President Michael Binder’s Speaking Notes FORATOM Keynote Address
Tuesday, July 17 from 9:00 – 9:20 AM
Good morning, my name is Michael Binder and I am the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or the CNSC.
I would like to start by recognizing that we are on traditional Algonquin territory.
I would also like to personally welcome all of you to Ottawa for the International Conference on Quality, Leadership and Management in the Nuclear Industry.
As the Honorary Chair, I would like to acknowledge all the effort put into organizing this conference, specifically the coordination done by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Atomic Forum (FORATOM), Bruce Power, and our own CNSC staff. They have turned what has traditionally been a workshop into a conference with an exciting agenda and over 330 participants from 36 countries.
I have led the CNSC for the past 10 years. As I prepare to enter retirement in August, I am honoured to have the opportunity to be here today and share with you my reflections on some of the accomplishments made during my time at the CNSC. I would also like to share some of my thoughts on the most important opportunities and challenges facing the nuclear sector.
For those of you not familiar with the CNSC, we are an independent, quasi-judicial administrative tribunal. We regulate all things nuclear in Canada – from uranium mining, to nuclear reactors, to medical isotopes, to the decommissioning of nuclear sites, to the safe management of nuclear waste.
Under our enabling legislation, the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, our mandate is:
- to regulate 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 is a clear mandate. And I am extremely proud of the over 900 staff members who ensure, day in and day out, that Canada’s nuclear sector operates safely and securely. They have diligently done so for over 70 years.
Accomplishments in Canada and around the world on nuclear safety
As I reflect on my 10 years as President of the CNSC, I am very proud of the many accomplishments made to advancing nuclear safety both at home and around the world.
When I joined the CNSC I set out a clear aspirational objective: to be the best nuclear regulator in the world. And we have made great progress toward meeting that goal. Let me share a few examples with you.
- We modernized the CNSC’s regulatory framework to ensure our suite of regulations is modern, flexible, and robust. Many of our regulatory modernization activities happened in areas relevant to this conference such as management systems, safety culture, safety analysis and fitness for duty – including new regulatory documents on safety culture and on drug and alcohol use. Canada is in the process of legalizing the use of marijuana. How to deal with such use at a nuclear power plant should be of concern to all countries.
- Significant strides have also been made to increase transparency and enhance engagement with the Canadian public and Indigenous peoples. I am particularly proud of the CNSC’s Participant Funding Program, which supports members of the public, stakeholders and Indigenous peoples who wish to participate in our regulatory decision-making process. This process is open to the public and webcast, so wherever you are, you can log on and see our public process in action. This is a best practice that has been recently recognized internationally.
- To ensure that the CNSC has a viable workforce for the long term, we have also invested a lot of effort in workforce planning. Attrition and retirements are some of our greatest risks. To give you some idea, 44% of our senior experts are eligible for retirement in the next five years. One of our strategies to address this risk was the establishment of a highly successful new graduate hiring program that brings in cohorts of bright new talent.
Looking more broadly, I believe a major accomplishment in Canada and around the world was the swift actions taken following the Fukushima accident to improve the safety of nuclear facilities. Reviews were conducted by operators and regulators, action plans were implemented, and the IAEA released a comprehensive report of lessons learned to help ensure such an accident never happens again.
Out of Fukushima also came a new focus on management systems, human performance, and safety culture. The accident demonstrated the importance of these areas in how people do their routine work and in how people respond during challenging and stressful situations. Conferences such as this one give me great hope that the lessons learned from Fukushima have not been forgotten and that the international community will continue to explore ways to strengthen these important safety areas.
Current state of nuclear and existing challenges
Before I move on to discussing what I see as the important challenges ahead, I just want to set the stage with a quick snapshot of the state of nuclear around the world.
- According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 450 operating reactors around the world today. Many of these were built in the 1970s and 1980s, and are entering long-term operations or are preparing to be decommissioned.
- There are also 58 reactors under construction and another 153 on order or planned. A number of these new builds are happening in countries that are expanding rapidly or that have never had nuclear power before.
In this environment, there are new or evolving challenges facing the nuclear sector, on new builds, on long-term operations, and on decommissioning.
While many new builds are happening in countries with existing nuclear programs, like China, India and Russia, we are also seeing a new model emerge around the world of one country building, owning, and operating reactors in another country. In my opinion this model is feasible, but only if a strong and independent domestic regulator is in place. Countries embarking on these projects must build the national capacity to ensure they are capable of providing proper oversight and to be ready to step in if necessary. The international community has an important role to play in supporting these countries through technical support and peer reviews.
Long-Term Operations Challenges
In Canada, we do not have any new builds on the horizon but we do have ambitious refurbishment projects planned and underway. As with other countries with older reactors, evolving challenges emerge as you enter into long-term operations. These can range from the technical challenges of ensuring the right work is being done to safely extend the operating life, to other challenges around supply chain management, the use of contractors, knowledge management, and workforce skill sets.
