Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
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The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is the federal regulator of nuclear power and materials in Canada. In addition to nuclear power plants and nuclear research facilities, the CNSC regulates numerous other uses of nuclear material such as radionuclides used in the treatment of cancer, the operation of uranium mines and refineries, and the use of radioactive sources for oil exploration, and in instruments such as precipitation measurement devices. The CNSC is an agency of the Government of Canada which reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Natural Resources.
The regulatory system is intended to protect people and the environment from human-made radiation resulting from the use of nuclear energy and materials at licenced sites. This is attempted through licencing processes where licensees are expected to prove that their operations adhere to regulatory standards. At the basis of the regulatory system is the principle that no technology is fail proof, so licensees must incorporate multiple layers of protection whenever radioactive materials are used.
The CNSC is responsible for implementing measures to ensure that Canada's international obligations are met with respect to activities related to nuclear and radioactive materials. This includes Canada's safeguards obligations pursuant to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The CNSC also licences the import, export, and transportation of nuclear materials and other prescribed substances, equipment, technology, and dual-use items.
The central body within the CNSC is the Commission Tribunal, which has up to seven permanent members. Members are appointed by the Governor in Council on a permanent, part-time basis, meaning they also have individual jobs. Temporary members can also be appointed to the Commission.
One permanent member of the Commission is designated by the Governor in Council to be the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission's President and Chief Executive Officer. The President holds office as a Commission member on a full-time basis.
The Commission Tribunal establishes legally-binding regulations governing the use of nuclear materials pursuant to the Nuclear Safety and Control Act.
The Commission Tribunal is supported by a secretariat of more than 800 employees. The role of CNSC staff is to protect health, safety, security, and the environment by monitoring and inspecting licenced activities. CNSC staff evaluate the performance of nuclear power plants, and also contribute to the development of international nuclear regulatory standards and nuclear non-proliferation fora.
CNSC was established in 2000 under the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. CNSC was created to replace the former Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which was founded in 1946.
Dismissal of CNSC Chair Linda Keen
In November 2007, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), acting upon the advice of the CNSC that it was in violation of its site operating licence for Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), voluntarily chose to extend a routine shutdown of the NRU nuclear reactor pending completion of safety upgrades. The issue involved two of NRU's eight coolant pumps which, upon completion of several safety upgrades, would be credited as being able to withstand severe external hazards such as a major earthquake. Before and after the awarding of CRL's October 2006 operating licence to CRL, AECL reported that these two pumps had not yet been connected to a seismically-qualified backup power supply (separate from NRU's normal backup power supplies); however, in November 2007, this fact was recognized by the CNSC as evidence of a licence violation, leading AECL to extend the NRU's maintenance shutdown until the seismically-qualified backup power connection could be completed. These two pumps are the last line of defence in the event of an earthquake or other primary power system failure in order to continue to provide cooling to the reactor fuel and prevent a meltdown of the reactor core.
The extended shutdown created a shortage of medical radioisotopes, of which Canada produced about 60 per cent of the world's supply. CNSC required that a safety case be made, as per its mandate, to modify AECL's licence in order to allow it to operate the NRU reactor with a single pump connected to seismically qualified backup power supplies. AECL's submission was not accepted by the CNSC.
Parliament passed emergency legislation overriding the CNSC's ruling on the issue of the two pumps at NRU, winning all-party support to order the reactor to be restarted, and NRU resumed operations on December 16, 2007. This was a controversial decision because the CNSC was established as an independent regulator, even though it is ultimately accountable to Parliament.
Subsequently, federal Conservative Energy and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn indicated in a letter that he wished to fire CNSC chair Linda Keen over the matter. The Ottawa Citizen obtained and published Lunn's letter to Keen on January 8, 2008. Keen responded by going public with her own questioning of Lunn, publishing a letter on CNSC's website on January 9 and requesting the Police and the Privacy Commissioner investigate the leaking of in-confidence documentation.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser, acting upon a request from Keen, had investigated AECL's situation, and issued a report to AECL's board of directors in late August 2007, indicating also that Lunn, who oversaw AECL at the political level, should be informed. Fraser's report pinpointed serious government funding deficiencies for AECL, which had held back necessary expansion, upgrading, and replacement of its facilities. Opposition politicians defended Keen, called for Lunn to be fired, and for the report to be made public.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper backed Lunn, and Linda Keen was dismissed as chair of the CNSC at 10pm January 15, 12 hours before she was to appear before a parliamentary committee. She remained a member of the CNSC board until December 2008.
On January 29, 2008, the former President of the CNSC, Linda Keen, testified before the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources that the risk of fuel failure in the NRU reactor was "1 in 1000", and claimed this risk to be a thousand times greater than the "international standard of one in one million". These claims were challenged by AECL.
- Keen Letter to Lunn
- Auditor-General's report identified 'deficiency' at AECL, by Juliet O'Neill, The National Post, January 10, 2008, p. A1
- January 10, 2008
- Edmonton Sun, January 16, 2008
- CBC News, January 16, 2008
- AECL Clarifies Inaccurate Statements by Former CNSC CEO Linda Keen, AECL News Release, January 29, 2008