History in the making14 December 2016
Now seven decades on from the 1946 Atomic Energy Control Act, Canada’s safety regulator has summed up its work in today’s world, including finishing post-Fukushima actions and major power plant life extensions. Corrina Thomson reports.
In 2016, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) marked 70 years of nuclear safety in the country on the anniversary of the formation of its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board. The CNSC Annual Report 2015/16 reviewed the commission’s work during the previous year and told the story of 70 years of nuclear safety in Canada, starting from the 1946 act created by the government to regulate, control and supervise atomic energy in the aftermath of World War II.
The CNSC had significant licensing work in 2015/16, including public hearings for renewing the operating licences of the Bruce A and B and Darlington power plants, in Ontario. There were also hearings for renewal of the operating licence for Nordion nuclear medicine facility and for SRB Technologies gaseous tritium light source plant.
Canada is the world’s second-largest uranium producer and exports 85% of its uranium. CNSC’s ongoing work includes inspections of mines and mills, and regulation of the transport and handling of uranium in Canada.
The former Gunnar legacy uranium mine site was operated by Gunnar Mining from 1955 to 1963 in northern Saskatchewan and was officially closed in 1964 with minimal decommissioning. The site was open with underground mine pits, three mine tailings deposits covering over 70ha of land, and waste rock piles. Management of the site later became the responsibility of the Province of Saskatchewan.
In 2015/16 a public hearing was held about removing the Gunnar Remediation Project phase two “hold point” as it pertains to the remediation of tailings deposits. The “hold point’ for the remediation of other site components, including waste rock, the open pit and the mine shaft, remain in place.
Removal of the “hold point” on the existing licence allows Saskatchewan Research Council to carry out remedial activities as part of phase two of the remediation project.
In terms of proposed mines, CNSC was a technical expert in the environmental review process led by Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) for Areva Resources Canada’s proposed Kiggavik uranium mining and milling project. In 2014/15, the CNSC completed technical reviews of Areva’s environmental review report and supporting information, and issued a written submission to the NIRB. CNSC also participated in the NIRB public hearings in March 2015.
In May 2015, the NIRB recommended to federal ministers that the project should not go ahead at that time. The federal government went on to reject the Areva Kiggavik proposal as it stood in July 2016, noting the lack of a start date as a key issue.
The annual report also outlined progress with the Port Hope Area Initiative, which aims to clean up over 1.5 million cubic metres of low-level radioactive waste and contaminated soil. The material is a result of poor waste management practices in refining radium and uranium by a former federal Crown Corporation, Eldorado Nuclear Ltd, and its private-sector predecessors. The waste contains radium, uranium, arsenic and other contaminants.
Under the Port Hope Area Initiative, two new long-term waste management facilities, one in Port Hope (Port Hope Project) and one in Clarington (Port Granby Project), are being constructed. Water treatment facilities to treat surface and groundwater and release clean effluent to Lake Ontario were constructed in 2015 and commissioning of the plants is ongoing. Both facilities are licensed by the CNSC.
A joint review panel report on Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) deep geologic repository was submitted to the Minister
of Environment in 2015/16. OPG aims to construct and operate a deep repository on the Bruce nuclear site, which would take low- and intermediate-level waste from continued operation of OPG-owned nuclear power plants at Bruce, Pickering and Darlington. Subject to the federal government decision, the CNSC Joint Review Panel will decide whether to issue a licence to OPG.
The Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) was formed by the country’s nuclear energy firms to develop and implement Canada’s plan for long-term management of used nuclear fuel. Since 2010, the NWMO has led a site-selection process for a spent fuel repository.
As of 1st May 2016, nine communities were continuing to participate in the NWMO’s process to learn more about the project. In 2015/16, the CNSC met the community of White River, Ontario, the Spanish Neighbouring Liaison Committee in Ontario, and the Métis Nation of Ontario. The CNSC also held three “open houses” in the Ontario communities of Blind River, Elliot Lake and White River.
The regulator also outlined in its report that in September 2015, the Canadian government transferred ownership of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), formerly Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, to the Canadian National Energy Alliance.
CNL manages Chalk River Laboratories, Whiteshell Laboratories, the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) reactor, Douglas Point, Gentilly 1, and sites included in the Port Hope Area Initiative.
CNL submitted two regulatory applications for a near-surface disposal facility on the Chalk River Laboratories site and the NPD closure project. CNL has also drawn up a plan to decommission the Whiteshell reactor in Manitoba.
