Reforms needed at Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ~ Hill Times letter to the editor

April 12, 2021

Canada’s nuclear regulatory agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says it’s the “World’s best nuclear regulator” on its website. That “self-image” of the CNSC’s is inconsistent with statements made in recent years by international peer reviewers, high-ranking Canadian officials, international nuclear proponents and others.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reviewed Canada’s nuclear safety framework. It identified numerous serious deficiencies including: not following IAEA guidance on nuclear reactor decommissioning, failure to justify practices involving radiation sources, inadequate management systems for transporting nuclear materials and allowing pregnant nuclear workers four times higher radiation exposures than IAEA would permit.

In testimony before the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources, in November 2016, Canada’s Environment Commissioner said:

“the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission… was quite difficult to work with… I would say that the commission was aggressive with the auditors.”

In April 2017, the Expert Panel on reform of environmental assessment, in its final report noted that it had heard many concerns about lack of independence at the CNSC:

“There were concerns that these Responsible Authorities (CNSC and NEB) promote the projects they are tasked with regulating…The term “regulatory capture” was often used when participants described their perceptions of these two entities.”

Counter to Expert Panel recommendations, the CNSC is the agency responsible for making environmental assessment and licensing decisions for three controversial radioactive waste disposal projects on the Ottawa and Winnipeg rivers. 

The nuclear industry publication, Nuclear Energy Insider, recently touted Canada’s “benign regulatory environment” as a reason for SMR developers to come to Canada to experiment with and promote “small”, “modular”, nuclear reactors.

Globe and Mail article in November 2018, revealed that CNSC officials had engaged in backroom lobbying to exempt small modular nuclear reactors from environmental assessment. 

A June 2020 briefing session for MPs and media,“Sham regulation of radioactive waste in Canada,” by the Canadian Environmental Law Association and other NGOs, outlined several ways in which the CNSC was creating “pseudo regulations” to benefit the nuclear industry and allow cheap and ineffective nuclear waste facilities to receive approval and licensing.

A recent petition to the Auditor General from our respective public interest citizens’ groups and Quebec colleagues, entitled “Nuclear governance problems in Canada,” noted that the CNSC has a mandate to protect health but lacks a health department.  A review of CNSC’s organizational chart reveals that the word health does not appear on it.

We believe the CNSC is in need of serious reform if Canadians want it to become a world-class nuclear regulator that prioritizes the health of Canadians and the environment over the health of the nuclear industry. The Government of Canada should address regulatory capture and other serious problems at the CNSC as soon as possible.

Lynn Jones, MHSc, Ottawa, Ontario, Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area

Anne Lindsey, OM, MA, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Concerned Citizens of Manitoba


The images below are screen shots from the CNSC website, on April 13, 2021, illustrating that the word “health” does not appear on the organizational chart, despite the fact that CNSC’s primary legal mandate is to protect the health of Canadians from the adverse effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.

International Atomic Energy Agency still says “entombment” is not an acceptable decommissioning strategy

November 2, 2020

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s “captured” nuclear regulator, had hoped that the latest updated guidance from IAEA would allow entombment of old reactors as a decommissioning strategy.

Here is CNSC in 2017, “dispositioning” critical comments on the proposed entombment of old (and still highly radioactive) nuclear reactors at Rolphton, Ontario and Pinawa, Manitoba:

“Yes, the document referenced, IAEA GSR 6, indicates that
entombment is not recognized internationally, in principle,
as a preferred decommissioning strategy (entombment may
be considered a solution only under exceptional
circumstances, such as following a severe accident). The
IAEA is currently working on a document to provide
guidance with respect to their position on entombment
in situ decommissioning the applicability of entombment in
the context of decommissioning and in particular, the
regulatory requirements and expectations for applying
entombment as a decommissioning option strategy. There is
no scheduled date for the publication of this document;
however, CNSC staff will keep apprised of its development
to inform this EA and licensing review process.
Irrespective of the IAEA guidance document, under the
CNSC’s regulatory framework, applicants are responsible
for selecting and justifying their proposed decommissioning

That quotation is from this document:
Page 9, top right.

The CNSC must have been disappointed when the new IAEA guidance document was published in 2018 and it STILL says that entombment is not acceptable as a decommissioning strategy.

