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.

Hill Times Op Ed: Proposed radioactive waste disposal rules are weak and industry-friendly

OPINION

Proposed radioactive waste disposal rules are weak and industry-friendly

By OLE HENDRICKSON      JUNE 12, 2020

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is on the cusp of approving new rules for the disposal of nuclear waste in Canada.

Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan, pictured delivering the opening keynote at the Canadian Nuclear Association’s annual conference in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2020. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission reports to Parliament through Mr. O’Regan. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

On June 18th, Canada’s industry-friendly regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), will formalize new guidance and requirements for disposal of radioactive waste. The CNSC’s new rules are tailored to allow the nuclear industry to “solve” its waste problem as easily and cheaply as possible.

While the CNSC claims to have consulted the public in preparing five new regulatory documents (“REGDOCs”) for radioactive waste storage and disposal, the documents largely reflect the agency’s separate interactions with industry giants such as Cameco, Ontario Power Generation, Bruce Power, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (a privately-owned corporation controlled by U.S. interests).

With Canadian nuclear reactors approaching the end of their useful life, or already shut down, the CNSC’s proposal to allow permanent, on-site disposal (and eventual abandonment) of radioactive waste at existing nuclear facilities is attracting criticism.

This strategy, known as “in-situ decommissioning”, is expressly supported in a new CNSC decommissioning REGDOC, even though its use is specifically proscribed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Plans to use existing nuclear facilities for permanent waste disposal were initially set out in a 2014 Canadian Standards Association document prepared by industry and government nuclear officials.  This document identifies “in situ confinement—to place the facility in a safe and secure condition with the intention to abandon in-place” as a decommissioning strategy option.

In 2015, the consortium of multinational companies that owns Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and operates the federal government’s nuclear sites (including six shut-down reactors) proposed to use this option for federal reactors in Ontario and Manitoba—to entomb them in concrete and grout. These proposals triggered federal environmental assessments that are being led by the CNSC.

In February 2020 the IAEA released a review of Canada’s nuclear safety framework, and observed that “The CNSC is currently considering two licence applications related to in situ confinement of legacy reactor facilities. This strategy of in-situ confinement is not consistent with SSG-47.”

SSG-47 is the 2018 IAEA Specific Safety Guide, Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities.  The IAEA suggested that CNSC “consider revising its current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance.”

But tather than following IAEA guidance that “entombment is not considered an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning,” the CNSC decommissioning REGDOC to be approved on June 18th says “In situ decommissioning may be considered a solution… for legacy sites.”

The REGDOC then goes further, opening the door for abandonment of future nuclear facilities such as small modular reactors if their removal is not “practicable”.

Approval of this REGDOC and four others dealing with radioactive waste is being rushed by the CNSC behind closed doors during the coronavirus pandemic. The CNSC dismissed a written request from civil society groups to speak at, or even make written submissions for, its so-called “public meeting” on June 18th.

Civil society groups have long noted that Canada lacks policies and strategies for managing radioactive waste. Federal policy is limited to a 143-word Radioactive Waste Policy Framework that does not mention the fundamental principle of dealing with radioactive waste in a manner that protects human health—now and in the future—without imposing undue burdens on future generations.

In February, the IAEA recommended that “The Government of Canada should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in its Radioactive Waste Policy Framework.” The government responded that “Natural Resources Canada will review its existing policy for radioactive waste, and consider how it may be enhanced.”

NRCan officials say this review will include consultation with Indigenous groups and the public, but its start has been delayed by the pandemic.

It appears that the CNSC has decided to move quickly to pre-empt this government review, so as to allow maximum flexibility for the nuclear industry to use quick and cheap options to deal with its vexing challenge of radioactive waste disposal. When it comes to protecting people from exposure to harmful radiation, the fox is guarding the chicken house.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired environmental scientist, and a member of the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.