In October 2015, the IAEA along with ten experts from nine countries, completed an International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) mission to review nuclear security practices in Canada.
Canada was one of the first countries to ask for a comprehensive IPPAS review comprising all IPPAS modules, including the nuclear security regime for nuclear material and facilities, facility review, transport review, security of material, review of associated facilities and activities, and a computer security review.
The conclusion of the review was that Canada has “robust and comprehensive” nuclear security infrastructure and that the CNSC encourages adoption of good security practices that exceed regulatory requirements.
“This is most obvious in the fields of transport security, computer security, emergency preparedness and security response,” the mission report stated.
Nuclear security in Canada benefits from a “mature, well-balanced and comprehensive national intelligence framework” supported by national and international security and intelligence partnerships, it said.
IPPAS listed areas where work could be done in future – specifically raising awareness that security is as important as safety.
The safety regulator also reported on its own organisation’s staff competency needs for the future. This includes ongoing work on the CNSC ten-year renewal plan and workforce needs over the next three years.
CNSC identified the critical competencies needed to carry out regulatory work, and focused on addressing high risks of weakness in the workforce. The regulator has also re- profiled the organisation to ensure growth and development opportunities for current employees. The regulator said there is a programme for recruiting new talent, as well as retaining new graduates to build capabilities and meet future needs.
CNSC and Transport Canada jointly regulate the packaging and transport of nuclear substances. In June 2015, the Canadian government published a revision to the Packaging and Transport of Nuclear Substances Regulation. The revised regulation aligns with IAEA regulations and includes a reference that can be changed, to ensure concurrence if IAEA regulations change in future.
The new regulation clarifies requirements in radiation protection programme, reporting, transport of large objects, and the discovery of material containing unidentified nuclear substances.
CNSC also issued an export licence for Canada’s first uranium shipment to India. The licence is for a uranium supply contract with India where Cameco will supply 7.1 million pounds of uranium concentrate to India’s Department of Atomic Energy over five years. The deal follows a May 2015 nuclear cooperation agreement between Canada and India.
The first Cameco shipment, which consisted of uranium mined and milled at Cameco’s McArthur River and Key Lake sites in northern Saskatchewan, arrived in December 2015.
CNSC said it would only issue an export licence to send nuclear material or equipment to India as long as India provides peaceful end-use assurances on each shipment. It must be sent to a facility subject to IAEA international safeguards, and IAEA must continue verification and confirm there is no misuse of nuclear activities. If India violates its treaty with Canada, or violates its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, the CNSC said it would stop shipments to India.
During 2015/16, the regulator also carried out technical licensing assessments and issued a decision on applications for export and import of nuclear substances, prescribed equipment and prescribed information. In total 805 export licences and 162 import licences were issued.
CNSC signed new international arrangements to cooperate and exchange nuclear regulatory information with Indian, Japanese and Swiss regulators. An amended agreement was also signed with South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission and bilateral agreements were renewed with French and UK regulators.
Previously, the Prime Minister of Canada and US President had committed to move highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Chalk River Laboratories to the US as part of an effort to consolidate HEU in fewer locations around the world. CNSC considers that the move promotes non-proliferation by removing existing weapons-grade material from Canada and eliminates a nuclear liability for future generations of Canadians. CNSC said the HEU move is a high priority for Canada and the IAEA.
The regulator said its work on this front has included work with the IAEA and Chalk River Laboratories to develop and implement safeguards approaches for HEU shipments, resulting in an increase in safeguards activities for the year.
A two-part public hearing for the Bruce A and B licence renewal took place in February and April 2015. During the hearing, CNSC considered submissions from Bruce Power and 144 participants. Later, in May, CNSC renewed the operating licences issued to Bruce Power as a single licence for both Bruce A and B, valid from 1st June 2015 until 31st May 2020.
The Darlington power plant was also involved in a licence renewal, with a two- part hearing held in August and November 2015. There were submissions from 286 participants. In December 2015, the CNSC renewed the operating licence issued to OPG authorising it to operate Darlington from 1st January 2016 until 30th November 2025, as well as refurbishment work for the life extension.
OPG completed an integrated safety review and integrated implementation plan for the refurbishment and life extension
as part of its licence application. The plan outlines safety improvements resulting from the environmental assessment
and review, and includes timescales for implementation. CNSC included completion of the implementation plan actions as a licence condition in the approved operating licence.
