive packages in their landfill, even if NONE of these packages will contain waste whose toxicity is less than 2 mSv/hr on contact. There are even plans to place in this dump cobalt-60 radioactive sources that could be fatal on contact.

    This cobalt-60 alone will represent 98% of the total radioactivity of the Chalk River landfill, according to the promoter’s documents. However, he reiterates to us in writing that he will only receive “low level waste, complying with the requirements of standard CSA 292.0”. In November 2019, he is still repeating the same in his second Environmental Impact Statement (Table 2.2.1): “Low Level Waste does not require significant shielding during handling and transportation”, says this official document which is not available in French! Translation : Un déchet de faible activité ne requiert aucune protection significative pendant sa manipulation ou son transport.     

Our efforts to participate in the debate

Brutal awakening on July 29, 2019, when an activist told us that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories explicitly admitted, in their comments on REGDOC 2.11.1, that they still intend to put intermediate-level waste in their aboveground dump. They even seem to ask the CNSC to change its regulations in order to allow anybody to pile up such radioactive waste in a near-surface landfill.

Naturally, we immediately checked the consultation documents about the REGDOC 2.11.1 project. LNC effectively write: “There are current plans to place ILW in aboveground mounds”. This document has even been endorsed by the entire Canadian nuclear industry, which has asked with one voice to be allowed to dispose of their ILW (intermediate level waste) in a near-surface landfill.

Secondly, we re-examined the REGDOC2.11.1 itself. It quickly became apparent to us that the redefinition of the radioactive waste classes appears to be a maneuver to allow the disposal of much more radioactive waste in nuclear near-surface landfills, without alarming the public too much. In order to do this, the CNSC writes inconsistent definitions for intermediate and low-level waste. It eliminates any precise border between the two classes. Most importantly, it eliminates any requirement that low-level waste will be harmless enough for it to be safely handled.

Second surprise: the nuclear industry agrees with CNSC’s objective but disagrees with the method: Yes, it wants to place more hazardous waste in future nuclear near-surface landfills. But no, the nuclear industry refuses to distort the definitions. There is also no question of eliminating the traditional limit between low and intermediate level waste; it wants to keep the contact dose rate threshold of 2 mSv/hr.

Since we had barely two days left to react, we joined the industry to demand that they keep the 2 mSv threshold. On the other hand, we have denounced the idea of ​​adding “intermediate level” nuclear waste in a simple near-surface landfill, especially if this waste were to remain dangerous many centuries after the dump had disintegrated, according the new draft REGDOC definition.

CNSC’s refusal

Our effort was totally wasted! The CNSC simply made its definitions even more vague, rejecting collective requests both from the nuclear industry and from the three groups of citizens who are still asking for more precise standards. The CNSC therefore discards the results of its own “public consultation”! the CNSC even hosted a half-day webinar to “explain” its decisions on February 26. This webinar held in English was aborted due to technical difficulties and was due to be repeated on March 26. This is why we were asked to submit this document before March 24. CNSC staff also suggested that we should read carefully all the responses already provided to stakeholders.

What have we been told, by the way?

• About the type of radioactive waste that can (or cannot) be placed in a near-surface landfill, we are told that it is up to the dump promoter to prove that his installation can safely contain all the waste he wants to put in: (our translation) «Within the framework of the non-prescriptive Canadian regulatory context, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the safety assessment specific to the proposed facility for waste management supports and justifies the proposed waste inventory.” Word for word, the same answer also provided to the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services!

• On the vague definition of low and intermediate activity waste and on the elimination of the 2mSv/hour threshold for the waste contact dose rate, they simply dodge the issue: (our translation) “The definition of intermediate activity radioactive waste remains unchanged so that the Canadian regulatory framework remains faithful to the definition found in the CSA N292.0 standard and to the IAEA orientation. “

Shifting international rules

However, the draft regulation is actually NOT in CONFORMITY with the traditional definition of CSA N292.0 that the CNSC had outlined in its 2016 document! To better understand the issues, we therefore turned to the IAEA document GSG-1 Classification of Radioactive Waste since the CNSC often refers to it in its responses to other stakeholders.

And there, we went from one surprise to another!

• First, this GSG-1 document is only available in Russian, Spanish and English. Although the CNSC has claimed to have consulted with Canadian citizens since 2016 on how Canada should apply this guide, no one has ever seen fit to make it available in French. We asked for a french version in vain, both from the IAEA office in Toronto and from the CNSC staff in Ottawa.

• Contrary to what the CNSC still claims, the recommendations in the GSG 1 document are completely incompatible with the Canadian standard CSA N292.0 that our nuclear industry wants to keep. The CSA N292 standard was rather inspired by a previous version of the GSG-1 document, published in 1994. This old document was completely redone on a different footing in 2009.  And the draft Canadian regulation is now in line with this “new” incompatible text.

(Here is our translation of) Here are two crucial paragraphs from the new GSG-1 document. They shed light on the radical turn of 2009 as well as the hidden issue of REGDOC 2.11.1:

“Low level waste (LLW)

2.21.   In previous classification schemes, low level waste was defined to mean radioactive waste that does not require shielding during normal handling and transport. Radioactive waste that requires shielding but needs little or no provision for heat dissipation was classified as intermediate level waste. A contact dose rate of 2 mSv/h was generally used to distinguish between the two classes of waste. Contact radiation dose rate is not used to distinguish waste classes in the present, revised classification scheme, which is based primarily on long term safety. However, it remains an issue that has to be considered in handling and transporting the waste, and for operational radiation protection purposes at waste management and disposal facilities but is not necessarily a determining factor for the long-term safety of a disposal facility.

2.22.   In the classification scheme set out in this Safety Guide, low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal. This is a disposal option suitable for waste that contains such an amount of radioactive material that robust containment and isolation for limited periods of time up to a few hundred years are required. This class covers a very wide range of radioactive waste. It ranges from radioactive waste with an activity content level just above that for VLLW, that is, not requiring shielding or particularly robust containment and isolation, to radioactive waste with a level of activity concentration such that shielding and more robust containment and isolation are necessary for periods up to several hundred years.”

• Note the beginning of paragraph 2.22: In this new classification of the IAEA, ” low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal”. This lies at the heart of the 2009 changes. They no longer define low-level waste according to its intrinsic properties, as the CNSC claimed to do in its 2016 consultation document, but rather according to the characteristics of the near-surface landfill that should receive it. It is no longer because a low-level waste is harmless that it can be discarded in a near-surface landfill; it’s the opposite: As soon as the CNSC accepts that a waste may be discarded in a near-surface landfill, it becomes ipso facto “low activity waste”, whatever its hazard level!