The new IAEA document is

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

The relevant text is section 5.17 on page 32 and it reads as follows:

Entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long lived material, should not be considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning. It might be considered as a last option for managing facilities that have been damaged in an accident, if other options are not possible owing to high exposures of workers or technical difficulties.

The IAEA explicitly recommended that Canada align its decommissioning strategy with this standard, during a peer review mission in September 2019. See a summary of IAEA recommendations to Canada here.

Undeterred, the CNSC is attempting to make entombment acceptable in its own “RegDocs”, pseudo regulations that rely heavily on nuclear industry created CSA standards, but that is another story, that is covered elsewhere. See Ole Hendrickson’s recent Op Ed in the Hill Times and the recent letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that requests urgent action to address nuclear safety gaps in Canada.

Don’t approve Nuclear Waste regulations which put Canadians at risk, says NDP Natural Resources Critic Richard Cannings

Office of/Bureau du Richard Cannings MP South Okanagan – West Kootenay

June 17, 2020

South Okanagan MP Richard Cannings has self-isolated after ...

Don’t approve Nuclear Waste regulations which put Canadians at risk,
says NDP Natural Resources Critic Richard Cannings

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) should not approve a suite of regulatory documents on radioactive waste at its meeting June 18, 2020 and instead live up to the Liberal government’s commitment to openness and transparency for regulatory development. Some of these regulations developed by commission staff are at best vague guidelines that leave nuclear waste policy decisions in the hands of private industry, instead of actually prescribing actions that are in the public interest.

These regulatory changes would pave the way for several controversial nuclear waste disposal projects, including a giant mound at Chalk River, Ontario, two entombments of shut- down reactors, and a proposed deep geological repository for the burial of high-level nuclear fuel waste.

This proposal does not meet Canada’s commitment to meeting or surpassing international standards for the handling of nuclear waste. For example, the entombment of nuclear reactors is designated as “in-situ decommissioning”, a practice that the International Atomic Energy Agency says should only be used as a last option for facilities damaged in accidents.

Of further concern is the lack of clarity in the proposed regulations. In many cases the licensee is directed to develop safety requirements with no explicit directions as to what those safety requirements are. The giant mound at Chalk River is meant to contain up to 1 million cubic metres of low- to intermediate-activity nuclear waste but these activity levels are not defined and the private owner of the facility would get to decide what materials are stored in that mound of nuclear waste.

The Minister of Natural Resources has committed to consulting Canadians on a policy framework and strategy for radioactive waste. Instead we have this backdoor process with limited public input and no parliamentary oversight. The minister should be conducting a public process to develop a Canadian framework for radioactive waste management that meets or exceeds international best practices, a framework that does not allow the nuclear industry to police itself.

Letter to IAEA Director General March 12, 2020

March 12, 2020

Mr. Rafael M. Grossi

Director General

International Atomic Energy Agency

Vienna International Centre

PO Box 100

1400 Vienna, Austria

Dear Mr. Grossi,

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced on February 25 that CNSC President Rumina Velshi has been named to Chair the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Commission on Safety Standards. We are deeply concerned about this appointment for the reasons explained below.

Firstly, we submit that the head of a national regulatory body with a documented history of failing to meet IAEA safety standards should not chair the IAEA Commission on safety standards. According to the recently released report (1) from the IAEA peer review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework,

  • CNSC regulations “do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” 
  • CNSC “has no systematic approach to conduct a gap analysis between the new IAEA requirements and its regulatory framework.” 
  • Canada’s style of legislative practice “may create difficulties to find exact wording when searching where and by what provision individual requirements of the IAEA Safety Standards are addressed.” 

A concrete example of the CNSC’s disregard of IAEA safety standards is its decision to allow three nuclear waste disposal plans to proceed to environmental assessment even though all three projects clearly contravene IAEA safety standards.The proposed facilities include:  a giant, above-ground mound for permanent storage of one million tons of mixed radioactive and non-radioactive 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 shut-down reactors beside major rivers that provide drinking water for millions of Canadians.

