Tag Archives: CNSC

Op-ed

Guest column: Is Peterborough the right place to make nuclear fuel?

Head of Canadian Nuclear Association weighs in on BWXT’s request to expand local operations

Portrait of John GormanBy John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published in The Peterborough Examiner on February 24, 2020.

In early March, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will hold public hearings in Toronto and Peterborough about the renewal of BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada’s operating licence.

The CNSC regulates every part of the nuclear industry in Canada, to ensure the safety of employees, the public, and the environment. So, BWXT needs this licence to continue its work. This includes producing natural uranium fuel pellets in its Toronto facility. These are shipped to Peterborough, where BWXT places them in zirconium tubes that it manufactured in its Arnprior facility. The fuel bundles made by companies such as BWXT and Cameco are then used in nuclear reactors, which provide about 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.

For its licence renewal, BWXT applied to keep operating for another 10 years, but also for the option to manufacture fuel pellets in Peterborough.

This last point has given rise to a lot more opposition from activists, who plan to turn out to the CNSC hearings in force. This is unusual for a fairly innocuous part of the nuclear supply chain, so it drew my attention. Opposition groups have been in the media lately, raising several concerns: that the Peterborough plant might emit uranium dioxide dust, or that contaminated water might be dumped into nearby waters.

However, one objection from the activists stood out: why Peterborough? Why, they said, allow the handling of nuclear materials so close to where people live, work, and play?

First, the CNSC ensures that Canada’s entire nuclear industry is safe — not just the reactors, but the mining, transportation, processing, and eventual disposal too. That’s why the total number of deaths from nuclear operations in Canada since it began in the 1950s is zero.

But BWXT takes safety to a level far higher than what is required by regulation. For example, the CNSC has set a limit for radiation exposure to the public at one millisievert per year — but the estimate for people living near the Peterborough facility was less than one thousandth of that in 2018. When one considers that we all get about 1.8 millisieverts per year naturally from the environment, BWXT’s almost-unmeasurable addition fades into insignificance.

But BWXT still takes any risks seriously. That’s why the Peterborough facility stores any waste water that could be contaminated with uranium in tanks, then filters uranium dioxide out, and sends water samples to an outside lab. The lab tests have to show that the water meets regulatory requirements before BWXT can release it. In Toronto, where BWXT makes fuel pellets, the emissions into the air are about one per cent of the limit CNSC sets, and the release into the water is about 0.3 per cent of the limit. The very small amount of dust created within the facility is dealt with by several layers of filters.

Still, ensuring that BWXT is safe doesn’t fully answer the question: why here?

The answer is: because Peterborough has the skilled workforce that BWXT needs. The Peterborough facility employs about 300 people, including about 120 engineers. The assembly of fuel bundles requires both rigorous training and understanding of safety procedures, but this is not the only work BWXT performs here, as Peterborough is also home to its reactor inspection and maintenance tooling teams.

These jobs are not only skilled, but also stable: BWXT’s operations help to supply Ontario’s nuclear power plants, which are now undergoing a mid-life refurbishment, and are expected to run for decades more. So, if a young engineer enters the nuclear industry now, he or she can expect a solid career. But there’s more: increasing concern about climate change, is making zero-emission nuclear power more attractive than ever. And, with the recent excitement about building new-generation small modular reactors, the nuclear industry could be headed for considerable growth. This could greatly benefit Peterborough and its surrounding communities, where the nuclear industry is responsible for over 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

So, BWXT should continue operating in Peterborough because that’s where its highly skilled and educated employees are — where they send their kids to school, play hockey on the weekends, and shop after the workday. And they, like anyone else who works in Canada’s nuclear industry, know well that the air and water around their workplace is safe for them and their families.

The CNSC, which is independent of any industry group, will make a decision on the BWXT licence application after the March hearings. I am confident that the CNSC will base its decision on the available facts, and I hope that the hearings will reflect the interests of the Peterborough community as a whole.

