Groups object to nuclear regulator’s plan to weaken rules for experimental nuclear reactors

OTTAWA, January 21, 2021 – Civil society groups are objecting to plans by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to weaken its nuclear security regulations.  A staff presentation to the Commission today reveals that they have been reviewing the regulations since 2018, with no public consultation.

The presentation says amendments are underway to “remove prescriptive requirements” from the Nuclear Security Regulations and publish the revised regulations by late 2021 or early 2022.

A paper by Natural Resources Canada says that prescriptive regulations are more detailed and stringent, and easier to monitor and enforce.

“While the CNSC asserts its decision making is ‘free from external pressure,’ civil society groups continue to question the regulator’s independence,” said Kerrie Blaise of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “The CNSC is supporting the nuclear industry’s requests to remove regulatory barriers for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).” 

Indeed, the federal government’s recent SMR action plan confirms that one of its expected results is that “Revised Nuclear Security Regulations only cover high-level principles similar to other regulations and prescriptive requirements are removed.”

The CNSC presentation shows that Canada’s nuclear regulator intends to change its regulatory approach to accommodate new experimental reactor technologies, known as small modular reactors (SMRs). Other regulations being “enhanced” by CNSC deal with safety assessment, design and licensing of nuclear power plants.

Today’s CNSC meeting will finish with an in-camera closed session to consider a staff presentation entitled, “Regulatory project to amend the General Nuclear Safety and Control Regulations and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Import & Export Control Regulations.”

“We are disappointed that CNSC staff has forged ahead and is now proposing a looser regulatory approach without any consultation with Canadians who would be directly affected if and when one of these new experimental reactors is trucked into their community,” said Brennain Lloyd, coordinator of Northwatch, based in northeastern Ontario.

The plan to expand new nuclear technologies across Canada and into remote mining and Indigenous communities is controversial. The United Church of Canada recently joined with over 100 citizen groups, the Assembly of First Nations, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Anishinabek Nation, and three federal parties in opposing SMRs.

The federal government has been promoting SMRs with its action plan and funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)’s Strategic Innovation Fund, saying that “Canada is poised to be a leader in the safe and responsible development” of SMRs.  Yet the government has exempted most SMRs from a federal environmental assessment under the new Impact Assessment Act.

Critics say that SMRs would require billions in public subsidies and fear that their designers also want more relaxed safety and security regulations. Of the more than 50 designs that exist for experimental nuclear reactors, the CNSC is reviewing a dozen under pre-licensing agreements with companies like Moltex Energy and GE-Hitachi.

“The CNSC’s SMR design reviews are taking place behind closed doors,” said Lloyd. “That allows these private sector companies to sell their unproven reactor designs to the regulatory staff without any public scrutiny.”

The CNSC staff presentation also states that CNSC is “supporting” two SMR vendors active in New Brunswick, including the study of how they might extract plutonium from highly radioactive irradiated CANDU fuel. A government report highlighted that reprocessing used CANDU fuel, which has never been done previously in Canada, raises nuclear weapons proliferation risks. 

“We are outraged that New Brunswick is being used for a risky and costly experiment with dangerous radioactive materials, and that we will not have an opportunity to voice our concerns during a federal Impact Assessment,” said Dr. Susan O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick. 

The CNSC staff presentation suggests that the first SMRs are expected to be constructed soon. Global First Power applied in early 2019 for a license to prepare a site at Chalk River, Ontario (on federally owned land), and Ontario Power Generation has notified the CNSC of its intent to apply for a license to construct new reactors at the Darlington Power Plant by March 2022. 

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Media contacts:

Kerrie Blaise

Northern Legal Counsel, CELA

Tel: 416-960-2284 ext 7224 

Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch

Tel: 705-497-0373, cell 705-493-9650

Eva Schacherl, CANDOR

Tel: 613-316-9450

The nuclear industry lobbying club in New Brunswick

Lobbying by the nuclear industry is a key reason why the industry attains so many public subsidies. An analysis of the federal lobby database shows just how powerful the nuclear lobby is. In New Brunswick, CBC reporter Jacques Poitras wrote an article this week about lobbying activity for the proposed nuke projects for the province, in particular by well-connected Liberal party people. As CRED-NB spokesperson Susan O’Donnell says in the article: “It’s a club.” You can read the article here.