    This explains why Canadian Nuclear Laboratories are planning to place deadly cobalt-60 radioactive sources of in their near-surface landfill at Chalk River, while repeating to Canadians that they will only place “low level waste” in accordance with the guidelines for the IAEA! As for the CNSC, they never protest! Rather, they dismiss our own protests with their usual langue de bois: (our translation) “The definition of intermediate level radioactive waste remains unchanged so that the Canadian regulatory framework remains faithful to the definition found in the CSA N292.0 standard and to IAEA orientation,” they write.

• We do not know why the International Atomic Energy Agency made such a radical U-turn in 2009, but we presume that this shift comes from the pressures of large nuclear countries, struggling with large quantities of highly radioactive military waste which they want to get rid of at a lower cost. A little change of definition … and it’s done, without any real public debate! In the United States, the Trump administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently jumped at the opportunity by “reinterpreting” the rules for managing their nuclear waste. https ://

• Last observation: The text of the draft REGDOC 2.11.1 on radioactive waste management closely aligns with the formulations proposed in this IAEA document GSG-1, despite the protests from the nuclear industry and those from the rare citizen groups who spoke out on the issue.
   Meanwhile, the CNSC President reiterates everywhere the need to “harmonize” Canadian regulations with international standards and boasts of working hand in hand with the US NRC.

CNSC is at fault

Whatever the content of REGDOC 2.11.1, it was up to the CNSC to explain clearly to Canadians what problems these new regulations want to solve, the pros and cons of the various possible solutions, the possible conflicts between Canadian legislation and the news. global rules, without forgetting the consequences sought in each of the new provisions they suggest.

CNSC DIDN’T DO ANY OF THAT. On the contrary, they seemed to be relentless in scrambling the cards and hiding their true intentions. In doing so, the CNSC has actively contributed to preventing any intelligent public debate on the issues raised by Canada’s draft regulations, in violation of section 9 (b) of Canada’s Nuclear Safety and Control Act. This article entrusts the CNSC with the obligation ” to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public concerning the activities of the Commission and the effects (of nuclear activities) on the environment and on the health and safety of persons.”

    The Commission’s negligence in this regard is unacceptable. Above all, it is very worrying for citizens who wonder what unavowable objectives the CNSC is secretly pursuing.

2) Scrambled waste definitions 

Although the CNSC has grossly failed in its responsibilities as an objective informant and a delegated regulatory body, it does not necessarily follow that the draft regulations will be completely unacceptable. That’s why we’ll take a closer look.

REGDOC becomes the Canadian standard

On the one hand, the CNSC has rejected many proposals under the guise of respecting the status quo and remaining faithful to the CSA-N292 standard which, it says, will still be in force.

    On the other hand, article 1.2 of the first volume specifies nevertheless that the REGDOC will henceforth take precedence; the CSA standard will only be a complement. “This document is complemented by the requirements and guidance in CSA N292.0, General Principles for the Management of Radioactive Waste and Irradiated Fuel”, says the English version.

(To add to the confusion, the French version of REGDOC erroneously states the exact opposite: « Le présent document constitue un complément aux exigences et à l’orientation de la norme CSA N292.0 », says the French text. It also contains several other inaccuracies. Even its numbering is offset from that of the English text!)

Definitions that cloud the debate

In popular parlance and in their traditional definition in Canada, low-level waste is almost harmless waste that can be safely touched. This traditional meaning has been completely obliterated in the new definition. No way of being able to touch it. No attempt to quantify its radiotoxicity for a human being (in milliSieverts/hour).

Even more serious, the CSSN regulations purport to define the level of “activity” of radioactive waste, when this is not the case. (The activity of an element designates its number of radioactive disintegrations per second, measured in becquerels.) However, the new definition of low activity or intermediate activity waste eliminates any reference to their radioactive activity!

The only remaining criterion is the duration of this waste, according to article 7.1 of the draft regulation: “Low-Level radioactive waste (LLW) (…) generally has limited amounts of long-lived activity. LLW requires isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years. “

    There is a problem: the longer or shorter “period” of a radioactive material does not define its level of radioactivity or danger; it just defines its lifespan. If the period is long, it will disappear slowly and its activity will generally be weak, with a small number of disintegrations per second. This definition of a low-level waste therefore becomes quite contradictory: It requires to LIMIT long-lived radionuclides (the most persistent), that is to say those which would have LOW activity and which decay slowly! This is how we end up with a Chalk River landfill dominated 98% by the radioactivity of cobalt-60 alone, an radionuclide whose period is very short.

Moreover, even if the definition requires a limited quantity of persistent elements, it at the same time underlines the importance of confining them for … a few hundred years! And in the very same definition, they manage to use the word “period” many times, with two different meanings. Sometimes it means “a radioactive half-life”; sometimes it just means a time lenght.

How can the CNSC and Canada’s best nuclear professionals confuse concepts and definitions so much? Why does the CNSC derail any intelligent public debate in this way, when the law entrusts it with the mission of providing the public with objective scientific information on nuclear energy?

CNSC is defining something else than what they claim

The only likely explanation is that the new definition of low-level waste does not really relate to what it claims to define, but rather to the type of radioactive waste that can be placed in a near-surface landfill, like in Chalk River. The CNSC applies the far-fetched definition we quoted earlier from the IAEA’s GSG-1 document: “low level waste is waste that is suitable for near surface disposal.”

Here we must remember that the main weakness of a near surface site is its short useful life. It is vulnerable to weathering, erosion and plant, animal or human intrusions (to recycle precious metals for example), etc. Waste should therefore never be placed a landfill if it remains dangerous for much longer than the useful life of the dump itself. And for the waste to disappear quickly, its radionuclides must have a short period (i.e. a short half-life).

In the same way, they no longer define “Intermediate-Level Waste” according to the intensity of their activity or their radiotoxicity but rather according to their much longer persistence, which compels us to confine them will force them to be confined for “periods greater than several hundred years”. Here again, they confuse concepts and public debate.

Blur at all costs!

The redefinition of low and intermediate level waste therefore eliminates all the old distinctions. Since they don’t want to impose new constraints on themselves, they also eliminate any specific limit on acceptable “low-level waste” in a surface landfill such as at Chalk River.

Admire the precision of the vocabulary! “Low-Level waste (…) generally (but not always) has limited amount (what quantity, exactly? 1%? 4%? 15%?) of long-lived radionuclides (how long? The period of a radionuclide is often said to be ‘long’ when it lasts more than 30 years, but the regulations avoid specifying it). LLW requires isolation and containment for periods of up to a few hundred years (how many centuries? 2? 10?)”. The same is unclear for intermediate-level waste which must be confined for “periods greater than several hundred years”. (how much more than how many centuries, exactly?)  And if LLW goes up to “a few” hundred years and ILW start at “several” hundred years, what happen between a few and several centuries? All answers are good! 

No wonder the CNSC must now organize webinars to clarify things for the nuclear industry! What else will it take to be sure the general public understands clearly?