CNA2020

WHAT WILL BE THE IMPACT OF THE NEW IMPACT ASSESSMENT AGENCY?

The CNA2020 Regulatory and Environmental Affairs pre-conference seminar will once again provide members with an opportunity to hear updates from key regulators, including the newly created Impact Assessment Agency and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

On August 28, 2019, the Impact Assessment Act, the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, and the Navigation Protection Act came into force. The Impact Assessment Act creates the new Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of 2012.

Senior officials from the Impact Assessment Agency will provide an overview of the agency and the act, including the implementation of the act, and changes to the regulations and the impact assessment process. They will focus on how the act will apply to nuclear projects.

The CNSC will join the agency to discuss how the two government agencies are working together with joint review panels.

Following that discussion, Director of Engagement, Partnering and Integrated Planning at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Ecosystems Management, Chad Ziai will outline the changes to the Fisheries Act and its new regulations.

To wrap-up the session, CNSC’s Regulatory Policy Directorate Director General Brian Torrie will provide a regulatory update as well as an update on key CNSC initiatives.

Join this CNA2020 pre-conference Regulatory Affairs Seminar on Wednesday, February 26 from 13:00 to 16:00. Registration is required for all pre-conference seminars and is not included in regular conference registration. Please see the registration terms and conditions at https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration for more information and to register.

CNA2020

CNA2020 Sponsor Spotlight: Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission

The Canadian Nuclear Association is proud to shine a spotlight on each of its CNA2020 Gold-level sponsors, which includes the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

The CNSC was established in 2000 under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. It reports to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources. The CNSC replaced the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which was founded in 1946.

The CNSC regulates the development, production, possession, use and transportation of nuclear energy, materials and equipment to protect health, safety, security and the environment. It enforces Canada’s international commitments to control the development, production, transportation and use of nuclear energy and materials, including measures related to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The CNSC’s mandate is also to share objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public about its activities and on the effects on the environment; on the health and safety of people; and on the development, production, possession, transport and use of nuclear substances.

The CNSC makes independent, fair and transparent decisions on licensing nuclear-related activities. The commission has up to seven appointed permanent members. Their decisions are supported by more than 800 employees. They are a diverse team of highly skilled nuclear professionals, including scientists, engineers, corporate professionals, new graduates and students. These employees review applications for licences according to regulatory requirements, make recommendations to the commission, and enforce compliance with the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, regulations and any licence conditions imposed by the commission.

At CNA2020, you can find the CNSC at Booth 108.

You can still register for the conference at https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration/.

CNA2020

WANO and CNSC to provide regulatory update at CNA2020

CNSC President Rumina Velshi
WANO Chairman Tom Mitchell

Get the most up-to-date regulatory information with a panel presentation at CNA2020 on Thursday, February 27, 2020, from 09:15 to 10:00. Taking the stage will be World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) Chairman Tom Mitchell and Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) President Rumina Velshi.

WANO is a not-for-profit international organization that helps its members maximize the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants worldwide. It was established in 1989 by the world’s nuclear power operators to exchange safety knowledge and operating experience. WANO’s members operate about 460 nuclear units in more than 30 countries and areas worldwide.

Mitchell has over 40 years of experience working in nuclear industry leadership roles. Before joining WANO, he was CEO at Ontario Power Generation. He has been an influential and active leader in WANO for many years, including being the chair of WANO’s post-Fukushima committee in 2011. He also served as the deputy director of the WANO Atlanta Centre and as governor on the WANO governing board.

The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials

  • to protect health, safety, security and the environment;
  • to implement Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and
  • to disseminate objective scientific, technical and regulatory information to the public.

It was established in 2000 and reports to the minister of natural resources.

Velshi was not new to the CNSC when she was named president and CEO in 2018. She was appointed as a permanent, part-time commission member in 2011. Throughout her career, she has worked at Ontario Hydro and Ontario Power Generation, and has served as a board member on the Ontario Energy Board. Velshi actively promotes careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially for young women.

