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 final report was produced by peer reviewers and hosts together. This report took five months, after completion of the mission to be finalized.

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). Red text highlights some key quotes from the IRRS team’s report.

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.

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(emphasis added)

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 IRRS team found that “The legal framework does not expressly assign the prime responsibility for safety to the person or organization responsible for a facility or an activity.”

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”).

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 IRRS review states that “There is no systematic evaluation of justification for the various practices involving radiation sources in the licensing process.” (emphasis added)

The 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.”

The IRRS team stated CNSC has not developed a single document where all elements of safety policy are gathered and approved by the senior management.” (emphasis added)

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.

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 review states that The current radiation protection regulations and requirements are not in accordance with GSR Part 3 with respect to optimization of radiation protection current radiation protection regulations and requirements are not in accordance with GSR Part 3 with respect to optimization of radiation protection.” (emphasis added)

 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.

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 IRRS report states The CNSC has not explicitly established or adopted guidance regarding management system for transport.” (emphasis added)

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.

Here are screenshots of Appendix IV from the final report. The IRRS team had suggestions or recommendations in 20 out of the 26 areas they looked at during the review.

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.

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

January 29, 2018

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

Environmental Assessment of Nuclear Projects

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

Purpose of Petition

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CNSC has not ensured sufficient engagement of First Nations 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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