France has a good waste classification

The Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive submits that Canada should adopt the same classification system as France for radioactive waste. Not only has this classification stood the test of time, but it has the immense advantage of being clear, complete and nuanced. Above all, it always distinguishes the definition of a class of radioactive waste and the description of the type of long-term storage they require.

This system provides for four classes according to the level of activity (high, intermediate, low and very low) and for three other classes according to the period length (long-lived, short or very short). These classes do also intersect to define up to twelve distinct classes of waste (high activity with short life, for example). Such a system allows for clear and nuanced public discussion, with well-defined concepts, and there is no reason why Canada could not learn from it.

More fundamentally, we submit that no one has the slightest advantage in making the waste definitions so blurry and confusing like CNSC is trying to do in Canada, insofar as the real criteria for acceptance of waste will henceforth depend only on the “safety case” specific to each installation, as explained in the third volume of this REGDOC.

This is what the CNSC itself pointed out to us when our Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive objected to the possibility of discarding ILW in a near-surface landfill:

“(our translation) In the non-prescriptive Canadian regulatory context, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the safety assessment specific to the proposed waste management facility supports and justifies the proposed waste inventory. “

The RCPR recognizes that this “safety case” concept could possibly provide an interesting flexibility to decide which kind of waste would be acceptable in each particular waste facility, without being constrained by a priori technical solutions.

The most important thing is to never compromise security and our next chapter will examine how this essential objective could be confidently ensured.

3) How “non-prescriptive” can you be?

Nowhere has the CNSC clearly defined what is “non-prescriptive” regulation. At first glance, the concept seems contradictory: Regulation are normally created to prescribe actions and to dictate obligations, aren’t they?  

 We understand that the CNSC’s initiative aims to give the greatest possible freedom and the widest possible initiative to nuclear developers so that they can come up with original and safe solutions. In short, proposing objectives and imposing a performance obligation, rather than prescribing pre-defined cast in stone solutions.

The entire third volume of REGDOC 2.11.1 aims to finely describe the “safety case” with which a promoter should eventually prove that his project is safe. Obviously, the CNSC has done a noteworthy job of detailing with such precision all the required steps in order to credibly demonstrate that a particular project will be safe.

That doesn’t make it a fascinating read. We would certainly have fallen asleep reading this endless series of guidelines if we had not had the invaluable and exceptional benefit of having already seen it in operation.

We can already judge this REGDOC by its fruits

Thanks to our multiple Access to Information  Act requests, we were able to follow the main technical documents that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories submitted to the CNSC to demonstrate the safety of their project for an aboveground radioactive landfill in Chalk River. We found that this portion of REGDOC has been applied long before its eventual adoption. We can also attest that this evaluation followed the steps provided for in volume 3 of REGDOC 2.11.1. And since the CNL published a revised description of their project for a surface radioactive dump at Chalk River, we must also recognize that this procedure has a certain efficiency: the 2nd version of the NSDF project is clearly safer than the initial version, in 2017.

On the other hand, we were also able to observe some weaknesses… and we find the same loopholes in REGDOC 2.11.1.

The public must be able to monitor the process

First weakness of this 3rd volume of this REGDOC: it does not say anywhere that the safety case negotiation must be done in public. In this actual case, both the CNL and the CNSC have tried to prevent any access to their working papers and to the status reports of their negotiations, as if they had incriminating actions to hide. Although intermittent, our stubborn surveillance could effectively have prevented them from making too many indefensible compromises. Public access helps to restrict arbitrariness.

 Canada’s Access to Information Act only applies to the federal government itself. It’s almost unheard of that we have been able to successfully invoke it against a private consortium. The law certainly would have no control whatsoever over an electricity company or over the private developer of a small modular reactor, for example.

This is why the REGDOC must require that all technical studies underlying the safety case be accessible to the public, as well as all the negotiation steps with the CNSC, when the promoter is not covered by Canada’s Access to Information Act.

 In such cases, someone could at least raise the alarm if, for example, the safety case did not take into account the urban development that will occur around an installation over the next few centuries. We bring this example because we have seen this particular weakness in the NSDF safety case in Chalk River. And it’s not the only one. The safety assessment does not take into account the risk that the landfill may soon become the target of recyclers who would like to dismantle it. (The dump mound is expected to contain up to 7 000 tons of copper and 20 000 tons of steel, according to the latest forecasts.)

REGDOC must impose ultimate safety criteria 

Second observation: Even if the promoter of a dumping ground can draw up his safety case himself, that does not justify the systematic elimination of any prescriptive provision. In the new formula, the real standards are said to be found in section of volume 3, entitled “Acceptance criteria used in the assessment”. This section claims to set the criteria by which the safety results will be deemed acceptable. 

    Unfortunately, the present REGDOC is far too weak and not prescriptive enough here. The first paragraph of section even states that “the license holder should also define the precise criteria of the level of security to be achieved”. Thereafter, the regulation “suggests” the rules that should apply. Or, it signals the existence of external “guides”, which have no binding value.

    We completely disagree with such laxity. It is a question here of clearly defining what degree of security the promoter must achieve. This is a task that clearly belongs to the CNSC. The precise criteria for the level of safety to be achieved must be specified in the REGDOC, explicitly.

In the area of ​​radiological protection of persons, for example, REGDOC first recalls the current rule according to which a radioactive dump site must never expose any member of the public to more than 1 millisievert of radiation per year. In order for the promoter to be sure of always respecting this standard, the REGDOC therefore suggests aiming for a lower target, in the simulations. It states that the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the IAEA document SSR-5 both recommend targeting a dose constraint of 0.3 mSv per year.

    Again, it is not enough to point out the existence of these international proposals, especially when they are non-binding. The CNSC must formally assess the validity of these IAEA proposals. And if they are valid, the CNSC must then impose them in its regulations. Otherwise, the CNSC is in serious breach of its obligations to protect the public.

Inadequate target doses

On the next page of section of volume 3, REGDOC addresses the risk of human intrusion. This is the main vulnerability of an above-ground dump whose integrity must be preserved for several centuries. Here again, the draft REGDOC settles for a simple reference to the IAEA’s SSR-5 document which suggests target doses which should protect the public during a human intrusion into the landfill. Unfortunately, these IAEA proposals turned out to be dangerously inadequate when the CNL attempted to apply them to their Chalk River dump project. REGDOC will therefore have to strengthen those suggested doses and impose them as mandatory requirement. 

In the IAEA proposal, the promoter is not bound to any improvement when he “expects” that the public will not be exposed to more than 1 milliSievert per year due to human intrusion. Also, according to the IAEA, the public dose has to exceed 20 mSv per year before the promoter is invited to exclude the most dangerous radionuclides in his waste acceptance criteria. This is 20 times the maximum radiotoxicity allowed in Canada! Once again, this language is MUCH TOO WEAK, especially if the CNSC settles for quoting these international suggestions, without even adopting and imposing them.