All three facilities would leak radioactive contaminants into the environment for millennia. The CNSC dismissed warnings from scientific experts about serious flaws in the three proposals during the project description phase of the environmental assessments.  Hundreds of substantive concerns about the projects have been voiced by federal and provincial government departments, First Nations, civil society groups, municipalities, retired scientists, and concerned citizens. Nevertheless, the environmental assessments have been in progress for close to four years, far longer than the normal one-year period allowed for non-nuclear projects. The CNSC has changed the timelines more than once to give the proponent extra time to attempt to address concerns, and there are still no clear final deadlines for completion of the assessments. We and many of our colleagues brought our concerns about these proposed projects to the attention of your predecessor in April, 2018. (see letter to Dr. Yukiya Amano ) (2)

The CNSC has also been working to make “in-situ decommissioning” an acceptable strategy for shut-down nuclear reactors despite clear guidance from the International Atomic Energy Agency that the strategy should only be used in emergency situations such as during a severe accident. The recent IAEA peer review said Canada should “revise its current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance”.  However the CNSC continues to work to expand the meaning of “exceptional circumstances” and include in-situ decommissioning as an acceptable strategy for “legacy” reactors. 

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is widely perceived in Canada to be subject to regulatory capture, as noted by the Expert Panel on Reform of Environmental Assessment in April 2017.* This problem of regulatory capture on the part of CNSC was highlighted in Environmental Petition 427, “Nuclear Governance Problems in Canada”(3), to the Auditor General of Canada, in June 2019. The nuclear industry publication, Nuclear Energy Insider, recently promoted Canada as an excellent place to develop small modular reactors, partly because of Canada’s “benign regulatory environment”. (4)

In our experience the CNSC prioritizes the needs of industry over protection of the public from the adverse effects of man-made ionizing radiation that is routinely released from all nuclear facilities. According to CNSC staff, the CNSC commissioners did not ever refuse to grant a license in the agency’s 17 year history to 2017. (5) 

We believe the leader of a “captured” regulatory agency that fails to meet IAEA guidance on nuclear waste management and works to weaken safety standards for nuclear reactor decommissioning in their domestic application should not be eligible to chair the IAEA commission on international safety standards.

We would like to point out that we believe that Ms. Velshi may be in a conflict of interest situation in her current position as President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Prior to her appointment as head of the CNSC, Ms. Velshi worked for seven years at Ontario Power Generation, in senior management positions. Therefore she may not qualify as “independent” according to IAEA General Safety Guide No. GSG-12 (Organization, Management and Staffing of the Regulatory Body for Safety), whichspells out in considerable detail the need for independence of the regulatory body in order to ensure that regulatory judgements can be made, and enforcement actions taken, without any unwarranted pressure from interests that may conflict with safety. We submit that Ms. Velshi’s perceived lack of independence from the nuclear industry makes her unsuitable to serve as the chairperson of the IAEA’s commission on safety standards.

Ms. Velshi has stated that she intends to use her chairmanship “to champion the importance of greater harmonization of standards and ensure they support nuclear innovation while never compromising safety”. We fear that Ms. Velshi’s chairmanship could result in the lowering of international standards, with an emphasis on benefits to the industry and support of “innovation” at the expense of public protection. We note that the CNSC successfully advocated for exemption from environmental assessment for small modular reactors in Canada (6); we would not like to see such an exemption become part of the “harmonization” of international standards envisioned by Ms. Velshi.

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. We urge you to maintain the integrity of IAEA safety standards and to continue to emphasize the vital importance of ensuring independence and objectivity.

Please reconsider the appointment of Rumina Velshi to the chairmanship of the IAEA commission on safety standards.

Yours sincerely,

Gordon Edwards, Ph.D, 

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Éric Notebaert, MD, M.Sc.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment

Ole Hendrickson, Ph.D

Ottawa River Institute


The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources

The Hon. Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party of Canada

Yves-François Blanchette, Bloc Québécois

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party

Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada, Parliamentary Caucus Leader

Sylvain Ricard, Auditor General of Canada

Andrew Hayes, Interim Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development

 * Excerpt from the Expert Panel Report: “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. Letter to Dr. Yukiya Amano from five first nations and 39 civil society organizations in Canada, April 23, 2018
  3. Environmental Petition 427 to the Auditor General of Canada, June 2019. Petition summary: and full text of petition:
  4. Nuclear Energy Insider, promotional material for SMR’s, excerpt from the internet December 13, 2017. Excerpt from white paper:
  5. Email message from CNSC staff: “Number of licence refusals by CNSC commissioners” February 27, 2017.
  6. Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review. Globe and Mail, November 6, 2018