Civil society urges suspension of decisions involving radioactive waste after international body finds Canada’s nuclear waste policy deficient

Civil society urges suspension of decisions involving radioactive waste after international body finds Canada’s nuclear waste policy deficient

Ottawa (May 19, 2020) – Over one hundred civil society organizations and prominent scientific experts from across Canada have called on the federal minister of Natural Resources (Hon. Seamus O’Regan) to suspend all decision-making involving radioactive waste disposal until Canada has a sufficient radioactive waste policy in place.

In February 2020, it was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Canada’s Radioactive Waste Management Policy Framework “does not encompass all the needed policy elements nor a detailed strategy” necessary to provide a national strategy for long-term radioactive waste management in Canada. In the letter, signatories request that the development of Canada’s radioactive waste policy and associated strategy must be based on “meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples and strong public engagement from the outset.”

Signatories underscored the urgency of their request as Canada’s nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, presses ahead with regulatory licence decisions on a number of radioactive waste projects. Fearing Canada’s deficient radioactive waste framework will imprint itself on decisions affecting the health and safety of future generations and the environment, signees urged Canada to provide leadership, and establish sufficient guidance and federal policy.

Other commitments requested by signees included that Canada establish objectives and principles to underly a nuclear waste policy and strategy. They also requested Canada identify the problems and issues posed by existing and accumulating radioactive waste.

The full text of the letter sent to the Minister, may be found on the Nuclear Waste Watch website here: “Canada Needs a National Radioactive Waste Policy” May 15, 2020

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Links:Find the letter to Minister Seamus O’Regan and the media release in English and French here:  https://nuclearwastewatch.weebly.com/May2020Mai.html
A full list of deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework, identified by the IAEA, is available here: “International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework”

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 ://www.cbc.ca/news/world/nuclear-waste-reclassify-cleanup-1.5163992

• 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 8.1.1.1 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 8.1.1.1 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 8.1.1.1 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 8.1.2.1 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

International peer review finds deficiencies in Canada’s nuclear safety framework

February 2020

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released the final report of its review of Canada’s framework for nuclear safety. The review was conducted in September 2019 by a  24-member team including 20 senior regulatory experts from 17 countries, under the aegis of the IAEA’s “Integrated Regulatory Review Service” (IRRS).

The IRRS team conducting the review provided numerous observations, suggestions and recommendations that require action by the Government of Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).  

These include the following: (all text is excerpted from the IAEA report and IAEA safety guides except “Comments” which highlight concerns of civil society groups).

1.  The Government of Canada should enhance the existing policy and establish the associated strategy to give effect to the principles stated in its Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. 

The IAEA requires “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.” Further, it requires that “The national strategy for radioactive waste management has to outline arrangements for ensuring the implementation of the national policy.”  The IRRS team found “no evidence”, beyond the principles contained in the Policy Framework, of a “governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management.” It found that the Policy Framework “does not encompass all the needed policy elements nor a detailed strategy or corresponding arrangements… for radioactive waste management in Canada.”

Comment: “The IRRS mission found no evidence… of a government policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management.” This policy and strategy vacuum highlighted by the IAEA has allowed the promotion of substandard radioactive waste facilities that would not isolate radioactive wastes from the biosphere as required by IAEA.This puts Canadians at risk of adverse effects on their drinking water, their health and their property values. If this policy vacuum persists, current and future Canadians will pay for this deficiency with adverse health outcomes and increasing demands on the public purse to remediate poorly designed radioactive waste facilities in the future. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

2. The Government of Canada’s decommissioning requirements should align with IAEA guidance that entombment, in which all or part of the facility is encased in a structurally long-lived material, is not an acceptable strategy for planned decommissioning of existing nuclear power plants and future nuclear facilities.

The IRRS team included the following observation in its report: “The CNSC is currently considering two licence applications related to in situ confinement of legacy reactor facilities. This strategy of in-situ confinement is not consistent with SSG-47” (SSG-47 is the 2018 IAEA Specific Safety Guide, Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities.) The report suggests that Canada “revise its current and planned requirements in the area of decommissioning to align with the IAEA guidance”. 

The IAEA review states that “The national policy on management of radioactive waste should include decommissioning aspects, including the choice of possible decommissioning strategies” and it “encourages Canada to request an international peer review of the proposed strategy related to in situ confinement [entombment] of legacy reactors.”