 Our criticism is not theoretical. Some scenarios from the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories have concluded that future public doses of more than 20 mSv/year could happen at the Chalk River landfill. The proponent tried to ignore its own conclusion and the CNSC had to intervene to lower the acceptance criteria for the problematic radionuclides. There is no reference to these incidents in the revised project description, of course.

We also noted with concern that the results of these simulations can change by one or two orders of magnitude, by modifying very slightly the initial hypotheses: if a family built a house on the mound, in a few centuries, would it have a dug out basement? Where exactly would his drinking water well be? What diameter, the borehole? So many nuances that can completely change the conclusions! The CNSC cannot let any promoter adjust these criteria as he sees fit, especially when such “details” threaten the survival of his project!

Finally, this 3rd volume of REGDOC 2.11.1 systematically transforms into suggestions (i.e.: “the promoter should do such a thing) provisions which have no meaning when they are not mandatory. Section says, for example, that the applicant “must” include site characterization data in his security assessment. On the other hand, the precision of this definition becomes a simple recommendation: he “should” make sure that these characteristics are detailed enough to allow a credible projection of their future evolution!

    In the paragraph on the protection of persons against dangerous substances, the REGDOC only advises (“should”) that the proponent respects the recommendations of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment or the provincial recommendations on human health.

Obviously, this REGDOC project must therefore be thoroughly reviewed.

4) Recommendations:

  1. The RCPR requests that the new REGDOCs on radioactive waste, on their management and on decommissioning, be thoroughly reworked before their adoption by the CNSC.

2) The RCPR requests that the CNSC broaden the consultation of Canadian citizens in both official languages ​​by first explaining clearly :

a. the problems that its draft regulations would solve;

b. the potential conflicts between IAEA rules and Canadian practices, including CSA standards;

c. the pros and cons of the major strategies under study;

d. the consequences sought through each of its new regulatory provisions.

3) The RCPR requests that the regulations be inspired by France’s classification system to provide short definitions for each radioactive waste class, based on their own physical characteristics, so as to clarify the public debate and, particularly:

a. Expand the number and variety of these classes;

i. according to the level of radiation activity (number of radionuclide disintegrations in Bq, their absorption in the human body or their dose factor in milliSieverts and their heat generation);

ii. according to their persistence (period, required protection length, etc.);

b. That the subclasses be organized logically within each waste class;

c. That the boundary values ​​between classes and between subclasses be defined as precisely as possible.

4) The RCPR recommends that the identification of the types of containment (geological or surface storage for example) required for various waste classes should not be included in the definition of each waste class; these specifications should rather appear in separate articles for each type of radionuclide.

5) If the CNSC continues to base public safety on the safety case submitted by each applicant,

a. It must clearly impose the precise criteria which will define the level of security required of each radioactive waste landfill.

b. It must carefully reassess the recommendations of external organizations (international or canadian) and justify their adoption before incorporating them into this REGDOC.

c. It must avoid transforming into simple advice any expectation that is essential to obtaining credible conclusions in the safety case.

d. It must require that all the elements of the safety case be accessible to the public, as well as all the stages of its evolution during the negotiations between the promoter and the CNSC.

Gilles Provost, science reporter

and Ginette Charbonneau, physicist,

Spokespersons for the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive

N.B: This brief was approved not only by the members of the Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive but also by Action Climat Outaouais – ACO

Health and environmental groups appeal to International Atomic Energy Agency to nix Canadian appointment

For immediate release 
(Montreal, March 23, 2020) Three independent civil society organizations — the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and the Ottawa River Institute —  are asking the Director General of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to reconsider the recent appointment of a Canadian as chair of its commission on safety standards.

In a recent letter to IAEA Director General Rafael M. Grossi, signed by Dr. Gordon Edwards, Dr. Éric Notebaert, MD, and Dr. Ole Hendrickson, the authors say they are concerned about the appointment of Rumina Velshi, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), to chair the IAEA’s commission on nuclear safety standards because the organization she heads has a documented record of disregarding IAEA safety standards and advocating for exemption of smaller nuclear reactors from environmental assessment in Canada. 

“We fear that Ms. Velshi’s chairmanship could result in the lowering of international standards, with an emphasis on benefits to the nuclear industry and support of ‘innovation’ at the expense of public protection,” says the letter.

According to the letter, Ms. Velshi might not meet the IAEA’s standards for regulatory officials’ independence from the nuclear industry. Before her appointment as CNSC president, she worked for Ontario Power Generation for eight years in senior management positions and led the OPG commercial team involved in a multi-billion dollar proposal to procure new nuclear reactors. 

published statement from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission dated February 26, 2020 says its president, Rumina Velshi, “intends to use her chairmanship to champion the importance of greater harmonization of standards and ensure they support nuclear innovation.”  In a recent address to the Canadian Nuclear Association Ms. Velshi reiterated these sentiments.

The letter’s authors cite the final report of a recent IAEA review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework as evidence of the CNSC’s failure to meet IAEA safety standards. The review identified numerous deficiencies and found that “CNSC regulations do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The review also found Canada to be out of alignment with IAEA standards for nuclear reactor decommissioning.

“The CNSC is proposing to permit entombment and abandonment of very long-lived radioactive entrails of shutdown ‘legacy’ nuclear reactors as an acceptable strategy for decommissioning in Canada. This approach is expressly rejected by IAEA safety standards, except in emergency circumstances such as severe reactor accidents (i.e. meltdowns),” says Dr. Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.  “We are alarmed by this attempt of the CNSC to permit practices in Canada that the IAEA warns against and we don’t want to see this approach exported to the rest of the world.”

The letter to the IAEA Director General cites the CNSC’s handling of three controversial proposals for nuclear waste disposal as further evidence of the regulatory agency’s disregard of IAEA safety standards. The proposed facilities include: a giant, above-ground mound, close to the Ottawa River, for one million tons of mixed radioactive and other toxic wastes including long-lived radionuclides such as plutonium-239, americium-243, zirconium-93, nickel-59, carbon-14 and many more; as well as the planned entombment in concrete of two shutdown federal reactors beside the Winnipeg and Ottawa rivers, which provide drinking water for millions of Canadians.

The groups call on the IAEA director to maintain the integrity of IAEA safety standards and to continue to emphasize the vital importance of ensuring independence and objectivity, stating:  “We value IAEA safety standards; at the moment they are all that is of an official nature standing between Canadians and three nuclear waste disposal projects that would adversely affect the environment and public health in Canada for generations.”

The letter notes that the CNSC is widely perceived to be a “captured regulator”, that prioritizes needs of the nuclear industry over protection of the public from radioactive pollutants released from nuclear facilities.