Darlington’s performance, the status of the refurbishment project and emergency planning matters are to be reported annually in the CNSC’s regulatory oversight reports for Canadian nuclear power plants. During the licence term, the public will have opportunities to participate in CNSC proceedings for the plant.
Pickering power plant’s operating licence will expire in August 2018. OPG intends to apply to renew the operating licence and is conducting a periodic safety review to support its licence renewal application.
The periodic safety review is a systematic, comprehensive evaluation of the design, condition and operational elements of the plant that are important to nuclear safety. The objective is to identify practical nuclear safety enhancements to a level approaching that of modern standards.
CNSC will consider the safety review results during the licence renewal hearings scheduled for 2018.
In November 2015, NB Power held a large- scale two-day nuclear exercise called Exercise Intrepid to evaluate the preparedness of Point Lepreau, NB Power, various levels of governments, and non-government organisations and agencies to respond to a large nuclear event. CNSC concluded there were no significant issues that would have impacted the plant or completion of onsite actions. CNSC said that NB Power and other agencies showed they are ready to respond to a nuclear emergency.
In terms of decommissioning, in March 2015 Hydro Québec submitted a revised decommissioning plan and decommissioning cost study to reflect the decision to permanently close Gentilly 2, which shutdown in 2012. In June 2016, after a public hearing in Ottawa in May, CNSC said it would issue a decommissioning licence to Hydro Québec for Gentilly 2. The licence is valid until 2026.
The CNSC annual report discussed the current status of SMRs in the country, noting that a number of SMR companies
are interested in CNSC’s feedback on how their designs meet Canadian regulatory requirements. The regulator provides optional pre-licensing vendor design reviews, which give high-level feedback on the acceptability of a power plant design with respect to Canadian requirements, codes and standards.
CNSC noted that pre-licensing vendor design reviews could identify fundamental barriers to licensing or any issues for discussion with future licensees before a licence application is submitted. Future licence applicants can use the information to help develop their licence applications.
In early 2016, CNSC received requests from two vendors for phase one vendor design reviews. One was from Terrestrial Energy Inc (Canada) for a molten salt reactor concept rated at 400MWt per unit. The review process is set to take about 18 months. The second was from UltraSafe Nuclear Corporation (US) for a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor rated at 5MWe per unit. The review process is expected to take just over a year.
Both companies are to address requirements as per the CNSC existing regulatory framework for design and safety analysis. The framework is technology- neutral and allows the use of alternative approaches to meet technical requirements.
CNSC said it will consider alternative approaches to the requirements where:
- The alternative approach would result in an equivalent or superior level of safety.
- The application of the requirements conflicts with other rules or requirements.
- The application of the requirements would not serve the underlying purpose or is not necessary to achieve the underlying purpose.
Applicants proposing an alternative approach have to show equivalence to the outcomes associated with the regulatory framework.
During 2015, CNSC staff continued to check whether licensees are on track to implement safety enhancements as part of its post-Fukushima response, the 2013 ‘CNSC Integrated Action Plan: On the Lessons Learned From the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident’. This plan identified safety improvements aimed at strengthening defence-in-depth, better onsite emergency response, improving regulatory oversight and crisis communication capabilities, and fostering international collaboration.
All of these actions have been closed for all Canadian power plant licensees. The regulator said it would continue to monitor Fukushima action items at Canadian power plants through station-specific action items, as part of a programme to verify licensee compliance.
The CNSC annual report highlighted post- Fukushima safety improvements in Canada as: reassessment of hazards; portable emergency equipment; enhanced control of hydrogen; emergency filtered venting; pre-distribution of potassium iodide pills; real-time radiation monitoring; increased number of large-scale emergency exercises; stronger regulations; greater communications and public disclosure; and broader international involvement.
Possession and movement of high-risk radioactive sealed sources are also regulated by the CNSC. The regulator’s Sealed Source Tracking Programme aims to ensure that lost or stolen nuclear substances and radiation devices are tracked and recovered as soon as possible. In 2015/16, there were 14 reported events involving missing, lost, stolen or found nuclear substances, of which 13 were reports of lost or stolen nuclear substances.
The sealed sources or radiation devices were recovered in three instances but at the year-end, ten events remained under investigation. The remaining event was related to the discovery of a missing source during an inventory check by the licensee.