Uncategorized

Small modular reactors help us take a giant leap in the fight against climate change

By John Gorman
Originally published in The Globe and Mail, December 12, 2019

To many Canadians, it may not seem like a big deal that the three provinces that have nuclear sectors – Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan – signed an agreement to develop small modular reactors (SMRs). But this milestone represents a giant leap forward for Canadian industry and the fight against climate change.

I’m new to the nuclear industry, but I’ve been working in the energy sector for 20 years. I’ve seen new technologies revolutionize how we produce and manage electricity. The development and deployment of SMRs has the potential to be even more transformative than the introduction of wind and solar power.

Why am I and others in the energy sector so excited about SMRs? The answer is in their name. First, they are small. Large reactors are powerful: They generate clean and inexpensive electricity for decades. But they take years to build, they are suitable only for large demand and they can’t be moved. SMRs, on the other hand, are like solar power in that they can be scaled to suit local needs.

SMRs are also modular, meaning they can be mass-produced and shipped to remote locations. A small city could use an SMR until it reaches capacity, then add another as the city grows. A mine could use an SMR to help with its peak production, then ship it to a new location when operations slow down.

The modular approach will also help to reduce costs. A new advanced reactor could cost more than $1-billion, but mass production removes duplication of the costs of licensing and customization. Bulk purchasing of parts and replication of skills would reduce costs further. In short, the upfront investment will be big, while the payoff in terms of inexpensive energy will last decades.

SMRs are to large reactors what desktops were to mainframe computers in the 1980s. They made computing practical, flexible and accessible for everyone.

There are three main ways that SMRs can transform Canada’s energy sector. First, as more provinces and territories phase out coal, SMRs can fill in the gap, producing similar amounts of power without carbon emissions and other pollution. SMRs produce a steady supply of electricity making it an ideal partner to wind and solar by eliminating the need for fossil fuel backups when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Second, SMRs can be deployed in the many remote communities in Canada that still use fossil fuels to generate electricity because it’s simply not economical to build hundreds of kilometres of power lines to connect to the grid.

Finally, SMRs can help with the operation of heavy industry, such as oil sands and mines. These facilities are a big part of Canada’s economy, but they are often remote and off-grid, and they need a lot of heat and power to operate.

There are some environmentalists who still resist the expansion of nuclear power. When I was chief executive of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, I was one of them. That’s until I realized that the critical transition to a low-carbon economy will be almost impossible without the reliable, safe and clean energy that nuclear technology provides. We need nuclear power to reduce emissions, as an increasing number of environmentalists, industry leaders and the International Energy Agency agree.

SMRs have several safety advantages built into them. Some designs use molten salt or liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water. Some are built so that the reactor shuts down if it is not being actively managed, while others are designed so that the reaction slows if it gets too hot. And the designs incorporate several advances in managing waste as well. Some are designed to require refuelling only every few years or even decades, and some “recycle” spent fuel, producing only a fraction of the waste of a conventional reactor.

We’re about to witness a fascinating race to determine the best SMR design, and some of the leading candidates are Canadian. Three companies have now passed the first review by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. They are now entering the second phase, a more detailed examination of their safety. Seven more designs are now in the first phase, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories plans to have a demonstration unit built by 2026.

Canada has a great history as a leader in nuclear technology, dating back decades. We have some of the largest resources of uranium in the world. We also have the right people with the right skills to build safe and reliable nuclear reactors. And now that three provinces consider them a key technology for meeting emission targets, we have a clear demand for SMRs.

The agreement between the three provinces is the beginning of a transformation of our energy sector. But it’s more than that. We’ve just witnessed an election campaign that exposed regional divisions around energy and climate change. I don’t think SMRs are the entire answer to this debate, but they have the potential to be a uniting force between federal and provincial interests. Working together, we can use SMRs to meet our growing energy needs, reduce emissions and introduce carbon-free electricity to many new places in Canada and around the world.