  1. Letter to IAEA Director General March 12, 2020. 
  2. Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review. Globe and Mail, November 6, 2018. 
  3. CNSC president wants to harmonize international nuclear safety standards, Email message from CNSC February 26, 2020.
  4. Remarks by President Rumina Velshi at the Canadian Nuclear Association 2020 Conference. CNSC February 27, 2020.
  6. International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework. Blog post. March 7, 2020.

Environmental Petition: Nuclear governance problems in Canada

June 13, 2019

Petition summary (Office of the Auditor General website)

PDF version of the full petition available here

Environmental Petition: Nuclear governance problems in Canada

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 Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area (Ontario), Pontiac Environmental Protection (Quebec), and Concerned Citizens of Manitoba. The concerns highlighted in this petition and the answers sought are also matters of importance to our colleagues in other organizations including the Alliance of the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus, the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Ralliement contre la pollution radioactive (Quebec), Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Friends of the Earth (Canada), the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Old Fort William (Quebec) Cottagers’ Association, Coalition for a Clean Green Saskatchewan, the Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Cooperative (Saskatchewan), the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Physicians for Global Survival, Mining Watch, Watershed Sentinel Educational Society (British Columbia), Green Coalition Verte (Montreal), and First United Church Water Care Allies (Ottawa).

We request that the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, and Justice undertake to address serious governance problems in the management of Canada’s nuclear waste legacy. These problems, highlighted in this petition, must be corrected to support sustainable development, protect the biosphere and avoid undue financial, health and environmental burdens for current and future generations of Canadians. 


A consortium of SNC-Lavalin and other multinational corporations has assumed ownership of “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” (CNL) and now controls all of Canada’s federally-owned nuclear facilities and radioactive wastes. A “Government-owned, Contractor-operated” (GoCo) arrangement was put in place by the former Conservative government in September 2015, just prior to the October 2015 federal election.  Environmental petition 405 and Environmental Petition 405b to the Auditor General raise questions about whether this GoCo arrangement is providing value for Canadian taxpayers (1, 2).  These questions remain relevant.

In May 2016 the consortium put forward three proposals for permanent radioactive waste disposal, the first such proposals ever in Canada. These proposals are currently undergoing environmental assessment (EA) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. They include construction of a giant, above-ground radioactive waste mound at Chalk River, Ontario and “entombment” in concrete of defunct, federal-government-owned nuclear reactors at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba (3, 4, 5). 

These project proposals disregard International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety standards on entombment of reactors and above-ground disposal of waste (6, 7, 8). They would permanently contaminate the Ottawa and Winnipeg Rivers with radioactive materials such as plutonium, caesium, strontium and tritium, some of which will be remain hazardous for over 100,000 years (3, 4, 5). 

Over 140 downstream municipalities that use the Ottawa River for drinking water have passed resolutions against the consortium’s projects (9). First Nations, Ontario, Quebec, civil society groups, independent scientists, municipalities, federal government departments and concerned individuals have submitted hundreds of critical comments on the project descriptions and EAs that are posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Registry (10, 11, 12).

Seeking to understand how the consortium’s nuclear waste proposals came to be undergoing EAs despite their lack of alignment with IAEA safety guidelines, the petitioners have researched nuclear governance in Canada and have identified problems in the way nuclear waste is dealt with by the Government of Canada, and in Canada’s system of nuclear governance generally.


Canada’s system of nuclear governance is described in a report  to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) entitled “Nuclear Legislation in OECD Countries ~ Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities: Canada” (13). This is part of a series consisting of similar reports from all OECD countries that carry out nuclear activities (14).

Canada’s radioactive waste management program is described in a profile (15) that is part of an OECD series entitled “Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency) Member Countries” (16).

In addition to IAEA and OECD resources we have drawn on Access to Information requests and our own experience for this review.

Problems with Canada’s nuclear governance

1)  Legislation 

Two main acts govern nuclear activities in Canada.  These acts are very “hands off”, providing limited direction and delegating to non-governmental agencies responsibilities that in other countries are managed by government departments and elected representatives.

Weak purposes and value-laden judgments

The primary legislation governing nuclear activities in Canada is the Nuclear Safety and Control Act of 2000 (NSCA). It establishes a regulatory body, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and provides the CNSC with a mandate to limit risks of nuclear energy to health and national security to a “reasonable level” and meet international non-proliferation obligations (17).

The Act’s weak and indirect purpose is “to provide for the limitation to a reasonable level…of the risks…”.  Use of the word “reasonable” implies that there are “reasonable” levels of exposure to man-made ionizing radiation and that it is acceptable for the Commission to make decisions to expose certain members of the public to ionizing radiation without their permission and without any benefit to them. Similarly, the NSCA allows the Commission to decide what constitutes a “reasonable” risk to national security.

Value laden judgments on what risks are “reasonable” or “acceptable” should be made by elected officials who can ultimately be held accountable by the electorate. These are not scientific decisions, but rather value judgments informed by science, economics and social values.  They should not be made by non-elected appointees, especially if they have past associations with the sector being regulated.

Acts in other countries are more direct with clear intentions to protect health and the environment. Two examples are instructive. The purpose of Finland’s Nuclear Energy Act is “To keep the use of nuclear energy in line with the overall good of society, and in particular to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is safe for man and the environment” (18).  The purpose of Germany’s Atomic Energy Act is “to protect life, health and property against the hazards of nuclear energy and the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation” (19).

Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act of 2002 (NFWA) sets up a private non-profit corporation owned by waste producers to manage nuclear fuel waste and recommend and implement strategies for dealing with it. Its purpose is

“to provide a framework to enable the Governor in Council to make, from the proposals of the waste management organization, a decision on the management of nuclear fuel waste that is based on a comprehensive, integrated and economically sound approach for Canada.” (20)

Nowhere in this Act is there any mention of protecting people or the environment.

“Delegation” (or abdication?) of responsibilities

The organizations created by the NSCA and NFWA are independent of the Canadian government. The NSCA delegates responsibilities for decision making to the CNSC.  The NFWA delegates the development of an approach to manage high level, irradiated nuclear fuel waste to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO), a corporation run by nuclear industry waste owners. 

This is in striking contrast to the way most other OECD countries manage their nuclear governance responsibilities. Requirement #1 of the IAEA’s Governmental, Legal and Regulatory Framework for Safety is that “The government shall establish a national policy and strategy for safety,” that “shall express a long term commitment to safety,” and that “shall be promulgated as a statement of the government’s intent.” (21). The Government of Canada has not expressed a long-term commitment to safety in its nuclear policy or legislation.  

No mention of the word “waste” in the NSCA

As the primary act governing nuclear activities and nuclear safety in Canada, it is surprising the word “waste” appears nowhere in the NSCA. This is in contrast to primary acts in other countries such as Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic which mention waste 197, 239 and 174 times respectively (14).