Comment: Two proposals for entombment of shut-down reactors are currently undergoing environmental assessment in Canada.  IAEA guidance explicitly prohibits this approach, which essentially consists of dumping concrete on top of the highly radioactive remains of defunct reactors and leaving them in place. Such an approach would allow radioactive contaminants to leak into groundwater and drinking water sources for millennia.

3. The Government of Canada’s legal framework for nuclear safety should “expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity,” and should “explicitly stipulate that compliance with regulations and requirements established or adopted by the regulatory body does not relieve the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity of its prime responsibility for safety.”

The IAEA requires that “The government shall expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity.“ 

Comment: Lack of clarity on who is primarily responsible for safety can lead to lax safety practices as occurred in Ontario in 1997, when seven Ontario Power Generation reactors had to be shut down and U.S. experts called in to review the situation. (See “Canada pays price for taking nuclear safety for granted”). This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

4. The Government of Canada’s legal framework for nuclear safety should explicitly address the principle of “Justification of facilities and activities”, namely that “Facilities and activities that give rise to radiation risks must yield an overall benefit.”

The IAEA requires that “For facilities and activities to be considered justified, the benefits that they yield must outweigh the radiation risks to which they give rise.” The IAEA review suggests that the CNSC should “establish a procedure to ensure the systematic implementation of justification in the authorization of all practices involving radiation sources.”

Comment: Real situations arise where there is a trade-off between the nuclear industry’s desire to expand and the public’s right to be protected from radioactive pollutants, which are routinely released from nuclear facilities. By not explicitly addressing “justification”, Canada’s nuclear safety framework allows industry needs to prevail and man-made radiation exposures to increase without any assessment of whether or not there are benefits to society at large that justify the increased exposures. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

5.  The CNSC should implement a systematic gap analysis between IAEA requirements and its regulatory framework, and update the regulatory framework as necessary.

The IAEA requires that “regulations and guides shall be reviewed and revised as necessary to keep them up to date, with due consideration of relevant international safety standards” The IRRS team found that CNSC regulations “do not comprehensively cover all IAEA Fundamental Safety Requirements.” The CNSC “has no systematic approach to conduct a gap analysis between the new IAEA requirements and its regulatory framework.”  The IRRS team observed that 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.”  It observed that the CNSC “uses a predominantly non-prescriptive approach in the application of its regulatory framework.”

Comment:  Many fundamental IAEA safety standards are not addressed by regulations in Canada and there is no system in place to identify the gaps. IAEA standards that are addressed tend to be addressed in a “non-prescriptive” way. For example, there is no mention of the standards and regulations in actual nuclear facility licenses so essentially there is no legal force behind them. In practical terms, Canada’s regulator relies on its licensees to “self-regulate”; this can lead to problems.

6. The CNSC should establish or approve dose constraints for all Class I type facilities, should consistently implement the concept of dose constraints for all facilities, and should standardise regulatory practice for derived release limits.

The IRRS team found that “dose constraints are not explicitly established for all Class I facilities,” that “there are different approaches used to the regulation of the control and authorization of releases for different types of facilities,” and that “inconsistencies are evident” in the derivation of derived released limits.

Comment: According to the review team there is much inconsistency in Canada’s approach to establishing limits for radioactive pollutants from individual facilities. This puts Canadians at risk. In our experience, CNSC allows licensees to create a separate release limit for each and every one of hundreds of radionuclides it releases, each one based on releasing up to the public dose limit for that radionuclide. This problem is compounded by the fact that members of the public can be exposed to releases from more than one facility. For example, people in the Ottawa Valley are subject to radioactive releases from the defunct NPD reactor at Rolphton, from the Chalk River Laboratories, and from SRB Technologies in Pembroke which releases tritium to the air, groundwater, and the sewer system. Each one of these facilities sets its own release limits that allow it to release up to the public dose limit for each and every radionuclide it releases. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

7.  The CNSC should ensure that radiation protection requirements are consistent with the IAEA General Safety Requirements, Part 3; specifically, with respect to optimization of radiation protection through dose constraints, dose limits and retention of dose records by licensees.

