President & CEO, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
To meet net-zero goals for 2050, the world urgently needs a paradigm shift in thinking about nuclear energy.
As world leaders seek effective responses to climate change, we are seeing renewed interest in nuclear power — which holds the potential to reduce emissions and help countries achieve their net-zero targets.
In particular, small modular reactors (known as SMRs) are emerging as a potential way of delivering clean and reliable energy.
SMRs are typically smaller than conventional reactors. They offer an innovative way to bring emission-free nuclear energy to both populated and remote areas around the world. SMRs can also support desalination and the production of hydrogen and medical isotopes.
Proponents argue that SMRs can be built relatively quickly and at lower cost while offering flexibility and reliable access to secure energy. But first, this new technology must be determined to be safe, trustworthy, and effective.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) oversees and regulates the nuclear industry in our country. Its role is to protect people and the environment.
In a world of continuously emerging technologies, the CNSC keeps pace with innovation and uses rigorous reviews and thorough licensing procedures to ensure that nuclear facilities are safe and secure.
The Government of Canada recognizes the potential of SMRs. In the 2022 federal budget, the government allocated $50.7 million over five years to enable the CNSC to strengthen its ability to oversee and regulate this new technology.
The CNSC has been preparing for new nuclear builds for more than a decade — putting in place the rules, requirements, and guidelines that will ensure the safe introduction of SMRs. To that end, we are continuing to collaborate with our federal, provincial, and territorial counterparts to harmonize and streamline efforts across jurisdictions.
We’re also challenging our own approaches to effective regulation. For example, the CNSC is exploring a model where a successful review for one SMR deployed at one site may inform and expedite our review of identical SMRs from the same manufacturer for other sites in Canada.
Similar thinking about SMRs can and should be applied to international harmonization — not only to support efforts to fight climate change but also to enhance global safety and security.
Many countries are considering the approval and use of SMRs. A more co-operative approach may result in more efficient and effective regulation, with safety as the top priority.
The CNSC is leading the way on this new model of international governance in collaboration with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation. Together as regulators, we can improve efficiency by aligning our standards and codes — and perhaps even adopting technology reviews from trusted international allies. A modern framework for international harmonization — in the form of governance, standards, collaboration, and technical support — could be highly beneficial.
There is also an important role to be played by the nuclear industry itself. To date, more than 70 different SMR concepts have been proposed. This number must be streamlined to ensure a smooth approval and regulatory process.
Moreover, everyone in the nuclear sector needs to focus on increasing public engagement, education, and trust-building. Strengthening public and community confidence in SMRs — and in the regulatory decision-making that governs them — stands as an imperative. In this regard, the role of the CNSC is to build trust in the regulatory recommendations made by our expert staff.
Nuclear projects will always generate concerns related to waste management, non-proliferation, and other issues. Only through sustained and meaningful engagement with Canadians —including Indigenous peoples and communities — will it be possible to address these concerns fully and transparently.
The CNSC will never compromise its mandate to protect Canadians and our shared environment. By building a modern and effective regulatory framework, by working with our international partners, and — most of all — by putting safety first, we will be ready for SMRs and other innovative solutions that help drive our world toward a net-zero economy.