Video: More nuclear reactors for New Brunswick?

The province and NB Power are promoting two more nuclear reactors (SMRs), to be built next to the existing reactor at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy.

On Jan. 14, the New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN) invited Susan O’Donnell, CRED-NB member and leader of the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick, to make a presentation about the proposed nuclear reactors.

The video (31 minutes) is here:

Webinar: Ending the global security threats of nuclear power

Webinar: Ending the global security threats of nuclear power: Lessons from the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

3 – 4:30pm Eastern • Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Everyone is welcome to join this international panel session to learn about the links between nuclear power, SMRs, global security and nuclear weapons. Lots to learn! This event is free and open to the public.

Register to attend this international panel session (zoom link + reminder will be sent to registered participants):

Hosts: Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick (CRED-NB) + Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) + Beyond Nuclear + NB Media Co-op

Synopsis: Through considerable organizing by civil society, the dream of a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) comes into force on January 22. The effort involved challenging existing claims about the value of nuclear weapons, creating a new narrative centered on human security, building new alliances between civil society and governments, and using international law and institutions to drive change.

Can these approaches help tackle the strong but subtle link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, halt emerging programs to build so-called small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), and finally end the reckless pursuit of nuclear energy programs worldwide.


Ray Acheson, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom: The keys to the success of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
What were the TPNW campaign approaches, messaging and tactics? What are the lessons that can inform a similar effort to ban nuclear power?

Zia Mian, physicist, Senior Research Scholar and Co-Director, Program in Science and Global Security (SGS), Princeton University: The limits of the nuclear proliferation management approach. How have we tried to understand and manage the global security risks from nuclear power? What are the limits of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and supply side controls, and the challenges of the existing nuclear power international order? Is there a link between nuclear energy and the TPNW?

David Lowry, Senior International Research Fellow, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts (but based in London, England): Next-generation nuclear reactors and the maintenance of military nuclear programs. How are new nuclear reactors tied to military nuclear programs through naval nuclear reactors? What are examples from the promotion of SMRs in the UK?

Gordon Edwards, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility: Added proliferation dangers from next-generation nuclear power. What is ominous about the next generation nuclear energy fuel chain (SMRs, increased fuel enrichment level, reprocessing…), and its links to nuclear weapons? What is needed to break the proliferation chain, and create a stable energy framework compatible with a nuclear weapons-free world?

Register to attend this international panel session (zoom link + reminder will be sent to registered participants):

Online Workshop: Calculating the Risks and Benefits of SMRs in New Brunswick

The New Brunswick Environmental Network (NBEN) is organizing a workshop, co-hosted by RAVEN, a CRED-NB member, and the NB Media Co-op.

Join us on January 14th at 7pm Atlantic time, as we explore what Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) really mean for New Brunswick’s energy future. Free workshop. English with french interpretation.

Susan O’Donnell, lead researcher with Rural Action and Voices for the Environment (RAVEN), will give a presentation on SMRs. Participants will then be asked to use the NBEN’s Risks and Benefits Calculator to come to their own conclusion. A period of questions and exchange will follow.

Register here:

A zoom link will be sent to registered participants on January 14th only.

///Joignez-vous à nous le 14 janvier à 19h, pour découvrir ce que les petits réacteurs nucléaires signifient réellement pour l’avenir énergétique du Nouveau-Brunswick.

Susan O’Donnell, chercheuse principale de Rural Action and Voices for the Environment (RAVEN), fera une présentation sur les petits réacteurs nucléaires. Les participant(e)s seront ensuite invité(e)s à utiliser la calculatrice de risques et d’avantages du RENB pour arriver à leur propre conclusion. Une période de questions et d’échange suivra.

Veuillez vous inscrire ici :

Un lien pour la participation par zoom sera envoyé aux participant(e)s inscrit(e)s le jour de l’atelier. Anglais avec interprétation en français.