The NFWA does not address any type of radioactive waste other than irradiated nuclear fuel.  Thus neither Act addresses the vast majority (by volume) of nuclear reactor wastes, including the shut-down reactors themselves.

2) The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

Sole agency responsible for almost all aspects of nuclear governance. 

In contrast to the situation in other OECD countries, the federal government has conferred most of its nuclear governance responsibilities on the CNSC. One ensuing problem is that CNSC has assumed the role of creating policy, even though an IAEA standard explicitly states that policy should be developed and approved by the federal government and not by a regulatory agency (21).

For example, in all OECD member countries other than Canada, decisions about licensing of radioactive waste disposal are made by government bodies – not by a national regulatory agency (22). Canada is unique in giving CNSC sole and final decision-making power in this domain.

Too much independence from Parliament

As noted on the CNSC website: 

“The CNSC … reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources on the Commission’s activities under the Act. While the Chair and Board of CNSC are appointed by Order in Council, neither the Minister nor the Governor in Council has a role in CNSC’s decision making or the power of appeal. Its decisions are reviewable only by the Federal Court of Canada.” (23) 

In other countries, recommendations made by the regulatory body are generally forwarded to a government minister for a final decision. The CNSC’s “independence” from the elected government of the day arguably limits its responsibility to the Canadian people who are affected by its decisions. 

No independence from industry

The CNSC is widely perceived to be a “captured regulator” that promotes projects it is tasked with regulating.  This was noted by the Expert Panel on Reform of Environmental Assessment in its April 2017 report “Building Common Ground” (24). (Footnote 1) According to Wikipedia, “Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating… leading to a net loss for society”(25).

Examples of the CNSC’s tendency to promote the projects it is tasked with regulating are presented in Environmental Petition 413 to the Auditor General, which describes the CNSC’s handling of environmental assessments for the consortium’s nuclear waste projects (26).

The international nuclear industry also appears to perceive the CNSC as a captured agency. The CNSC was recently described in an international nuclear industry publication as presiding over a “benign regulatory environment” (27).

Mandate to protect health but no health department

Despite having a mandate to protect health, the CNSC lacks a health department.  A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it (28).

3) Radioactive waste policy vacuum

The IAEA provides detailed guidance on national policy requirements for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management (6, 7, 8, 29). 

On waste management, the IAEA says: “To ensure the effective management and control of radioactive waste, the government shall ensure that a national policy and a strategy for radioactive waste management are established.”  The IAEA adds that “The national policy on radioactive waste management has to set out the preferred options for radioactive waste management.” (4)  

On decommissioning, the IAEA says “the government should establish the overall objectives of decommissioning as part of its obligation to establish and maintain a governmental, legal and regulatory framework for all aspects of decommissioning, including management of the resulting radioactive waste. The policy should be developed by the government in cooperation with relevant organizations, including the licensee, and in consultation with the public.” (29)

Canada has no policy that sets out its objectives and preferred options for decommissioning or radioactive waste management.  The Government of Canada itself has never undertaken public consultations on these matters, but instead delegates consultation to the NWMO and CNSC. 

Non-fuel waste

Environmental Petition 411 to the Auditor General describes in detail the lack of federal policies for management of non-fuel radioactive waste. The petition reviews documents provided by NRCan in response to an Access to Information request for Canada’s radioactive waste policies.  It states that these documents:

 “… do not contain information recommended by IAEA. These documents contain no strategies, and no timeframes. They contain no goals or requirements for safe handling of radioactive wastes. They do not define how and when the goals and requirements will be achieved. They do not set out preferred options for radioactive waste management. They include non-standard, inconsistent and incomplete waste classifications. The policy framework includes the phrase “in accordance with approved waste disposal plans”, implying that such plans exist, but we were unable to find any”. (30)

Canada’s sole radioactive waste policy document is a “Radioactive Waste Policy Framework” (emphasis added) consisting of 143 words in three bullet points (31).  Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr wrote in July 2018 that “Canada does not yet have a federal policy for the long-term management of non-fuel radioactive waste.” (32)


The absence of federal policies for nuclear reactor decommissioning is described in detail in Environmental Petition 418 to the Auditor General, “Need for a national policy on decommissioning of nuclear reactors”. The petitioners note that the lack of federal policy has enabled the consortium that controls federal nuclear sites to propose to entomb reactors in concrete, based solely on cost, with no consideration of international safety guidelines (33).  Government, not private industry, should develop policies and strategies for nuclear decommissioning.

Canada also lacks a policy on the management of irradiated nuclear reactor fuel waste. As noted earlier, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act delegates the responsibility to develop an approach for high level irradiated nuclear fuel management to an industry-run corporation, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (20).

4) No checks and balances

A review of OECD documents reveals that Canada has one of the least robust systems of nuclear governance in the world, relying as it does on one agency for nearly all aspects of nuclear governance in the country.  By comparison, most other OECD countries involve high ranking public officials and have multiple government departments involved in nuclear governance. They also have high-level, multi-stakeholder, and interdisciplinary advisory committees and commissions set up to govern nuclear activities. Appendix A provides more details on this. 

As noted earlier, the side-by-side comparison of OECD countries on various aspects of nuclear governance indicates that Canada is the only OECD country that leaves decisions on nuclear waste disposal projects solely in the hands of its nuclear regulatory agency. Canada is also the only OECD country where industry has exclusive responsibility for “cost estimation” (22). Questions have arisen about cost estimates for the project proposals of the multinational consortium that manages federal nuclear sites and wastes under the current GoCo arrangement. Having only a single industry cost estimate creates risks that Canadian taxpayers are not receiving “value for money” from these project proposals. Parliamentary appropriations for nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management amounted to $737 million in the 2019-2020 federal budget alone.

The lack of checks and balances in Canada’s nuclear governance system and the absence of a clearly defined purpose to protect health in the environment in the NSCA create an over-riding emphasis on promotion of nuclear energy.  The Minister of Natural Resources, who is responsible for the NSCA, also has powers under the Nuclear Energy Act to “cause… the utilization of nuclear energy” (34), thus creating a conflict of interest in which promotion of nuclear energy tends to be given priority over efforts to limit risks. Recently, Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada have been promoting nuclear energy as “clean” and “sustainable”, despite the fact that all nuclear reactors produce hazardous radioactive waste that Canada is ill-equipped to deal with as outlined above. Environmental Petition 419 (35)  and Environmental Petition 421 (36) to the Auditor General present the cases against referring to nuclear energy as “clean” and against federal spending on new nuclear technologies. 


Canada’s policies and legislation governing radioactive waste management, and decommissioning of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities, have serious deficiencies. This puts Canada in contravention of international safety standards that clearly express a requirement for government leadership in these areas.