The Darlington refurbishment and Bruce proposed refurbishment would represent the two largest infrastructure projects in Canada. These projects create complexities for operators and regulators by creating large-scale construction zones within operating nuclear facilities. For example, there are large numbers of new workers onsite who need to be trained on radiation safety, and the procurement of many new parts and equipment that need to be quality assured. For the regulator, we need to modify our programs to ensure we are providing the right oversight given the changes occurring at the facility.
The proposed extension of the life of Pickering also presents challenges of managing and regulating aging facilities.
Whether due to age, economic, or political reasons, reactors around the world are also being decommissioned. Similar to operators who are planning long-term operations, operators who are decommissioning face challenges of ensuring access to the right expertise and skill sets. Of particular concern is maintaining staff with in-depth knowledge of the facility over the entire decommissioning period. I regularly ask our licensees during our hearing process how they plan to retain staff, knowing a plant is closing.
Decommissioning also highlights the need to resolve issues around the long-term management of radioactive waste. In Canada, we are still waiting, after a 15-year process, on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to make a decision on the first proposed Deep Geologic Repository for low- and intermediate-level waste, and on the Nuclear Waste Management Organization’s eventual site selection for a high-level waste DGR.
Building long-term solutions for waste has been a challenge in Canada and elsewhere. It has become even more difficult in this era of fake news, alternative facts, social media, and growing distrust in governments. Many Canadians get their knowledge from the Simpsons or from Google. To move forward, governments need to make timely science-based decisions, and industry and regulators need greater communication with the public to ensure they have ready access to accurate information.
Resolving issues with waste is the right thing to do. It is also shown to change public perception on nuclear power. A FORATOM poll in the EU showed that if the waste issue was solved, 39% of those opposed to nuclear power would change their mind, and a majority, 61%, of EU citizens would then be in favour.
Nuclear - opportunities ahead
While challenges remain to be solved, the future of nuclear is also full of opportunities.
The demand for clean, reliable and low-carbon electricity around the world continues to grow.
- According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear power is the technology that would allow the most carbon dioxide savings of all low- carbon generating technologies.
- A joint study by the IEA and the NEA found that in order for the world to reach the 2-degree Celsius temperature drop, nuclear capacity needs to increase by more than double by 2050.
To be considered part of the solution, the nuclear industry needs to look beyond traditional power plants. In Canada, for example, we need low-carbon solutions in remote sites and northern communities. Advanced reactor technologies – including small modular reactors – offer novel technologies and approaches to deployment, and have the potential to play a significant role.
As the nuclear industry continues to innovate, so must the regulators. While safety will always remain our number one priority, we must be open to moving beyond the current model of regulation that was developed for a different era. At the CNSC, we have been working hard to ensure we are ready for regulating SMRs. We have put in place a risk-informed licensing strategy that will ensure that SMR vendors are given clear expectations based on a safety evaluation of their proposed technology and activities.
There are also evolving technologies outside the nuclear industry that could lead to efficiencies or enhancements for the industry. Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing are examples of areas that are already providing exciting opportunities. However, new technologies can also bring new threats. Cyber security is a major concern and industry must continue to strengthen its abilities to counter this constantly moving threat.
Nuclear - governance
As we look to the future of nuclear, a key question we need to ask is whether or not the right governance is in place to ensure nuclear safety globally. As Fukushima taught us, an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere.
Internationally, we operate under a treaty-based system. We need to ensure that states are held accountable for the implementation of these treaties. Today, the IAEA has no formal role in the implementation of treaties such as the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. But IAEA leadership is needed.
If not the IAEA, then
- who will point out significant deficiencies or non-compliance with internationally approved practices?
- who will publicly point to a country whose regulator is not independent?
- and who will tell a new entrant country that it is not ready to become a nuclear country?
Even if the IAEA has no legal mandate to name and shame, who is going to challenge the IAEA if it were to identify risks to nuclear safety? The IAEA cannot ignore serious safety issues if they are not being addressed by the Member State.
The IAEA must play a stronger role: it must become the global nuclear safety regulator. Just like the role it plays in nuclear safeguards, nuclear safety must be grounded in global accountability, with reports on nuclear safety issues tabled and discussed at the IAEA Board of Governors.
During my time at the CNSC, I have witnessed tremendous progress both at home and abroad in enhancing nuclear safety.
There are still many challenges to be addressed, and thankfully, many of them are being discussed at our conference this week.
The future of nuclear has great potential, but we must avoid slipping into complacency that could allow another nuclear accident to occur. We need to work together and move to an era of greater openness, transparency, and global accountability, both in our own countries and at the international level.
Again, I would like to thank the organizing committee for all of their hard work, and I want to thank you all for being here this week. I look forward to speaking with many of you throughout the conference.
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