The IRRS team noted that the CNSC is updating its Radiation Protection Regulations.  However, it found that this update “does not foresee a reduction in the dose limit to the pregnant nuclear energy worker from 4 mSv to 1 mSv… nor the establishment of dose limits for apprentices or students of 16 to 18 years of age.”  Further, it found that CNSC regulations do not meet the IAEA requirement that “Records of occupational exposure for each worker shall be maintained during and after the worker’s working life, at least until the former worker attains or would have attained the age of 75 years, and for not less than 30 years after cessation of the work.”

Comment: Canada does not adequately protect pregnant nuclear energy workers, allowing a four times higher dose to pregnant nuclear energy workers than IAEA recommends. Canada does not adequately protect student workers from 16 – 18 years of age. Inadequate record retention makes health studies difficult and could interfere with compensation claims in the event of adverse health outcomes potentially caused by radiation exposures. This deficiency is a problem given the recent exemption from impact assessment of small nuclear reactors and Canada’s intention to invest heavily in this new technology.

8. The CNSC should align its transportation regulatory documents with IAEA requirements, including its guidance for package design certification, and guidance regarding management system for transport.

The IAEA Regulations SSR-6 (Regulations for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Materials, 2018 Edition)require that “a management system based on international, national or other standards acceptable to the competent authority shall be established and implemented for all the activities associated to the transport of radioactive material.”  The CNSC “has not explicitly established or adopted guidance regarding management system for transport.”

Comment: Canada’s inadequate management system for transport of radioactive materials puts Canadians at risk. We have no guarantees that packaging is adequate, and no notification to municipalities and emergency personnel when shipments are passing through their area. Three fiery crashes on Canadian highways in recent years amplify our concerns about potential catastrophic consequences of inadequately regulated transport of radioactive materials.

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. 

Introduction

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.

Background

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)

Reactors

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. 

Conclusion

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.

Questions

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.

Footnotes:

  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).

References

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. http://www.cela.ca/publications/1123NLLPPetition

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. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDozM2FmNTM2MTU5OTY3ZDUw

3. CNL 2017.  Near Surface Disposal Facility Environmental Impact Statement.  Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.  Chalk River, Ontario.  http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80122/118380E.pdf

4. CNL 2017. Environmental Impact Statement – NPD Closure Project. NPD Decommissioning, Revision 0. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Chalk River, Ontario. https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80121/121057E.pdf

5. CNL 2017b. Environmental Impact Statement – In Situ Decommissioning of WR-1 at the Whiteshell Laboratories Site, Revision 1. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories. Pinawa, Manitoba.https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/documents/p80124/120753E.pdf

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. https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1525_web.pdf 

7. IAEA 2009. Predisposal Management of Radioactive Waste. General Safety Requirements. Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 5. International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.  https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1368_web.pdf

8. IAEA 2009. Policies and Strategies for Radioactive Waste Management. IAEA Nuclear Energy Series No. NW-G1.1. International Atomic Energy Agency Vienna. https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1396_web.pdf

9. CCRCA. 2019. Updated list of municipal resolutions opposing the Chalk River and Rolphton nuclear waste dumps. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area.  https://concernedcitizens.net/2019/05/29/updated-list-of-municipal-resolutions-against-the-chalk-river-and-rolphton-nuclear-waste-dumps/

10. CEAA 2019.  Near Surface Disposal Project. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/evaluations/document/exploration/80122?type=3&culture=en-CA

11. CEAA 2019. Nuclear Power Demonstration Closure Project.Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/evaluations/document/exploration/80121?type=3&culture=en-CA

12. CEAA 2019. In Situ Decommissioning of the WR-1 Reactor. Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. https://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/050/evaluations/document/exploration/80124?type=3&culture=en-CA

13. OECD 2009. Nuclear Legislation in OECD and NEA Countries. Regulatory and Institutional Framework for Nuclear Activities: Canadahttps://www.oecd-nea.org/law/legislation/canada.pdf