Elected representatives, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples and ordinary Canadians, should be directly involved in making decisions about nuclear wastes. These wastes will be hazardous and radioactive for millennia, long after the nuclear industry has ceased to exist.  Decisions should be made in the best interests of current and future generations of Canadians.

Recommended Remedies 

The Government of Canada should formally and publicly review its nuclear governance framework in the context of IAEA standards and guidelines, with a specific focus on policies and legislation for decommissioning and nuclear waste management.  This review is urgently needed to identify gaps, to recommend reforms, and to assure compliance with international standards. 

Two types of reviews would be helpful:

  1. A review by a highly credible, independent and transparent body such as the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, and
  2. An ARTEMIS  review (Footnote 2) by the International Atomic Energy Agency that would 

review the safety cases for the three radioactive waste disposal projects advanced by the consortium that owns CNL, and broadly examine Canada’s policies and legislation for decommissioning and waste management.

Both review bodies should be provided with this petition as background information. The results of both reviews should be made public, as soon as possible after completion of the reports.

Drawing upon the results of these reviews, Canada should undertake a program of restructuring and reform of the CNSC to eliminate the problem of regulatory capture and ensure that Canada’s nuclear regulator has a clear mandate and adequate capacity to protect health and the environment.  Actions might include transparent, merit-based selection of board members and senior staff, training of board and senior staff, and establishment of a CNSC office of public service ethics.

Canada should establish a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force with representation from civil society groups, First Nations and industry to advise on the development of policies and strategies for managing Canada’s post-fission, non-fuel radioactive waste that meet or exceed international safety requirements. 

Canada should strengthen existing legislation (NSCA and NFWA) to reflect international standards, and to better balance long-term human and environmental health considerations with short-term economic interests.

Overall Conclusion

This petition identifies serious weaknesses in Canada’s system of nuclear governance.  This creates risks for Canadians and their environment from nuclear waste, now and in the future. A formal commitment by the Government of Canada to review and remedy these weaknesses will protect current and future generations of Canadians and their environment from the hazards of improperly managed radioactive waste.


These questions are addressed to the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change, and Justice.  We ask that this petition also be sent for information to the Ministers of Health, Finance, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

1) Will you commit to addressing the problems with nuclear governance identified in this petition? If yes, what steps will you take to do so?

2) Will you commit to strengthening the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act to reflect international standards and to better balance long-term human and environmental health with economic interests?

These questions are addressed to Minister of Natural Resources Canada and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

3) Given the problems with nuclear governance in Canada outlined in this petition, what immediate steps will you and your cabinet colleagues take to ensure that any nuclear waste disposal project that is licensed in Canada will meet or exceed international safety standards, and will protect drinking water for current and future generations of Canadians?

4) Will you request a review of Canada’s nuclear governance by a highly credible, independent and transparent body such as the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development or the Office of the Auditor General of Canada?

5) Will you request an IAEA ARTEMIS review of the nuclear governance problems identified in this petition and will you provide the IAEA ARTEMIS team with this petition as background for its review?

6) Will you commit to establishing a high-level, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder task force with representation from civil society groups, First Nations and industry to advise on the development of policies and strategies for managing Canada’s post-fission, non-fuel radioactive waste that meet or exceed international safety requirements.


  1. “A frequently cited concern was the perceived lack of independence and neutrality because of the close relationship the NEB and CNSC have with the industries they regulate. There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities promote the projects they are tasked with regulating. The apprehension of bias or conflict of interest, whether real or not, was the single most often cited concern by participants with regard to the NEB and CNSC as Responsible Authorities. The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities. The apprehension of bias on the part of these two Responsible Authorities eroded confidence in the assessment process.“
  2. In 1998 the IAEA instituted an “Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS)”, which is available to both government and private sector entities. ARTEMIS reviews can cover national frameworks and regulatory systems as well as specific aspects of national programs. (37). CNSC Executive Vice-President and Chief Regulatory Operations Officer Ramzi Jammal indicated that the CNSC would “request an IAEA review mission for radioactive waste and spent fuel management, decommissioning and remediation programs (ARTEMIS) to review the safety cases for CNL’s proposed major projects” in a May 2018 presentation to the 42nd International Nuclear Regulators Association Meeting in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea (38).


1. CCRCA and CELA 2017. Canadian nuclear legacy liabilities: Cleanup costs for Chalk River Laboratories. Environmental Petition No. 405. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

2. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Follow-up petition on Canada’s nuclear legacy liabilities. Environmental Petition No. 405b.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

3. CNL 2017.  Near Surface Disposal Facility Environmental Impact Statement.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Chalk River, Ontario.

4. CNL 2017. Environmental Impact Statement – NPD Closure Project. NPD Decommissioning, Revision 0. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Chalk River, Ontario.

5. CNL 2017b. Environmental Impact Statement – In Situ Decommissioning of WR-1 at the Whiteshell Laboratories Site, Revision 1. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Pinawa, Manitoba.

6. IAEA 2011. Policies and Strategies for the Decommissioning of Nuclear and Radiological Facilities. Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-G-2.1. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. 

7. IAEA 2009. Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste. General Safety Requirements. Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 5. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

8. IAEA 2009. Policies and Strategies for Radioactive Waste Management. IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-G1.1. International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna.

9. CCRCA. 2019. Updated list of municipal resolutions opposing the Chalk River and Rolphton nuclear waste dumps. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

10. CEAA 2019.  Near Surface Disposal Project. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

11. CEAA 2019. Nuclear Power Demonstration Closure Project.Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

12. CEAA 2019. In Situ Decommissioning of the WR-1 Reactor. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

13. OECD 2009. Nuclear Legislation in OECD and NEA Countries. Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities: Canada

14. OECD undated.  Nuclear Energy Agency.  Nuclear Legislation.  OECD and NEA Countries

15. OECD 2015.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in OECD/NEA Member Countries: Canada.

16. OECD 2018a.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries.

17.  Government of Canada 2019.  Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Justice Laws Website.

18.  Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. 2008.

19.  German Atomic Energy Act.  2002.

20. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Justice Laws Website.

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

22.  OECD 2009.  The Regulatory Infrastructure in NEA Member Countries.

23. CNSC. 2018.  The Commission.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

24. Government of Canada. 2017. Expert Panel Report. Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada., 

25. Wikipedia. 2019. Regulatory Capture.

26. CCRCA and OFWCA. Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects. Environmental Petition No. 413.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Old Fort William Cottager’s Association.

27.  Nuclear Energy Insider. 2013. Whitepaper: Understand potential market deployment opportunities in Canada.  December 13, 2013.

