Next week, I will attend the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) Day 2 hearing for the relicensing of the Darlington Nuclear Plant. The Day 2 hearing will allow members of the public to voice concerns they have with the project. During the hearing, Waterkeeper will highlight the issues we raised in our submission.
Since it will be my first time attending a CNSC hearing, I’ve spent some time reading about the organization. It’s an important role, so it’s worth asking: what is the CNSC? And where did it come from?
Origins of the CNSC
The CNSC is the reincarnation of the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which was created in 1946, just one year after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Technically, the creation of the AECB made Canada the first country in the world to allow civilian regulation of nuclear technology. In practice, the AECB focused heavily on the promotion and development of nuclear technology in its early years, an unusual role for a regulator.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Canada’s nuclear industry grew. In response, the AECB increased its staff. The Board began to focus on public safety, acting more like an arm’s length regulator than it had before.
In 2000, the AECB was replaced by the “Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.” The Nuclear Safety and Control Act, which created the CNSC, was supposed to modernize nuclear regulation. The CNSC kept the same staff as the former AECB. (Read more on the CNSC’s history.)
Purpose of the CNSC
The CNSC is responsible for making sure that the nuclear industry takes measures to protect public health, public safety and the environment. To accomplish this the Commission can make regulations and add terms to the licences it issues. All nuclear facilities require a licence from the CNSC in order to operate. When a nuclear facility applies for a licence the Commission is the ‘court of record’. It has the power to hear witnesses, take evidence, control its own proceeding and order remedial action.
The CNSC today
Currently, the Commission consists of seven permanent members and three temporary members. Commission members form the panels that make decisions during licensing hearings. The Commission also employs around 800 staff (referred to as ‘the CNSC staff’) who are responsible for regulatory development and compliance. When the Commission decides whether to license or relicense a plant – as it will at next month’s Darlington hearing – the Commission usually relies on input from the CNSC staff.
When theory and practice don’t align
In theory, the transition from the Atomic Energy Control Board to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission was a positive one because the Commission’s statutory mandate became clear: to protect the public. But, theory and practice don’t always align.
In my next blog post, I’ll look at the disconnect between what was supposed to happen (in theory) and what happens in practice. Fifteen years after the CNSC came into existence, there are some serious concerns about its independence and ability to fulfill its mandate. Stay tuned.
Waterkeeper is scheduled to present at the Day 2 hearing for the relicensing of the Darlington Nuclear Plant on Monday, November 2, 2015.