14. OECD undated.  Nuclear Energy Agency.  Nuclear Legislation.  OECD and NEA Countrieshttps://www.oecd-nea.org/law/legislation/

15. OECD 2015.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in OECD/NEA Member Countries: Canada. https://www.oecd-nea.org/rwm/profiles/Canada_profile_web.pdf

16. OECD 2018a.  Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries. https://www.oecd-nea.org/rwm/profiles/

17.  Government of Canada 2019.  Nuclear Safety and Control Act. Justice Laws Website.https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-28.3/

18.  Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. 2008. https://www.oecd-nea.org/law/legislation/Finnish%20Nuclear%20Energy%20Act%202008.pdf

19.  German Atomic Energy Act.  2002. https://www.nuklearesicherheit.de/en/licensing-and-supervision/the-legal-framework/german-atomic-energy-act-atomgesetz/

20. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Justice Laws Website. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/N-27.7/

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. https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1713web-70795870.pdf

22.  OECD 2009.  The Regulatory Infrastructure in NEA Member Countries. http://www.oecd-nea.org/rwm/The-Regulatory-Infrastructure-4Feb10.pdf

23. CNSC. 2018.  The Commission.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  https://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/the-commission/index.cfm?pedisable=true

24. Government of Canada. 2017. Expert Panel Report. Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/assessments/environmental-reviews/environmental-assessment-processes/building-common-ground.html, 

25. Wikipedia. 2019. Regulatory Capture. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.  https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDozNDdmMjI3NzRiYzQwMTRm

27.  Nuclear Energy Insider. 2013. Whitepaper: Understand potential market deployment opportunities in Canada.  December 13, 2013. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDoyNmVkNDUxOWRkNTkzY2Y5

28. CNSC 2018.  Organization.  Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission., http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/about-us/organization/index.cfm.

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. https://tinyurl.com/policy-vacuum-petition

31. NRCan. 1996. Radioactive Waste Policy Framework. Natural Resources Canada. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/uranium-nuclear/7725 

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.  https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDo3MzQ5MTMwMWFkNDg5ODk2

34. Government of Canada. 2019.  Nuclear Energy Act. Justice Laws Website. https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/A-16.pdf

35. CCRCA 2018. Concerns about investment in “new” nuclear technologies. Environmental Petition No. 419. Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDo0MTNiOTJlMTgxZTNlOTBl.  

36.  CCRCA 2018.  Questioning nuclear power as clean energy.  Environmental Petition No. 421.  Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxjb25jZXJuZWRjaXRpemVuc3JjYXxneDo0MmM3MTU3OTM4NThmODc0

37. IAEA 2019.  Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS). International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.  https://www.iaea.org/services/review-missions/integrated-review-service-for-radioactive-waste-and-spent-fuel-management-decommissioning-and-remediation-artemis

38. Jammal, R. 2018.  Canadian Update to the International Nuclear Regulators Association. Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. http://www.nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/pdfs/Presentations/VP/2018/20180517-Ramzi-Jammal-CNSC-Regulatory-Activities-Update-eng.pdf 

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”. http://www.oecd-nea.org/law/legislation/ and 
  2. “Radioactive Waste Management Programmes in NEA Member Countries” https://www.oecd-nea.org/rwm/profiles/

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.

Federal nuclear regulator urges Liberals to exempt smaller reactors from full panel review

Globe and Mail article

SHAWN MCCARTHY GLOBAL ENERGY REPORTER

OTTAWA

PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 6, 2018 UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO

FOR SUBSCRIBERS

COMMENTS

Canada’s nuclear regulator has urged the federal government to allow smaller nuclear reactors to avoid lengthy impact assessments, a move that would create an easier and faster path for commercialization of the technology.

So-called “small module reactors,” or SMRs, have been touted as a low-carbon energy option for remote communities. But briefing notes from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) show it is worried that protracted impact assessment hearings could be detrimental to the commercialization of the reactors in Canada. The commission told the government it should retain responsibility to conduct environmental reviews when construction projects are proposed, according to documents obtained under access to information laws.