28. CNSC 2018.  Organization.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.,

29.  IAEA. 2018. Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities.  Specific Safety Guide No. SSG-47.

30. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Policies and strategies for managing non-fuel radioactive wastes. Environmental Petition No. 411. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

31. NRCan. 1996. Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. Natural Resources Canada. 

32. Carr, J. 2018. Letter from the Minister of Natural Resources to the Honourable Francis Scarpaleggia, M.P., Member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis (Quebec). July 17, 2018. 

33. CCRCA and CELA 2018. Need for a national policy on decommissioning of nuclear reactors. Environmental Petition No. 418.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area and Canadian Environmental Law Association.

34. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Energy Act. Justice Laws Website.

35. CCRCA 2018. Concerns about investment in “new” nuclear technologies. Environmental Petition No. 419. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area  

36.  CCRCA 2018.  Questioning nuclear power as clean energy.  Environmental Petition No. 421.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

37. IAEA 2019.  Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS). International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

38. Jammal, R. 2018.  Canadian Update to the International Nuclear Regulators Association. Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 

Appendix A

What Canada can learn about nuclear governance from other OECD countries

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has produced two series of documents that are informative about nuclear governance in Nuclear Energy Association (NEA) member countries. These are: 

  1. “Regulatory and institutional framework for nuclear activities”. and 
  2. “Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries”

Each OECD country has a report. Review of these documents indicates that Canada’s governance system is less robust than others, lacks checks and balances that exist in other countries, lacks attention to radioactive waste and is overly reliant on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Some highlights of nuclear governance in other OECD countries are presented below:

1) Finland 

Finland is advanced in terms of handling its radioactive waste. An examination of its report in the OECD series suggests some reasons for this. Finland has a very comprehensive “Nuclear Energy Act” that deals extensively with radioactive waste. It also has a “Radiation Protection Act” which aims to protect human health from the adverse effects of radiation, an Advisory Committee on Nuclear Safety and a State Nuclear Waste Management Fund that reports to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority is an independent body that reports to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Its principal functions are to prevent harmful effects of radiation, to regulate the safe use of nuclear energy and radiation, to carry out research on radiation protection and to provide training and information. Its secondary functions are to licence nuclear facilities and for this aspect of its mandate it reports to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

2) Germany

In Germany there are three advisory committees to the federal government on nuclear issues: a Reactor Safety Commission, a Radiation Protection Commission, and a Disposal Commission which advises the Environment Ministry on all aspects of nuclear waste including transport.

3)  France

France has an elaborate system of nuclear governance, with several high level committees, councils, commissions and directorates.  The Atomic Energy Commission in France was renamed and became the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission; it now also deals with renewable energy. The National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA)  deals with all types of radioactive waste. It is supervised by the Ministries of Ecology and Industry and Research and is independent of waste producers. France has a National Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety. The President of France sits on the Council for Nuclear Policy. 

France also has an independent High Committee for Transparency and Information in Nuclear Safety. In France there is a National Plan for the Management of Radioactive Materials and Waste that is updated every three years. There is also an expert assessment committee that evaluates and reviews the various programs carried out for the management of high-level and long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste; it is neither a regulator nor an operator.

4) The United Kingdom

In the UK, there is a National Radiological Protection Board and a Radiological Protection Act aimed at protecting mankind from radiation hazards; there is no equivalent for these in Canada. The UK also has two important advisory boards relevant to nuclear waste and decommissioning with no equivalent in Canada; these are the Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee and the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. The UK also has a Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that reports to the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; its role is to implement government policy to “ensure the safe and efficient cleanup of the UK’s nuclear legacy”.

5) The United States

A very large share of nuclear governance responsibilities in the US is vested in The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Energy. However there is also a major role for the Environmental Protection Agency. The National Research Council in the United States produces regular reports on health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation. Further there is a National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement with a mission to support radiation protection by providing independent scientific analysis, information, and recommendations that represent the consensus of leading scientists.

6) Sweden

Sweden has an Act on Nuclear Activities and a Radiation Protection Act that contains provisions for both radioactive waste management and decommissioning. The Nuclear Activities Act requires all holders of nuclear reactor licenses to establish and carry out an R & D program on the safe handling and disposal of nuclear waste including decommissioning and they must submit reports on this every three years to the government.

The National Council for Nuclear Waste is an independent committee attached to the Ministry for the Environment. The Council’s mandate is to study issues relating to nuclear waste and the decommissioning of nuclear installations and to advise the Government and certain authorities on these issues. The Council reports to the Ministry of the Environment. In Sweden, the Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the regulatory policy for nuclear activities, including management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste.

Canada’s Eight Billion Dollar Nuclear Liability – Backgrounder

In 2012, the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper amended the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to give the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) total authority and decision-making power over all nuclear-related projects. 

The CNSC is currently conducting environmental assessments of three contentious radioactive waste “disposal” projects. Each is the brainchild of a consortium of private multinational corporations operating under the name “Canadian National Energy Alliance.”  The consortium consists of the scandal-ridden SNC-Lavalin, currently facing criminal charges for fraud and corruption in a Canadian court, and two U.S.-based corporate partners (Fluor and Jacobs), both of whom have also faced criminal charges of a similar nature in the past.

This consortium was hired in 2015 by the Harper government to operate the Government of Canada’s nuclear sites and reduce Canada’s eight billion dollar radioactive waste liability. The consortium received all the shares in a new corporation called “Canadian Nuclear Laboratories” (CNL) that had been created the previous year as a subsidiary of the federal crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).  In effect, this privatized AECL.  Roughly 3000 former AECL employees now work for CNL, mostly at the Chalk River Laboratories. Billions of taxpayers’ dollars are funneled into the private consortium through the ghost of AECL.

The three proposals being assessed by CNSC are:

(1) an above-ground mound, five to seven stories high, covering 11 hectares of land, for permanent disposal of one million cubic meters of mixed radioactive wastes at Chalk River, less than a kilometer from the Ottawa River;

 (2) the permanent entombment of Canada’s first electricity-producing nuclear reactor, the Nuclear Power Demonstration reactor, by encasing its radioactive remains in concrete and abandoning them only 100 meters from the Ottawa River; 

(3) the permanent entombment of the radioactive remains of another prototype nuclear reactor, the Whiteshell Reactor No. 1, at the Whiteshell Laboratories, right beside the Winnipeg River in Manitoba. 

All three projects run counter to guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Even as the consortium and CNL promote their disposal projects, they are soliciting proposals to build new nuclear reactors at the Chalk River and Whiteshell federal nuclear sites.  The CNSC secretly lobbied the government to have new nuclear reactors under a certain size exempted from Bill C-69, the new Impact Assessment Act. However, any reactor–regardless of size–will create accident risks and its own legacy of radioactive wastes. 

CNSC has long been recognized as a “captured” regulator. It has never denied a license for any major nuclear project. Its lobbying to have small reactors exempted from impact assessments–if successful–would minimize effective public participation in planning and decision-making for nuclear projects.