The SMRs represent the nuclear industry’s latest effort to reduce its high capital costs and would have a capacity ranging from 1.5 megawatts to a utility-scale 300 megawatts.

In one briefing document for internal discussions, the regulator notes the nuclear industry’s concerns about “longer regulatory timelines” that would result from passage of the government’s Impact Assessment Act – Bill C-69, which is now before the Senate. The CNSC encourages the government to exempt small modular reactors from the list of designated projects that would receive a full panel review, and warns that lengthy regulatory delays could kill a promising industry. The documents were obtained by Greenpeace Canada.

Proponents argue the small modular reactors could supply a wide range of electricity needs, from replacing dirty, unreliable diesel generation in remote communities, to providing low-carbon electricity for oil sands operations. They paint a vision of impoverished Indigenous communities getting reliable and affordable power from 1.5-megawatt reactors that would replace diesel, or off-grid mines and oil sands plants using larger reactors to provide low-carbon energy to their operations, and of units that would anchor “energy parks” and complement solar and wind generation.

“The future of the nuclear industry, especially for Canadian participants, is dependent on the success of SMRs,” says the April, 2018, note to CNSC’s then-president Michael Binder, who has since retired. “It is very important to get the project list right so that there is a reasonable threshold on what kind of projects require an IA [impact assessment].” Another briefing note also says CNSC is recommending the government adopt thresholds to ensure proposals to build small reactors do not face a full impact review.

Panel members of a full impact assessment would come from a broad cross-section of the public representing various disciplines, appointed by the government.

Greenpeace researcher Shawn-Patrick Stensil argues the CNSC’s preferred approach would prevent a broad-based review of the safety and environmental risks from untested reactor technology that will produce highly radioactive waste.

CNSC spokesman Aurele Gervais said the commission believes there should be a threshold for full impact assessments “based on risk.”

“Regardless, all projects would still be subject to environmental assessments under the Nuclear Safety Control Act,” which is administered by the CNSC, he said.

On Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi is scheduled to release a “road map” – prepared by industry with support from the federal government – on how Canada can participate in the development of next generations of reactors. “We will make sure that we are looking at every aspect of this industry from safety, from regulation, to the potential for northern communities, the potential of co-generation for large industrial complexes,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

In an interview, Mr. Sohi said the government will consider the industry proposals, but has not committed to providing any support for the commercialization of SMRs. In an Oct. 30 letter to Mr. Sohi and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, critics representing 25 advocacy groups argue SMRs would be more expensive per kilowatt of power than traditional reactors and would continue to produce radioactive waste with no permanent disposal methods available.

Government-owned Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is in talks with several companies that are developing SMRs and is aiming to have several demonstration plants at its site on Chalk River, 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa, assuming the developers receive a safety licence from the CNSC. Currently, 10 companies have submitted plans to the commission for a “pre-licensing design review” in which the regulator provides high-level feedback on whether their technology would meet with Canadian standards.

CNL is hosting an international gathering of SMR developers in Ottawa this week. That list includes Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Co., which is now owned by Brookfield Asset Management Inc., and Terrestrial Energy Inc., which has cleared the first stage of the pre-licensing review with the CNSC.

At a presentation on Monday evening, CNL president Mark Lesinski said it is critical for the industry to be able to build demonstration plants at an existing nuclear site like Chalk River, in order to prove and fine-tune its technology before pursuing commercial deals. Industry officials suggest it would likely take five years before an SMR design is licensed in Canada, and another five years before they are sold commercially. However, in their letter to the ministers, the advocacy groups urged the government to refuse any support for new nuclear reactor technology.

“The nuclear lobby’s promises of affordable new reactors able to fight climate change are always conditional on government subsidies, watering down safety and limiting the public’s right to information,” Greenpeace’s Mr. Stensil said on Tuesday. He argued it is inappropriate for the CNSC to lobby on behalf of the industry that it regulates. The commission provided a submission to the government on the Impact Assessment Act, but has refused to release it, he said.